Dr. Ronald Walters: The W.E.B. DuBois of our time (Rep. Bobby Rush)

Only a wise and awesome God could have breathed life into a man who would be born in 1938, in Wichita, Kansas at a time when a uniquely American style of racial apartheid still ruled the day.  The Negro community, as we were known then, tried to live and work in peace under a stark system of separate and very unequal.  Our own unique brand of home grown terrorism in the form of the Ku Klux Klan exacted justice in untold communities throughout our nation and left in its wake the death of thousands of African American men, women and children.   And yet, despite this uncomfortable American legacy, Ron Walters grew up with the blessing of a solid education, a Christian upbringing and an intellect and spirit that was determined to uplift and inform both his own community but, indeed, all of America.

As a board member of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation whose annual legislative caucus gets underway this week, I know that the legacy of Dr. Walters and his many accomplishments will be talked about and celebrated at virtually every forum.  In so many ways Dr. Ron Walters, who lived to see America’s first African American President in the White House, is a national treasure that current and future generations, especially our young people, would do well to learn about and, hopefully, pick up his mantle of scholarly leadership.

There are many things I could say in praise of Dr. Walters’ remarkable legacy but I think it’s especially important to note that he was a scholar, a brilliant tactician and an unapologetic ‘race man’ in the best tradition of that term.  Dr. Walters was not only an integral part of America’s Civil Rights Movement but he played a leading role, as a friend and as a masterful political strategist, for the two historic presidential campaigns of my friend, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

By working hard and playing by the rules, Dr. Walters’ detailed knowledge of those rules helped ensure that a broad policy and political apparatus was in place in every presidential primary state.  And he was so successful at helping to master the rules—and challenging or even changing them wherever possible—that, in 1988, all of America had to just stop and marvel in awe as Rev. Jesse Jackson kept winning, and winning in state after state.  He ultimately won 11 statewide primary victories and about seven million votes. Dr. Walters’ mastery of the Democratic Party’s rules and Rev. Jackson’s vision and organizational gifts created a, then, unprecedented moment in American history.  Together, they helped a whole new generation of African Americans, and all Americans of good will, to imagine the possibility of an African American President.  And the rest, of course, is living history.

In addition to his political skills, Dr. Walters chaired the African and Afro-American Studies Department at Brandeis University and the Political Science Department at Howard University.   In addition to serving in the Jackson campaigns, Dr. Walters was a policy or political advisor to several leading elected and appointed officials throughout the United States including former Congressmen Charles Diggs and William Gray.

Dr. Walters was an avid supporter of the candidacy of our 44th President, Barack Obama, and he played a leading role in ensuring that the President’s political apparatus mastered the sometimes arcane rules of counting delegates.  At the time of his death, he was working on a book about President Obama.  For the sake of a grateful nation, I hope his friends and family will be able to see that project through to completion.

Dr. Ron Walters was many things to so many people and I count myself among those who was a beneficiary of his sage counsel.  For these reasons and more, he’s known by many in our community as the W.E.B. DuBois of our time.

My heart goes out to his wife, Patricia Ann Walters, and the thousands of students he taught over the years.  My hope and prayer is that the gifts of wisdom and insight that he shared with them will bear fruit, for years to come, in service to our nation.

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