Born: July 20, 1938, Wichita, Kansas. Died: September 10, 2010, Bethesda, Maryland.
Ron Walters was 20 years old when he organized the first student-led sit-in in the nation in his hometown of Wichita. Born July 20, 1938, Walters graduated from Wichita North High School and was an active member in the National Association of Colored People Youth Council in Wichita. He had witnessed segregation growing up in his community. In particular, African Americans were often denied service at local restaurants. He was inspired by people around the world who were using peaceful resistance to fight the injustice.
In the late 1950s Walters became president of the youth council. He and his cousin, Carol Parks, who was secretary, developed a training program for youth council members to learn peaceful resistance in preparation for a sit-in. This idea of peaceful resistance was fairly new to the nation, but would soon become a key tool for protesters elsewhere. Walters and his fellow youth members were a quiet and constant reminder for the need for change.
In summer of 1958 Walters decided they were ready to begin. They chose to take their fight to a central spot of segregation in Wichita. At Dockum Drug Store, African American customers had to stand at the end of the lunch counter to place their take out orders. Members of the youth council took turns filling the lunch counter on a regular schedule. Each student waited patiently to be served after ordering a soda. The restaurant continued to deny service to the students and they continued to return. Finally on August 11 the owner relented, saying, “Serve them—I'm losing too much money.” Dockum Drug Store changed its policies at the Wichita locations and other affiliated drug stores outside the city began to change their policies. The efforts of the student inspired youth council members in Oklahoma City to begin their own sit-in a few days later.
Soon after the conclusion of the sit-in, Walters began attending Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history and government. He went on to graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C., earning master's and doctoral degrees. He was a professor at Howard, Brandeis, and Syracuse universities, and a visiting professor at Princeton and Harvard universities.
Walters served as campaign manager and consultant for Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign. He was a senior policy adviser to congressmen Charles Diggs, Jr., and William Gray. As an adviser he helped create U.S. policy on South African apartheid.
The author of more than 100 articles and numerous books, he established the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland. Walters died in Maryland in 2010.
Entry: Walters, Ronald
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2011
Date Modified: April 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.