The Life and Legacy of Dr. Ronald Walters
By now the World has received the stunning news that our Pre-eminent Political Scientist, scholar-activist extraordinaire and fearless Pan Africanist freedom fighter Dr. Ronald Walters now rests with the ancestors. Friday September 10, 2010 at approximately 7:00 PM, he peacefully made his transition to join the Pantheon of heroes and heroines of the Black Freedom Struggle - a brilliant, quiet, resolute, caring, determined, warm, militant, compassionate, uncompromising, sharing, dedicated, gentle warrior who consistently demonstrated an "undying love for African people." Dr. Ronald Walters was indefatigable in defending and promoting the interests of Black people, a humble Brother who never tired of sharing his knowledge, skill and talent with others working for the liberation of the oppressed.
In the tradition of W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Walters was an authentic intellectual, an action-oriented theorist who never wavered in his conviction that the lessons learned in the academy must be translated/applied in terms of activism in the community. As one of the founders of the African Heritage Studies Association and proponent of "education for liberation," he believed the academy should be relevant to underserved and disadvantaged communities, particularly the Black community. Therefore, he was a leading member of the National Council of Black Studies and National Conference of Black Political Scientists, organizations dedicated to that vision/mission.
No doubt the commitment to synthesize theory and practice was rooted in his early experiences in Wichita, Kansas where he was born in 1938. A dedication to civil rights was part of the fabric of the Walters family. His mother investigated civil rights complaints for the state government. His father, who was a musician, served in the military at a time when Blacks were confined to segregated units. Though the sit-in protests in Oklahoma City and Greensboro, North Carolina received more attention, in his capacity as President of the local NAACP Youth Council, Dr. Walters actually organized the first successful sit-in at a Drugstore in Wichita in 1958, two years before the protests in Oklahoma City and Greensboro. Hence, as he left to matriculate at Fisk University, he was already a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement.
After tenures at Syracuse University and Brandeis, Dr. Walters joined the faculty of his beloved Howard University, where he was appointed Chairman of the Political Science Department. He loved Howard as one of the great centers of learning in Black America. This love was also illustrative of his passion and devotion for historical Black colleges and universities as breeding grounds for leaders, artists, activists, organizers and conscious professionals who could potentially comprise the backbone of the socio-economic and political infrastructure of Black America. From the hallowed halls of Howard, his reputation grew as a demanding and inspirational instructor and mentor in the classroom, seminal scholar, analyst, commentator and author on issues of race and politics, and formidable activist on the frontlines of important local, national and international struggles for civil rights/human rights and self-determination for people of African descent.
Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, is as the veritable" Resource" to the movement, especially the quest for Black empowerment in the electoral arena. No one in the past half century contributed more to the evolution, development and maturation of Black electoral power than Dr. Ronald Walters. He was the perennial advisor/counselor to the Congressional Black Caucus and associations of Black elected officials like the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, the National Conference of Black Mayors, National Conference of Black State Legislators and organizations seeking to impact the electoral political process like the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation. For as long as I can remember, Dr. Walters worked tirelessly to help Black elected officials frame critical issues by providing cogent research and analysis. Equally important, he was relentless in reminding Black elected officials of the duty/obligation to utilize their hard won power to advance the interest of Black people.
No one more than Dr. Ronald Walters hammered home the relevance of "leverage politics" as a time tested vehicle for organized interest groups and constituencies to extract benefits from the American political system. He created a living laboratory for his leverage theory of politics as the Issues Director and principal strategist for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's electrifying campaign for President in 1984. As a skilled political infighter, at the Democratic Convention Dr. Walters provided a practicum in leverage politics as he almost singlehandedly utilized the strength of the Jackson bloc of delegates to enact major progressive provisions to the Party Platform. In addition, the Jackson forces were able to compel the Party to accept far ranging changes in the rules governing the apportionment of delegates to the Convention. Under his guidance, the Jackson forces also extracted commitments to make the leadership structure more inclusive of the broad based constituencies in the Party. Dr. Walters performed the same role for the Jackson camp at the 1988 Democratic Convention. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson would be the first to concede that Dr. Walters played an instrumental role in making him the historic figure he has become.
Dr. Walters was a "race man" in the most positive sense of the term. As such he selflessly gave of his time, energy and resources to organizations, movements and causes like the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, IN, African Liberation Day Support Committee, National Black Political Assembly, National Black Independent Political Party, Sixth Pan African Congress, National Black Leadership Roundtable, Trans Africa, the Free South Africa Movement, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and other efforts, far too numerous to enumerate.
Ron Walters was my friend, a confidante, collaborator and "co-conspirator" on a number of major organization/institution-building projects and initiatives over the years. We became close working together in the National Black Political Assembly after the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary. One of my fondest memories is collaborating with Ron and Mtangulizi Sanyika on the "76 Strategy," an Initiative designed to encourage State Senator Julian Bond, Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher, Congressman John Conyers or Congressman Ronald V. Dellums to run for President of the United States as an independent candidate in 1976. During the heyday of the National Black Political Assembly and National Black Independent Political Party, Ron would provide space for us to have critical planning/strategy sessions on campus. And, he would always be there to offer his wisdom and guidance as an engaged participant. Ron convinced me to take the torch and serve as Deputy Campaign Manager for Rev. Jesse for President Campaign in 1988, a move which provided one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Ron loved to eat and I do too. Back in the day, I remember "coincidentally" bumping into him at the famed Florida Grill near Howard when I would come to town. It seemed like every time I would come to town and stop by the Florida Grill, Ron would pop in. We would sit together, Ron and Ron, plotting strategy to rescue the African peoples of the world. Finally, we just decided when I came to town, I would call and we would meet at the Florida Grill. In recent years it seems that people would constantly confuse the two of us. I would be speaking somewhere and someone would address me as Dr. Walters or someone would offer praises/commendations when it was obvious that they were referring to my "big brother." He said the same used to happen with him. More than once I told him I would gladly trade places if I could have his fame and fortune. He would say, "Watch out now" and burst out laughing!
I was last in Dr. Ronald Walters' presence June 18th when the Institute of the Black World 21st Century launched the Shirley Chisholm Presidential Accountability Commission at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. His analysis on the need for jobs and an urban policy targeted to depressed communities in Black America was strong and clear as usual - but he appeared somewhat frail and his voice was raspy and weaker than I had noticed before. For some time, Dr. James Turner and I had contemplated the idea of a major IBW sponsored testimonial to honor Dr. Walters as our Pre-eminent Political Scientist. I called Ron early the week following the launch of the Commission to discuss the idea. As one might expect, he initially declined, preferring instead to shine the spotlight on others from the "struggle generation" as he called his contemporaries. But, I persisted and eventually prevailed by persuading him that he had given so much to so many for so long that we owed him a collective debt of gratitude to be expressed through an event that would celebrate his life and legacy as well as challenge us to continue the work. He said, "Okay, I trust you all, do what you want."
That was my last conversation with my friend and Brother. A major goal of the testimonial we were planning was to bring Dr. Ronald Walters home to Howard University to celebrate his life, legacy and contributions. Moreover, our intention was to approach the President of Howard to explore the possibility of Dr. Walters returning as a Distinguished Professor, if only for a semester. We wanted to bring him home to his beloved Howard University. When I reached his devoted wife Pat to discuss his condition, she told me he had just signed a contract to return to Howard! I informed her of our goals for the testimonial, and we shared a tearful moment. It is only fitting that I have just learned that there will be a "Celebration of Life" in memory of Dr. Ronald Walters Sunday, September 19th in the Crampton Auditorium of Howard University - where he will be welcomed home! Hopefully, Howard University will see fit to honor the memory of one of its most distinguished sons with an Endowed Chair. During this year's Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, we will announce the appointment of Dr. Walters as the Honorary Chairman of the Shirley Chisholm Presidential Accountability Commission. And, with the permission of the family, the Institute of the Black world 21st Century may yet hold a major testimonial to create Dr. Ronald Walters Fellowships to continue his legacy of dedicated, selfless service to African people as a scholar/activist.
We will most assuredly miss our beloved Brother but, we must not tarry long in tearful sorrow. Let the celebration of the life of Dr. Ronald Walters begin ... and continue through the deeds we do in carrying out his commitment to the liberation of African people. Rest well, dear Brother, and guide us with your spirit as we call upon you in libations as our newest ancestor!