Condolences

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Political Scientist Ron Walters passed away this weekend. I suspect that name doesn't ring out among this crowd. His obit is in the link. As opposed to offering insights on his contributions to American democracy (Walters was arguably the first person to stage a lunch counter sit-in) I want to speak in a more personal manner.


I spent a lot of my time at Howard University bemoaning about the quality of scholars at the school. This was 90s, when Henry Louis Gates was assembling an army at Harvard, and the cry among the conscious brothers and sisters on the Yard, was "Why not at the Mecca?" We were obsessed with the notion that Howard, given its history, should remain as it had been during segregation--the intellectual seat of a resistance movement against White Supremacy. 

This was serious business. There used to be an exhibit in the museum on campus with an array of photos of all the black folks who'd, at some point, walked across the yard. You'd see a picture of Malcolm X debating Bayard Rustin, or Thourgood Marshall at the law school, or Alain Locke, or Langston Hughes. You'd see Muhammad Ali hamming it on the steps of Douglass Hall, the very hall where you now went to class. 

All schools have their history. But the black experience is such a particular thing, and Howard, such a particular thing within that experience. In point of fact, I spent too much time lamenting. My grades never reflected it, but I was surrounded by a group of scholars who facilitated the kind of conversations which now take place on this blog. Ron Walters was one of those professors. 

I remember this study-group I'd help found hosting an panel on Affirmative Action which Walters agreed to join. It was a big deal to us, because we were sure the man who'd helped organize Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns had better things to do. In fact, he showed up and participated, even though there were only, like, six people in the audience (one of whom, was my Dad.)

What I'm driving at is the fact that I feel this passing because it was someone who was part of a community of elders who helped make my tenure here at The Atlantic possible. I don't expect everyone here to get that. But it's important that this moment not pass without some acknowledgement.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2010/09/condolences/63029/