Hanes Walton Jr. RIP

Hanes Walton jr. passed away recently. Over the course of a 45 year career he published over 80 articles, 25 book chapters, and 25 books and edited volumes, served on 12 review boards, and received over 25 awards and grants. He was the first scholar to take Martin Luther King jr. seriously as a political philosopher. He was the first scholar to examine black conservatism as a political phenomenon. He was the first scholar to examine black third-party political participation. He was the first scholar to examine the politics of civil rights regulatory agencies. In fact almost twenty years later his book on the subject (When the Marching Stopped) as well as his book Invisible Politics remain required reading (hopefully SUNY Press will re-release Invisible Politics). He spent the majority of his career at two institutions–Savannah State College, and the University of Michigan–he was one of the only scholars to have spent significant time at a historically black college as well as a mainstream high tier research I university. 

In sum, Walton was arguably the dean of black politics, perhaps the most productive of the civil rights era generation of black political scientists. 

My first year of graduate school at Michigan happened to coincide with Hanes Walton's first year on campus. I was one of his research assistants. I graded a few of his classes. I chose him as my dissertation advisor. 

I found him to be incredibly humble. To say he was productive was an understatement–particularly given that he wrote every single book, chapter, article, and review I mention above in longhand (sending his work to an assistant in Savannah to type because she was the only one on the face of the planet who could read his handwriting!). He was an engaging lecturer–one year I happened to be the grader for both of his classes and witnessed him deliver two three-hour long lectures every Friday for an entire semester without notes. And he was open with his time–he spent every Saturday writing the dozens of recommendation letters and tenure reviews he was routinely asked to write. He was NEVER Dr. Walton or Prof. Walton to any of us–he was ALWAYS simply "Hanes."

Finally it is (fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective) very possible for a black professor to be simultaneously incredibly productive, an intellectual groundbreaker, and anti-political when it comes to dealing with ACTUAL black politics particularly at the micro-level. There are a number of black professors who through their scholarship make it possible for scholars to study black life without having to compromise, while at the same time looking the other way when those scholars face attack (from non-blacks and blacks alike) because they don't quite fit the grad student/scholar box. 

Hanes Walton Jr. is not one of those professors. On two occasions I know of, and given my own proclivities, probably a dozen other occasions, Hanes protected me. AND made me aware of what was going on around me. Over the past twenty years the University of Michigan has produced more black political scientists than any other institution. Almost all of those students bear his mark.

I wish I could say that there were people up to the task of filling his shoes. 

I cannot.

Hanes Walton Jr.'s CV

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=875350304 Fige Bornu

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with “Hanes”, and allowing me to know him a bit through you.

  • Melynda

    There is no one up to the task. Thanks for sharing the truth for so many of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=724951158 facebook-724951158

    awesome commentary…. enjoyed reading about “Hanes” through your eyes.

  • DetroiterInNYC

    This is beautiful.

  • Jeff Bernstein

    Lester, it’s Jeff Bernstein, a blast from the past from your grad school career. I saw this blog linked to on Facebook, and just wanted to thank you for these nice words about Hanes. I TA’ed for him twice when you and I were in graduate school, and learned a lot. He was definitely a humble and giving individual.

  • Rosalyn Loftis

    Thanks Lester. As a Michigan parent, some of the words you chose echo the memories I have of Dr. Hanes Walton. I am grateful for his presence and support for the students on that campus. His commitment will never be forgotten. Thanks, Hanes.

  • SR

    I was in Ann Arbor when he arrived. He was incredible. I earned a PhD as he inspired me. I am so sad. Scharn Robinson

  • Amy Graham

    I enjoyed your post. He was a wonderful man, teacher, person. Rest peacefully Haynes. – Amy Graham ’93 SSC

  • Greg Markus

    Lester, thank you. It was my honor and privilege to have Hanes as colleague, friend, and role model for many years. I got to travel with him to a number of cities around the country as part of one of our research projects and spend time with him. He taught me a great deal, about politics and about life. He will be in my thoughts always. — Greg Markus

  • Gerald L. Crowder

    What an awesome and very humble man. RIP Hanes, for you will always be in our hearts and minds.
    Class Act

  • Irfan

    I only just saw your post, and wanted to thank you for it, Les. RIP Hanes.