Ronald W. Walters, one of the country’s leading scholars of the politics of race, who was a longtime professor at Howard University and the University of Maryland, died Friday of cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He was 72.
Dr. Walters was both an academic and an activist, cementing his credentials with his early involvement in the civil rights movement. In 1958, in his home town of Wichita, he led what many historians consider the nation’s first lunch-counter sit-in protest. Later, he became a close adviser to Jesse L. Jackson as one of the principal architects of Jackson’s two failed presidential campaigns.
“Ron was one of the legendary forces in the civil rights movement of the last 50 years,” Jackson said Saturday.
Dr. Walters also helped develop the intellectual framework of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 1970s. Some of his political ideas, such as comprehensive health care and a proposed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, were viewed as radical. A quarter-century later, they are part of the intellectual mainstream.
“Many of his ideas now make up the progressive wing of the country,” Jackson said. “If it’s morally right, it can’t be politically wrong.”
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Two decades before Barack Obama was elected president, Dr. Walters described the political steps an African American candidate would have to take in his 1987 book “Black Presidential Politics in America: A Strategic Approach.”
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