Alumni Association Names Wilkins Faculty Member of the Year

Posted: April 26, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Rey Banks and Colleen Kearney Rich

Roger Wilkins
Roger Wilkins
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Each spring, the George Mason University Alumni Association recognizes and honors outstanding alumni, students and faculty members for their achievements and contributions to the university. This year, the association selected Roger Wilkins, Robinson Professor of History and American Culture, Faculty Member of the Year.

Roger Wilkins is a living history lesson.

Without the aid of books or research tools, he could instruct the many students who vie for admittance into his classes. He could simply sit and recount the many exciting experiences that have made up his life. The names of historical giants roll off his tongue: Martin, Jesse, Colin, Julian and Ramsey (Attorney General Clark to most of us). But to Wilkins, they are simply friends and contemporaries.

From birth, he was part of the civil rights movement. His mother was a lifelong civil rights crusader and the first African American woman to head the national YWCA. His father was a business manager of an early black newspaper, the Kansas City Call.

Wilkins’s subsequent jobs added to the historical context he received from his civic-minded family. Starting with his service in the Lyndon Johnson administration as assistant attorney general, he fought to win passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While working on the editorial page staff of the Washington Post, he earned a shared Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and cartoonist Herb Block. He also was the first black columnist at the New York Times and an associate editor at the Washington Star.

His highly acclaimed autobiography, “A Man’s Life,” was published in 1982, and his book “Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism” (2001) won the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Book Award. He is publisher of NAACP’s journal, Crisis, and has served on the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia and on the District of Columbia Board of Education.

Wilkins retires from Mason this year.

Write to at