Web feature

Ronald Takaki, pioneering scholar of race relations, dies at 70

| 27 May 2009

Ronald Takaki, a professor emeritus of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and prolific scholar of U.S. race relations who taught UC's first black history course, died at his home in Berkeley on Tuesday (May 26). He was 70.

Ronald TakakiRonald Takaki
During his more than four decades at UC Berkeley, Takaki joined the Free Speech Movement, established the nation's first ethnic studies Ph.D. program as well as Berkeley's American Cultures requirement for graduation, and advised President Clinton in 1997 on his major speech on race.

A descendent of Japanese plantation workers in Hawaii, Takaki left the islands in the late 1950s to study at Ohio's College of Wooster, where he earned a bachelor's degree. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in American history from UC Berkeley in 1967 and was hired at UCLA, where he taught the campus's first black history course. He joined Berkeley's Ethnic Studies department in 1971 and served as chair from 1975-77.

Among his numerous accolades for scholarship and activism, Takaki received a Pulitzer nomination for his book, "A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America" (Little Brown and Company, 1993); a Distinguished Teaching Award from UC Berkeley and the 2003 Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association.

"When I think of Ron, the words that come to mind are: solidarity, justice, easy-going, self-effacing, generous, creative," said Beatriz Manz, chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Ethnic Studies. "He poked fun at himself and had a contagious laughter. He embodied kindness. He was agreeable, conciliatory and non-confrontational."

He is survived by his wife, Carol, his three children and his grandchildren. Plans for a campus memorial service are pending. A complete obituary will be posted on Thursday.