Michel Martin: Professor Walters Taught Us All A Love For Country

Historians in the News

[Michel Martin is the host of Tell Me More.]

She probably won't thank me for mentioning it all this time later, but I think I finally understand what Michelle Obama was talking about during the presidential campaign when she said that for the first time in her adult life, she was really proud of her country.

What she was talking about, I think, was finally being able to experience that feeling you get when you fall in love. When you allow yourself, like in those trust exercises you do in Outward Bound or whatever, to really fall hard, without reservation or holding anything back, sure in the belief that your trust and love will be returned....

I was thinking about all that because I was thinking about Ronald Walters, a pre-eminent professor of political science and African-American studies, who died Sept. 10 of cancer. He was 72.

At the time of his death, he was a professor at the University of Maryland, where he chaired the African American Leadership Institute. He had also taught at Brandeis and Syracuse universities but perhaps most notably at Howard University.

But more to the point, he was one of those people who, without ever really saying it, were forever reminding people of why they should try to fall in love with a country that did not always love them back. At Howard, he taught people like Rep. Elijah Cummings. In a statement acknowledging Walters' death, Cummings said Walters was so popular that there were waiting lists to get into his classes, even though he was known as a very strict grader. Cummings said that as a mentor, Professor Walters saw things in him that he did not see in himself, would consistently tell him what he needed to hear even if he did not want to hear it, and despite a demanding schedule of teaching and writing, always made time for him when he faced difficult decisions....
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