In Memoriam: Raymond Wolters (1938-2020)

Raymond Wolters passed away on December 1, 2020. He was 82 years old and the Thomas Muncy Keith Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Delaware. 

Professor Wolters was born in 1938, in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Margaret Reilly Wolters and Raymond Martin Wolters. He was educated at two Catholic elementary schools in Los Angeles County; at St. Francis High School near Pasadena; at Stanford University (B.A., 1960); and at the University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., 1967). In 1965 he joined the faculty of the Department of History at the University of Delaware, where he taught American history for 49 years. He was a 50-year member of the Organization of American Historians. 

Professor Wolters was a popular teacher and also the author of seven books that dealt with various aspects of American race relations: Negroes and the Great Depression (1970) – a revisionist account of how black leaders responded to the economic policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal; The New Negro on Campus (1975) – the story of several black student rebellions during the 1920s; The Burden of Brown (1984) – a revisionist account of the problems that ensued in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education – and also the recipient of the American Bar Association’s annual Silver Gavel Award; Right Turn (1996) – which described how William Bradford Reynolds (Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights) supported policies that called for non-discrimination but opposed policies that fostered affirmative discrimination; Du Bois and His Rivals (2002) – a biographical account of the rivalries among black leaders in the early years of the twentieth century; Race and Education (2006) – a challenge to political correctness and a corrective to the notion that desegregation and racially balanced integration are one and the same; and The Long Crusade (2014) – a biographical description of more than a generation of failed, perhaps doomed, school reforms. 

As a graduate student, Professor Wolters participated in civil rights demonstrations in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco. His sympathy for the civil rights movement was also evident in his first two books on race relations in the 1920s and 1930s and in his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois. In his other books, however, Professor Wolters was critical of forced integration, and called attention to the failures of “school reform” and to the intractability of racial gaps in academic achievement. 

Professor Wolters’ research was supported by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies (1970 and 1978-79), the American Philosophical Society (1974), the Delaware Humanities Forum (1989), the Earhart Foundation (1989-90), the Crystal Trust (1996-2000), the Pew Charitable Trust (1999), and the U. S. Department of Education (2002-2005). 

In 1960, when Professor Wolters was a student at Berkeley, he met another Berkeley student, Mary McCullough. Mary and Ray were married in 1962, and from 1965 until 2014 they lived in or near Newark, Delaware, where they reared three sons: Jeff, Kevin, and Tom. They have four grandchildren: Ben, Claire, Andrew, and Megan. After Ray retired in 2014, Mary and Ray divided their time between what had been their summer house at Long Point on the Bohemia River and winters in Naples, Florida. 

Professor Wolters was a sociable man whose life revolved around his family and his research, writing, and teaching. At lunch time on most days during the school year he could be found discussing ideas and policies with colleagues at the University of Delaware’s Blue and Gold Club or its predecessor, the Faculty Dining Room. He regretted the University’s decision to close both the Dining Room and the Club. 

Professor Wolters also found time for family activities. In high school he had earned varsity letters in baseball, and as an adult he coached several of his sons’ baseball teams. One of those teams won a Division Championship in the Newark Babe Ruth League. After Professor and Mrs. Wolters purchased the aforementioned house on the Bohemia River, Ray and Mary took up boating and all three of their sons became adept at water skiing. Ray and Mary attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Chesapeake City, Maryland, and St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL.

Posted: December 15, 2020
Tagged: In Memoriam