THE FORMER MASON PROFESSOR WAS A CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST
By Alex Shedd and Michael Eberhart, News Editors
President Cabrera took to the North Plaza last Thursday, Oct. 12 to give tribute to Roger Wilkins, a civil rights leader and former Mason professor, who passed away in March at age 85.
Cabrera gave a brief but moving speech about the life and works of Professor Wilkins as he announced the renaming of the North Plaza.
“I am proud that the spot where we now stand, the most central and symbolic space on our home campus, will from this day forward be known as Roger Wilkins Plaza,” said Cabrera.
Wilkins came to Mason in the late 1980s and taught for two decades as the Robinson Professor Emeritus of History and American Culture until his retirement in 2007. President Cabrera described Wilkins’ career at the school as “one of the intellectual pioneers who helped put this university on the map.”
But his career did not begin at Mason. President Cabrera went on to describe Wilkins’ early life in his dedication, saying that “he managed to navigate segregation, graduate from college and law school, practice law, serve in the Kennedy administration and at the young age of 33 be sworn in by President Lyndon Johnson as Assistant Attorney General – the highest rank achieved by an African American in his time.”
His work in the Kennedy administration and as Johnson’s Assistant Attorney General helped contribute to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 according to Cabrera.
After leaving the Johnson administration, Wilkins went to work as an editorial writer at the Washington Post. His work there during the Watergate scandal earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 alongside investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and cartoonist Herbert Block.
Professor Wilkins was also one of the first African American editorial writers at both the Post and the New York Times.
Photo Courtesy of Evan Cantwell/ Mason Creative Services