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Ronald Walters, Rights Leader and Scholar, Dies at 72 | News

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Ronald Walters, Rights Leader and Scholar, Dies at 72
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The New York Times reports that Ronald W. Walters, who organized one of the nation’s first lunch-counter sit-ins to protest segregation as a young man and went on to become a leading scholar of the politics of race, died Friday in Bethesda, Md. He was 72 and lived in Silver Spring, Md.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Patricia Turner Walters, said.

Dr. Walters was 20 and president of the local youth chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. when he and a cousin, Carol Parks, organized a sit-in at the Dockum Drug Store in downtown Wichita, Kan. That was in July 1958, two years before students in Greensboro, N.C., staged the sit-ins that are often credited with starting the movement in many Southern cities.

Every morning for three weeks, the protesters in Wichita returned to the drugstore, sitting silently until closing time, despite constant taunting. Finally the owner relented and agreed to serve black customers, saying he was losing too much money as a result of the sit-in. That protest received scant national attention, and it was only in 2006 that Dr. Walters received an N.A.A.C.P. award for his role in organizing it.

By then he had made a significant mark on the civil rights movement — as a teacher, an author, a television commentator and an adviser to activists and politicians.

“He was an indispensable part of the brain trust of the movement,” Vernon E. Jordan, the civil rights leader and lawyer, said on Monday. “He was there for all of us, at the other end of the phone, if we needed his thinking, his synthesis of racial issues, political issues, economic issues. And he was always at the ready to get on the train to help the cause.”

Dr. Walters, who for 13 years until his retirement last year was director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, was a deputy campaign manager and debate adviser for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s presidential bid in 1984. In the early 1970s, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Congressional Black Caucus, and he subsequently served as a staff adviser to Representative Charles Diggs, Democrat of Michigan, the first chairman of the caucus.

Dr. Walters wrote 13 books and scores of articles on racial politics. In “White Nationalism, Black Interests: Conservative Public Policy and the Black Community” (2003), he analyzed the resurgence of conservatism among whites.

Sixteen years before, in “Black Presidential Politics in America: A Strategic Approach,” Dr. Walters had envisioned the possibility of an African-American president and laid out the steps that such a candidate would have to take to reach the White House.

Patricia Walters recalled the night President Obama was elected two years ago: “We were stunned, elated and immediately fell into each other’s arms and started crying. My husband looked me in the eyes and said, ‘This is the vision I was trying to present when I wrote the book, that this was a great possibility.’ ”

Ronald William Walters was born in Wichita on July 20, 1938, the oldest of seven children of Gilmar and Maxine Fray Walters. His father was a career Army officer and later a professional bassist; his mother was a civil rights investigator for the state.

Besides his wife, he is survived by three brothers, Duane, Terence and Kevin, and two sisters, Marcia Walters-Hardeman and Sharon Walters.

Dr. Walters graduated from Fisk University with a degree in history in 1963 and went on to earn a master’s in African studies in 1966 and a doctorate in international studies in 1971, both from American University. He taught at Syracuse University in the late 1960s, was a visiting professor at Princeton and a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard and, in 1969, became the first chairman of Afro-American studies at Brandeis University. From 1971 to 1996 he taught at Howard University, including 15 years as chairman of its political science department.

Dr. Walters wrote a weekly syndicated column that appeared in many newspapers. Last month, in his last column, he recalled the “progressive spirit of the original nonviolent march” on Washington in August 1963, “which held out the hope of racial reconciliation and that America would finally cash a check of justice that would allow all of us to invest in the great project of democracy.”

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