Roger Wilkins, Champion of Civil Rights, Dies at 85

Roger Wilkins, who championed civil rights for black Americans for five decades as an official in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a foundation executive, a journalist, an author and a university professor, died on Sunday in Kensington, Md. He was 85.

His daughter Elizabeth confirmed his death, at a care facility. The cause was complications of dementia.

A black lawyer in the corridors of power, Mr. Wilkins was an assistant United States attorney general, ran domestic programs for the Ford Foundation, wrote editorials for The Washington Post and The New York Times, taught history at George Mason University for nearly 20 years and was close to leading lights of literature, music, politics, journalism and civil rights. Roy Wilkins, who led the N.A.A.C.P. from 1955 to 1977, was his uncle.

Roger Wilkins’s early mentor was Thurgood Marshall, the renowned civil rights lawyer who became the Supreme Court’s first black associate justice. And he organized Nelson Mandela’s triumphant eight-city visit to the United States in 1990 as millions turned out to see that living symbol of resistance to apartheid after his release from 27 years in prison in South Africa.

Beyond attending a segregated elementary school as a boy and being arrested once in a protest against apartheid, Mr. Wilkins had little personal experience with discrimination. He waged war against racism from above the barricades — with political influence, jawboning, court injunctions, philanthropic grants, legislative proposals, and commentaries on radio and television and in newspapers, magazines and books.

Outwardly, he was a successful, popular black man with more white acquaintances than black friends. The second of his three wives was white.

A lean, intense, soft-spoken intellectual, he grew up in a genteel middle-class family. The customs, attitudes and social currencies of everyday black life “evolved away from me,” he said in a memoir.

“I didn’t know how to talk, to banter, to move my body,” he said.

It mattered. As he rose to prominence, he came to regard himself as a token black in institutions and social circles that were overwhelmingly white and privileged. It troubled him deeply. In the memoir, “A Man’s Life: An Autobiography” (1982), he cited struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts and drinking problems, and acknowledged years of unease with his blackness, of trying to live up to the expectations of whites.

“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,” he wrote. He was surrounded at work by middle-aged white men, while “my night world was virtually lily-white,” he added. “It was as if, by entering that world at night, I was betraying everything I told myself I stood for during the day.”

A University of Michigan Law School graduate, Mr. Wilkins went to Washington on a wave of New Frontier fervor in 1962 to join the Kennedy administration. He became special assistant to the head of the Agency for International Development. He was soon spotted as a savvy, if outspoken, Democratic asset, and joined campaigns for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson named him the administration’s chief troubleshooter on urban racial issues. He became an assistant attorney general, ostensibly to calm the unrest racking cities. He spoke dutifully against violence and met mayors and community leaders, but did not see his principal task as the suppression of disturbances.

“I am a firm believer in the view that the riots are not the real problem,” Mr. Wilkins said, calling for more jobs, housing and help for the poor. “The real threat to American life is our inattention to the really depressed and anguished conditions of the minority group people who live in the ghettos of this country.”

In 1966, he and a Justice Department colleague went to Chicago to see the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As he admitted later, Mr. Wilkins harbored suspicions that Dr. King might be an opportunist, Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker in 2013. The visitors found Dr. King in an airless railroad flat in a slum, talking to 40 or 50 young gang members about nonviolence.

“For hours this went on,” Mr. Wilkins was quoted as saying. “There were no photographers there, no newsmen. There was no glory in it. He also kept two assistant attorneys general of the United States waiting for hours while he did this.”

It was 4 a.m. when Dr. King finished. He woke his wife, Coretta, and she made coffee. “We sat and we talked,” Mr. Wilkins said. “He was a great man, a great man.”

When Richard M. Nixon became president in early 1969, Mr. Wilkins detected a “turning away from the paths of cultural decency” and left government to join the Ford Foundation in New York. For three years, he oversaw funding for job training, education, drug rehabilitation and other programs. But he was powerless to support many projects he considered worthy and became disillusioned with the work.

In 1972 he began a new career in journalism, writing editorials for The Washington Post. He also began to put aside what he called his “desperate search for white approval.” His editorials on the Watergate scandal that drove Nixon from the presidency, along with reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and cartoons by Herbert Block, helped The Post win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973.

Mr. Wilkins joined The Times editorial board in 1974 and later became an Op-Ed page columnist. In 1977, he and other minority journalists accused The Times in a federal lawsuit of racial discrimination in hiring and promotions; the case was settled for cash and pledges of improvements. He left the newspaper in 1979 and was an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Star in 1980 and 1981.

From 1979 to 1989 he was a member of the board that awarded journalism’s Pulitzer Prizes. He was also on an advisory panel that recommended Janet Cooke of The Washington Post for a feature-writing Pulitzer in 1981, for her article on an 8-year-old heroin addict. It was exposed as a fabrication after she won the prize. He said the episode had harmed “blacks in newsrooms all over the country.” Ms. Cooke, who returned the prize and resigned, is black.

From 1982 to 1992, Mr. Wilkins was a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank. From 1988 until his retirement in 2007, he was the Clarence J. Robinson professor in history and American culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. During his teaching years, he wrote for newspapers and magazines and was a frequent commentator on radio and television.

Roger Wilkins was born in Kansas City, Mo., on March 25, 1932, to Earl and Helen Jackson Wilkins. Some of his ancestors were slaves in Virginia. His father was a journalist and his mother was the first black national president of the Y.W.C.A.; she helped desegregate the organization in the 1960s. In Kansas City, Roger attended the all-black Crispus Attucks School, founded in 1893 and named for a slave killed by the British in the Boston Massacre of 1770.

After his father died in 1941, the boy and his mother joined relatives in Harlem, and three years later settled in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he graduated from high school. At the University of Michigan, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953 and a law degree in 1956. He tried social work in Cleveland briefly, practiced law in New York City for several years, then joined the Kennedy administration.

Mr. Wilkins had a home in Washington. His marriages to Eve Tyler and Mary Myers ended in divorce. His third wife, Patricia A. King, a law professor at Georgetown University, survives him.

Mr. Wilkins wrote “Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism” (2001). He produced and narrated two PBS documentaries, “Keeping the Faith” (1987) about black churches, and “Throwaway People” (1990), about a poor black neighborhood.

“In a sense,” Mr. Wilkins wrote in his memoir, “I have been an explorer, and I sailed as far out into the white world as a black man of my generation could sail.”

Attribution: Robert D. McFadden/NYTimes.com

Jerry Lipson, reporter and Capitol Hill aide, dies at 81

Jerry Lipson, a former reporter who worked for a decade and a half as an aide to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, died Feb. 28 at a skilled nursing facility in Springfield, Va. He was 81.

The cause was complications from cancer, said his son, Jonathan C. Lipson.

Gerald Lipson was born in Chicago on Aug. 27, 1935. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1957 and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in 1961.

In the 1960s, Mr. Lipson reported for publications including the Wilmington News Journal in Delaware, the old Washington Star and the old Chicago Daily News, where he covered the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the legal case of James Earl Ray, who assassinated civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Lipson embarked on a career on Capitol Hill. He was press secretary for Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) and Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.), according to his son, as well as for Rep. John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) during his tenure as House minority leader and for the House International Relations Committee under chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.).

In the 1980s, Mr. Lipson returned to journalism, reporting for the New York Post and the Chicago Sun-Times. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he was spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Mr. Lipson was a delegate to the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit and campaign manager for Maryland state delegate Constance A. Morella (R) when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. His memberships included the Washington Press Club.

Attribution: Emily Langer, Washington Post

Kathleen "Kate" Sylvester, Award-Winning Journalist, August 9, `1950 - February 24, 2017

Died on Friday February 24, 2017 in Washington DC. She was born on November 26, 1949 in Syracuse, NY to Lt. J. Martin Nelson (KIA Korea August 9, 1950) and Virginia Doyle Nelson. She was raised by her mother and adoptive father, Lt. Col. Allan T. Sylvester, II in a military family all over the United States. She attended Georgetown University where she received a Bachelor degree in Foreign Service. She was an award winning journalist for 20 years, after which she began work in Public Policy, working at the Progressive Policy Institute, First Focus and the America's Promise Alliance and was the founder of the Social Policy Action Network (SPAN). She also founded the consulting firm Writewell. In addition to her work, she was an unflagging supporter of her Capitol Hill neighborhood and a devoted friend to many.

Attribution: Legacy.com

George Murmann, Star Lithographer, November 21, 1918 - February 11, 2017

George Henry Murrmann passed away Saturday (Feb. 11, 2017) at his home surrounded by his loving daughters. He left the building in grand style with his loved ones singing karaoke of his favorite tunes until the end.

George Henry Murrmann was born in Perrysville, Ind., on Nov. 21, 1918, in an original Sears catalog house on the family farm. His family had moved there to farm (built the Sears model house on their own) on "Murrmann" lane, as it was known. As the youngest of 12 children, his father, George J. proclaimed, "Now I've got my dozen!"

George graduated from Danville High School in 1937 as a decorated member of the swim team. He joined the Air Corps (later known as the Air Force) in 1942 for "four years, eight months and 22 days." While in the corps, he was an instructor responsible for instrument training on airplanes.

After his service, he moved to Minneapolis to attend trade school to become a lithographer. (Linotype was once the only way type was set through a detailed process operating a large machine requiring dexterity and mechanical expertise.) After graduating, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Gannett at the Washington Star newspaper.

Bob Greiser, Star Photographer - January 31, 2017

Bobby Grieser, well known in yachting circles as one of the elite photographers in the sport, passed away January 31 after a four month series of illnesses in San Diego, CA. He was 70 years.

Born in Washington, DC, and growing up around the Chesapeake Bay, Bobby took to the outdoor life. He was a photographer at the Washington Star in Washington, DC for 15 years before moving west to work for the Los Angeles Times, where he stayed for 18 years. Bobby covered such diverse topics as riots, war zones in Somalia and White House events over the years.

But in 1998, he left for the excitement of freelancing in the yachting, adventure, travel and leisure industries. His passion to explore and appreciate his surroundings fueled his motor. As a principle with OutsideImages.com, he helped to create a remarkable inventory of stock marine imagery.

He photographed some of the world’s most beautiful yachts, with his event log including several America’s Cups. He became good friends with Dennis Connor, did feature stories on sailing all over the world and later, some bareboat chartering as skipper. Bobby had salt water in his veins.

Attribution: sailingscuttlebutt.com