One of UIndy’s best-known and most distinguished alumni has passed away. William Raspberry, the 1958 graduate who became one of the nation’s first widely syndicated African-American newspaper columnists, died July 17 at his home in Washington, D.C., according to his longtime employer, the Washington Post. The paper’s obituary described William Raspberry as “a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post whose fiercely independent views illuminated conflicts concerning education, poverty, crime and race, and who was one of the first black journalists to gain a wide following in the mainstream press.”
Raspberry wrote his opinion column for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2005, receiving the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1994.“His writings were often provocative but seldom predictable,” according to the Post. “Although he considered himself a liberal, Mr. Raspberry often bucked many of the prevailing pieties of liberal orthodoxy. He favored integration but opposed busing children to achieve racial balance. He supported gun control but—during a time when the District seemed to be a free-fire zone for drug sellers—he could understand the impulse to shoot back.
“When strident voices were shouting for attention, Mr. Raspberry often favored a moderate tone. He did not consider himself a political partisan and even stopped appearing on argumentative news-talk shows because, as he said in 2006, ‘they force you to pretend to be mad even when you’re not.’
“Instead of following other pundits to Capitol Hill, Mr. Raspberry looked at another side of Washington: the problems facing ordinary people, sometimes voiced through an imaginary D.C. cabdriver —simply called “the cabbie” — who was a recurring figure in his columns. While at UIndy—known as Indiana Central when Raspberry earned his history degree—the Mississippi native wrote for the Reflector student newspaper and also for the local Indianapolis Recorder newspaper.
He remained connected to his alma mater through the years, receiving an honorary degree in 1973 and earning the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1980, as well as speaking at the 1992 commencement. He served on the UIndy Board of Trustees from 1992 to 2007, the same year he came to campus to deliver the inaugural Jerry and Carol Israel Lecture in Public Policy.
“Mr. Raspberry derived some of his core principles from a bedrock belief in self-reliance and the importance of education,” said the Post. “He often cited the example of his parents, both of whom were teachers. He challenged prominent civil rights figures to put their words into action to help build a better world for the poor and disenfranchised. ‘Education is the one best hope black Americans have for a decent future,’ Mr. Raspberry wrote in a 1982 column.”