Remembering Hanes Walton: "The Dean of Black Politics"


By Bai Linh Hoang
Jan 10, 2013

Hanes Walton

Faculty, students and staff in the Political Science Department are deeply saddened by the death of Professor Hanes Walton, who died unexpectedly on January 7, 2013.   Professor Walton was a professor of American politics whose scholarly work made a significant impact in African American politics, presidential elections, and political parties.   

Professor Walton first came to Michigan in 1992 from the University of Georgia, where he had been an adjunct professor.  He attended Morehouse College as an undergraduate, securing several academic scholarships as well as memberships in prestigious honor societies such as Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Kappa Mu, and Pi Sigma Alpha.  He received his Master of Arts in political science from Atlanta University and a Ph. D. in government from Howard University.     

While at Michigan, Professor Walton received numerous awards such as the National Conference of Black Political Scientists Outstanding Book Award in 1998 and the American Journal of Political Science Best Article Award in 2007 (co-authored with a former Michigan PhD student, Tasha Philpot, who is now an associate professor at the University of Texas - Austin).  He secured grants for several projects which focused on civic engagement in America, published extensively and worked tirelessly as a consultant and editor.  
 
One of his former students, LaFleur Stephens (PhD 2012), describes Professor Walton as “a prolific scholar, writing countless books and articles. I don't think you can write about Black Politics, without quoting him.”  

In a tribute to his former advisor, Professor Lester Spence of Johns Hopkins University credited Professor Walton as being the “first scholar to take Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously as a political philosopher…to examine black conservatism as a political phenomenon…to examine black third-party political participation (and)…to examine the politics of civil rights regulatory agencies.”  According to Spence, Dr. Walton was “arguably the dean of black politics, perhaps the most productive of the civil rights era generation of black political scientists.”  

While Professor Hanes Walton will certainly be remembered by his colleagues as an extraordinary scholar, he will be equally cherished for his tremendous dedication to undergraduate and graduate student advising, mentoring, and teaching.  As Spence puts it, this “incredibly humble professor was NEVER Dr. Walton or Professor Walton to any of us, but ALWAYS simply ‘Hanes’…who protected me and made me aware of what was going on around me.”  

Andrea Benjamin (PhD 2010), an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill adds, “Hanes was simply the best.  I was a GSI for Political Parties and Elections, a student in his Political Parties Graduate Seminar, and had the pleasure of working on a few research projects with Hanes.  In all of these capacities, he showed me the value of great scholarship and great teaching.  In doing so, he also showed me the power of effective mentoring.  His positive attitude and constant belief in my future carried me through many rough times.  His words comforted me after my mother passed away.  I'll miss him dearly.”

Expressing similar thoughts on Professor Walton’s mentoring and teaching, LaFleur Stephens calls him "simply brilliant” and without parallel in being “able to deliver an entire lecture without any notes, while still keeping students engaged.”  She adds “In this era of Powerpoint and fancy technology, he managed to teach with chalk and a blackboard, and still get rave reviews from students… In addition, he was a wonderful mentor and friend. He had a knack for making everyone genuinely feel like they could be as brilliant as him, yet he was quite modest.   I am a better scholar because of him.  I'm glad that he was on my dissertation committee and got to see me defend.  I selfishly wish that he could still be here for other milestones.  May he rest in peace.”  

While Professor Walton’s research was primarily focused on American politics, graduate students in other subfields did not hesitate to seek Professor Walton for advice and guidance.  Dominick Wright (PhD 2010) is one such student.  Wright  says  “I always drew comfort and support from conversations with Hanes. My ‘lane’ was clearly different from his, but that never stopped him from offering words of wisdom and reassurance, which he always delivered with a warm smile and that trademark ball cap. I regret that  future students will not have the benefit of conversations with Hanes to help see them through.”
 
Hanes Walton will be sorely missed by his colleagues not only in the department but across the discipline.  Professor Walton (or rather, Hanes) will always be remembered as a remarkable individual who filled the roles of professor, adviser, and scholar brilliantly and compassionately and whose work will continue to influence our thinking for generations to come.  

Funeral services will be held at 11:00 am, January 12 at Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. The Chapel is located on the campus of Morehouse College (830 Westview Drive Southwest, Atlanta, GA 30314)

Cards of condolence may be sent to the family at:  Hanes Walton, Jr.,PO Box 5178, Hilton Head Island, SC 29938

The family requests that memorial donations in Hanes's name be sent to the Department of Political Science at either the University of Michigan or Morehouse College.