Memorial to honor civil rights pioneer Ron Walters

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A memorial service is planned for later this month for Ronald W. Walters, a civil rights pioneer who led a sit-in at a Wichita drugstore that refused to serve blacks in 1958.

Ronald Walters, a professor of government and political science at Howard University and the University of Maryland, died Friday at the age of 72, University of Maryland spokesman Lee Tune said Saturday. He had been suffering from lung cancer.

The Wichita Eagle reports that the Wichita NAACP and the Kansas African American Museum will host a memorial service to honor Walters on Sept. 26 at the museum in Wichita.

Walters was born in Wichita in 1938 but spent most of his professional life in the Washington area after earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. in international studies from American University.

In July 1958, Walters led the Wichita NAACP youth chapter in a sit-in at a Wichita Dockum Drug Store. Like many Kansas stores at that time, Dockum’s had an unwritten policy to refuse to serve blacks sitting at the lunch counter.

The Wichita sit-in sparked a similar demonstration in Oklahoma City in 1959 and there were several others before the well-known Greensboro, N.C. sit-in took place in 1960.

With no national media or national NAACP attention when the sit-in occurred, the Dockum protest faded until 2006 when Kevin Myles, Wichita branch NAACP president, urged the national organization to include Dockum as it recognized sit-ins prior to Greensboro.

In 1984, Walters served as a deputy campaign manager for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid. He consulted again on Jackson’s second campaign in 1988 and advised members of Congress over the years, said California Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

On Saturday, Lee called Walters a “scholarly giant” and a “man whose academic record and analytical insights have contributed to America’s understanding of the intersection of race, politics and policy.”


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.