Roger Wilkins, Civil Rights Champion, Dies At 85

Roger Wilkins, Civil Rights Champion, Dies At 85

Roger Wilkins, Civil Rights Champion, Dies At 85

Photo by Charles Tasnadi for Associated Press

Roger Wilkins, a civil rights activist, journalist, author and university professor, died this past Sunday at the age of 85. The cause of Wilkins’ death was complications from dementia.

Born in 1932 Wilkins would ultimately become take on many important roles throughout his life, most of which revolved around trying to better the lives of black people in America.

During his time in law school Wilkins interned for Thurgood Marshall who, at the time, was director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, before becoming the Supreme Court’s first black associate justice.

Fast forward to 1962 and Wilkins became a special assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Four years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson made Wilkins the leader of the Community Relations Service, as well as one of the administration’s main point men in handling inner-city rage that occurred throughout the country.

Such responsibilities, as well as constantly finding himself in environments that were predominantly white, often times had a negative impact on Wilkins.

“Instead of standing with my nose pressed to the window, I often found myself inside rooms with people whose names were Mailer, Vidal, Javits, Kennedy or Bernstein,” Wilkins wrote in his 1982 memoir A Man’s Life: An Autobiography. “My night world was virtually lily-white. It was as if, by entering that world at night, I was betraying everything I told myself I stood for during the day.”

Still, Wilkins continued on, becoming a reporter at The Washington Post and The Washington Times. During his time at the former, some of his editorial work would contribute to the outlet winning the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for public service for its Watergate coverage.

In 1980 Wilkins, along with Washington Post columnist William Raspberry, became the first black members of the Pulitzer Prize board.

Wilkins is survived by his third wife, Patricia A. King; daughter Elizabeth (from his marriage with King); daughter Amy Wilkins and son David, both from his first marriage; two half sisters, Sharon Peters and Judith Claytor; and two grandsons.

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