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Roger Wilkins, a longtime civil rights attorney and educator, made headlines in 1973 when he and a group of Washington Post reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the Watergate scandal. Wilkins, who passed away earlier this year, was honored by George Mason University last week, where he taught for nearly two decades.

Wilkins was born January 29, 1932 in Kansas City, Missouri. After losing his father at a young age, he and his mother moved north to the city of New York where his uncle, Roy Wilkins, was the executive director of the NAACP. In the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, Roger Wilkins held court with the likes of W.E.D. Du Bois and Thurgood Marshall among other famous Black heroes.

Inspired to pursue a career in law, Wilkins graduated from the University of Michigan with undergraduate and juris doctorate degrees. After landing a good job in New York as a lawyer in a big firm,  rare at the time for Black men, the  civil rights movement caught his attention. Wilkins explained in an NPR interview that the “Little Rock Nine” situation and other issues across the South piqued his desire to work in civil rights.

In the ’60’s, Wilkins was named as a U.S. Assistant Attorney General at just 33 years of age by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Working in a civil rights capacity, Wilkins was one of the highest-ranking Blacks in government at the time. He left the government to pursue a job with the Washington Post’s editorial team, which uncovered then President Richard Nixon’s Watergate dealings.

In the ’80’s, Wilkins joined the faculty of George Mason University as its Robinson Professor of History and American Culture, retiring in 2007. Wilkins and his wife Patricia King, a Professor of Law at Georgetown University, resided in Maryland. According to reports, Wilkins passed from complications related to dementia.

In last Thursday’s ceremony at George Mason, the Johnson Center North Plaza was renamed for Wilkins. His widow was there to accept the honor on his behalf.

PHOTO: Public Domain


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