For more than four decades, Ronald Walters, PhD. served the African-American community, the United States and the world as a consultant, teacher, writer, mentor and friend. His service came to a close Sept. 10, when he lost a battle with cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 72 years old.
Walters was born in Wichita, Kan. in 1938. He earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from Fisk University and earned a master’s degree in African studies and a doctorate in international studies from American University. Walters was a professor since the early 1970s, teaching at numerous institutions including at Georgetown, Syracuse, Brandeis and Howard universities and the University of Maryland. He was chairman of the Howard University Department of Political Science and chairman of Afro-American Studies at Brandeis. He also served as a visiting professor at Princeton University and was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. ?Walters’ longtime friend, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Howard University had recently convinced Walters to come out of retirement and return to teaching, and that Walters was looking forward to the opportunity.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) met Walters while a student at Howard. “As a teacher, he always found time for his students,” Cummings told the AFRO. “When he was at Howard, we would fight to get in his classes. He was always telling us to reach high, to be a part of the political process.”
Walters also made his mark as a dedicated scholar, authoring and co-authoring more than 10 books and hundreds of academic articles and commentaries. He was awarded the Ralph Bunche Prize for his book Black Presidential Politics in America. He was also a political consultant, serving as policy adviser to former congressmen William Gray and Charles Diggs. He worked with a number of organizations and serving as director of public policy for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns.
Jackson, who said he visited Walters several times in the hospital over the last few weeks, called Walters a “scholar activist” and “a genius,” as well as friend and mentor.
“He’s the tallest tree in the forest of activists, political scientists,” Jackson said in an interview with the AFRO. “I miss him so much already.”
Walters was always ready to assist, whether to lend his thoughts or his actions to a just endeavor. He traveled around the world, and was actively involved in the movement to end apartheid and the efforts to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office in Haiti, according to Jackson. And while his hard work gave him national recognition and standing, an organization did not have to be big to get his assistance.
“Ron Walters was a brilliant, dedicated, consistent and unapologetic warrior for African Americans,” said syndicated columnist George E. Curry. “While he is best known for teaching at Howard and the University of Maryland, advising Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus, he spent many hours sharing his expertise with small, largely unknown community groups. Black America has lost a scholar whose life exemplified excellence.”
“He was definitely one of the greatest thinkers we have,” said Cummings.
He touched many people, personally and professionally. “His powerful intellect, integrity and race consciousness will be deeply missed,” said Ramona Edelin, a longtime friend and leading Black scholar. “This loss is very personal for so many people he has helped throughout the years.”
Cummings considers himself one of those people. “He was like a part of my family,” said Cummings. “I’m going to miss him tremendously.”
“He encouraged me to run for Congress,” Cummings added. “He said, ‘Not only will you win, you must win.’ Whenever I had difficult political questions, I could always pick up the phone and call Ron. He was a sort of quiet man, but had strong, well thought-out opinions and he could always back them up.”
It’s that quality that will be missed at the AFRO as well. Along with the many commentaries published in its pages in which Walters addressed important issues, he was a valued source for a variety of stories.
“It was always a pleasure to speak with Dr. Walters, who remained remarkably humble and accessible despite his stature,” said AFRO Washington Bureau Chief Zenitha Prince. “Our interviews invariably turned into conversations in which he would demonstrate an erudite knowledge of the issues affecting the African-American community and also a deep commitment to Black progress. He will be missed.”
President and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous shared his thoughts on Walters’ passing via Twitter. He wrote, “He guided generations of Black political scientists and political leaders.
“I first met Ron when I was 20. He showed how to build real power for people others thought permanently powerless. His lesson guided my life’s work.”
He is survived by his wife, Patricia Ann Walters.