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Fri, 03.25.1932

Roger Wilkins, Journalist, and Professor born

Roger Wilkins

*Roger Wilkins was born on this date in 1932. He was a Black activist, professor of history, and journalist.

He was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He was the son of Earl Wilkins, a business manager at the Kansas City Call newspaper, and Helen Jackson. He was the nephew of Roy Wilkins, a past executive director of the NAACP.    He was educated at the Crispus Attucks Elementary School, a one-room segregated schoolhouse. After his father died in 1941, he and his mother joined relatives in Harlem near his uncle Roy Wilkins. In 1943, his mother married doctor Robert Claytor, and the family settled in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he graduated from then Creston High School in Grand Rapids. Wilkins received his undergraduate degree in 1953 and LL.B. in 1956, both from the University of Michigan, where he interned with the NAACP and was a member of the senior leadership society in Michigan.

Wilkins worked as a welfare lawyer in Ohio before becoming an Assistant Attorney General in President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration at age 33, one of the highest-ranking blacks ever to serve in the executive branch up to that time. He was sworn in as Director of Community Relations Service in 1966. Leaving government in 1969 at the end of the Johnson administration, he worked briefly for the Ford Foundation before joining the editorial staff of the Washington Post. Along with Carl Bernstein, Herbert Block, and Bob Woodward, Wilkins earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for exposing the Watergate scandal that eventually forced President Richard Nixon's resignation.

He left the Post in 1974 to work for the New York Times, followed five years later by a brief stay at the now-defunct Washington Star. In 1980 he became a radio news commentator, working for National Public Radio (NPR). Wilkins was the Robinson Professor of History and American Culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, until his retirement in 2007. During his tenure at George Mason, Wilkins was arguably one of the most preeminent professors in residence at that time.  Wilkins was also the publisher of the NAACP's journal, The Crisis.  He resided in Washington, D.C., and was married to Patricia King, Professor of Law at Georgetown University.  His marriages to Eve Tyler and Mary Myers ended in divorce.

Roger Wilkins died on March 26, 2017, in Kensington, MD, at age 85. His daughter Elizabeth confirmed his death at a care facility. The cause was complications of dementia.

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