BETHESDA, MD - Dr. Ronald W. Walters, one of the foremost analysts of black politics and the "go-to guy" for journalists covering the subject, died Friday of cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, which carried Walters' newspaper column, said on Saturday. He was 72.
"No arrangements have been made but according to the family, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. visited him several times over the past few days and will most likely deliver the eulogy," Barnes wrote to her Facebook followers. "Patricia Walters wants everyone to know that her husband, Dr. Ron Walters, fought hard against the cancer and was continuing his work on behalf of the people who loved so much until the very end."
Journalists paid tribute as word spread virally on Saturday morning.
"Whether he knows it or not Barack Obama owes a huge debt of gratitude to Ron Walters, architect of Jesse's 88 campaign," William Jelani Cobb, author of "The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress," tweeted. "I interviewed Ron Walters when I was writing my Obama book and as he outlined the strategy for Jacksons 88 campaign. Obama's debt was clear.
"For many years Ron Walters was a standard bearer for HBCU faculty. He got far fewer resources than his peers but still did amazing work. Moreover, he broke down that wall between academia and the 'real world.' He wasn't a theoretical scholar, he actually did things."
Among Walters' activities was a weekly column for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which serves the black press. He also provided journalists with background for their stories.
"Our work is diminished," said Charles Robinson, reporter for Maryland Public Television and a board member of the National Association of Black Journalists. "People would say there's no empirical data" for black journalists' observations about the black electorate, but Walters provided it. He worked with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and others conducting research on African American politics.
Walters also made himself available as a quotable pundit. Last month, he called Fox News host Glenn Beck's planned rally in Washington "a slap at the movement in a way consistent with what the tea party has done. . . They really want to dishonor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963 to give it a conservative spin,” he said, describing Beck’s effort as a "white nationalist movement."
"Dr. Walters spent most of his professional career in the Washington area and won worldwide acclaimas the author of many books, including works on black presidential politics, pan-Africanism and the resurgence of white conservatism," Matt Schudel wrote for the Washington Post.
"After 25 years at Howard, Dr. Walters became director of the African American Leadership Institute at Maryland and frequently . . . wrote for the popular press and appeared on television programs discussing major issues of the day. In 1984, he was a key adviser to the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson, and he had been a major intellectual force behind the Congressional Black Caucus since the 1970s."
Jack White, a contributor to theRoot.com and former Time magazine columnist, said, "He was a strong advocate for the interests of black folks as he perceived them, who never pulled punches and never backed off."
Commentator Roland S. Martin told his NABJ colleagues, "This is a profound loss for African Americans and all of America."
"At one time or another, Ron saved ALL of our butts on deadline. A serious loss to Black journalists," said veteran Washington journalist Bill Alexander.
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