By Airielle Lowe, Staff Reporter
Elizabeth Catlett sculptures, Romare Bearden collages and Robert S. Duncanson landscapes are among the original and rare artwork that adorns the home of Ronald and Patricia Walters. Now their collection of 152 prints, photographs and other pieces from eras such as the Harlem Renaissance will live on at Howard University.
“I could not be more delighted about the decision to give my art collection to Howard, the institution that my husband cared so deeply about,” Patricia Turner Walters said.
The $2.5 million donation honors her husband’s legacy of political strategy and activism related to issues affecting the African diaspora.
“It is an incredible honor to receive this generous gift of precious art from the Walters family,” President Wayne A.I. Frederick said in a statement. “This collection of sculptures and portraits and paintings will be an excellent complement to our gallery and a beneficial focus of training in our art history courses.”
In addition to the new collection, Howard is establishing a Ronald W. Walters Endowed Chair for Race and Black Politics. The renowned scholar, political strategist and activist was a professor in the Department of Political Science for 25 years, nine as chair. He was here until 1996 and then spent 13 years at the University of Maryland.
Walters also taught at Harvard, Syracuse, Princeton and Brandeis universities. He was planning to return to Howard as a senior research fellow and lecturer when he died in 2010. The following year, Howard started the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center, where the endowed chair will be based.
Patricia Turner Walters, who serves on the center’s board, met her future husband at a conference at the University of Illinois when she was a junior at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. They “instantly connected” and were married two years later, she said in an interview for The Hilltop. Graduating with honors and trained in social work, she spent 30 years at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission in Maryland before retiring in 2005.
Since the 1980s, she has been building her collection, which also includes artwork by Edward M. Bannister, Norman Lewis, Aaron Douglas and Lois Mailou Jones. Contemporary artists include Barkley Hendricks, Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley, who was commissioned to paint Barack Obama’s presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Patricia Turner Walters credited her appreciation for art to her best friend and mentor, Anita Moore-Hackney, who invited her to a holiday party at her home, which was plastered with African and African-American art.
“I can’t explain the explosion of passion that overcame me,” she recalled upon entering the house. After that moment, she sat down with her mentor to discuss collecting art. Reading was perhaps the greatest way for her to begin developing an eye for art, and thus, a collection began.
“I always knew I wanted to do something like this to honor my husband’s legacy,” she said of her gift, “but I never imagined that I would get to see it happen in my lifetime. I am grateful to President Frederick for working with me to make this possible. I could not be happier.”
Her husband’s legacy of activism began in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas, where he served as president of the local youth chapter of the NAACP. While four students at North Carolina A&T are credited with launching the sit-in movement through their protests at Woolworth in downtown Greensboro, Walters and his cousin started a sit-in at a Dockum Drugstore in the Rexall chain two years earlier in 1958, he said in an NPR interview and in a journal article that he wrote.
Walters, who also fought against apartheid in South Africa later in life, received a history degree from Fisk as well as a master’s in African Studies and a doctorate in International Studies from American. He also advised the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a manager and debate strategist for his 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. The author of more than a dozen books, he wrote “Black Presidential Politics in America: A Strategic Approach” in 1987 — two decades before Barack Obama entered the White House.
With all of his accomplishments, he loved Howard with all his heart, his widow said. Sunni Khalid, a Howard journalism alumnus and one of his former students, made similar comments regarding his passion for the university.
“Ron stayed at Howard because of the students,” Khalid said of his children’s godfather. The young, fresh minds that rolled in every year inspired him just as much as he inspired them.