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Lucius J. Barker, Stanford University political scientist who broke racial barriers in academia, has died at 92

Lucius J. Barker, a political scientist who broke through racial barriers to become a leader in constitutional law, civil liberties and African American politics, died in his Northern California home on June 21 of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 92.

Barker, who was the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, at Stanford, served as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1992-93. He was the second Black leader to hold that position.

Judith Goldstein, chair of Stanford’s Department of Political Science and the Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communication, said Barker committed his career to understanding how the American political system can represent the interests of all citizens.

Paula McClain, current president of the APSA, Duke University professor of political science and public policy, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for graduate education, called Barker “a giant in the field of political science.”

She said, “Yet, despite his eminence, Lucius was a generous and selfless human being who mentored numerous young scholars of all races, providing them opportunities to achieve their scholarly potential. The discipline and the academy in general need more Lucius Barkers.”

Barker also served as president of the Midwest Political Science Association and was the founding editor of the National Political Science Review, a publication of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, an organization for which he also served as president.

Seminal academic works

Barker’s academic career spanned five decades and he authored dozens of books, including Civil Liberties and the Constitution with his brother, the late political scientist Twiley W. Barker Jr. The book is in its ninth edition and still widely used in political science courses. In 1980, Barker co-authored what is considered to be a defining book on systemic racism through a political lens, Black Americans and the Political System. The work was expanded in four editions to become African Americans and the Political System.

He also was an active participant and observer in American politics, including his participation in campaigns of President John F. Kennedy in 1960 and the 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. He was the author of Our Time Has Come, which examined Jackson’s campaign.

Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, credits Barker with expanding “understanding how racial groups can mobilize and drive meaningful change.”

He said, “It’s fitting to salute Lucius Barker during this crucial time in race relations, as he was a scholarly soldier in our ongoing battle for equal rights. He dedicated his professional career to research, analyze and teach the next generations about the pivotal events, court rulings and laws that comprise American civil liberties.”

Inspiring mentor

At Stanford, where he taught from 1990 until retiring in 2006, Barker was known as an inspiring mentor. His students included U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas); his twin brother, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro; U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.); and former U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West. Barker kept up with his former students’ careers, including Julián Castro’s and Booker’s presidential campaigns.

“Professor Barker was more than a professor to me. He was a model and an inspiration,” Booker said. “He taught me the importance of rigorously pursuing knowledge and using that knowledge in the service of others. And he lived this ethos, with a generosity of heart that nurtured, encouraged and guided me toward a career of public service. He was indeed one of life’s great professors.”

Julián Castro credits Barker as having a positive and sustaining influence on aspiring students. “I will always remember Professor Barker as a kind, brilliant man and a wonderful teacher who gave me the encouragement and support I needed to believe I could accomplish great things,” Castro said. “I am grateful for the difference he made in my own journey, and in the journey of many others.”

A prestigious career

Barker, the fifth of six children, was born on June 11, 1928, in Franklinton, Louisiana, to college-educated parents who taught in – but were undeterred by – the segregated school system. After graduating high school, Barker attended Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, where he pledged the Beta Sigma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1949. He then attended the University of Illinois for graduate studies in constitutional law and civil liberties. His mentor was Jack Peltason, who later became president of the University of California system. Barker earned his PhD from Illinois in 1954, and began his teaching career there as a fellow.

Barker returned to Southern University to teach for several years before moving to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He spent the 1964-65 academic year as a Liberal Arts Fellow of Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. In 1967, Peltason, then chancellor, recruited Barker to the University of Illinois to serve as assistant chancellor. In 1969, Washington University in St. Louis recruited him to teach and chair the political science department as the Edna Fischel Gellhorn Professor. He remained there until 1990, when he joined Stanford.

At Stanford, he twice served as chair of the Department of Political Science and joined Sigma Pi Phi fraternity (known as the Boulé). As a Stanford faculty member, he was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“He was a great citizen to the profession and the university,” said Goldstein. “He had a lively mind and an open door, and was thus always surrounded by faculty and students. He will be greatly missed.”

In 2008, Barker participated and volunteered in another historic presidential campaign, that of Barack Obama. Barker and his family attended Obama’s first presidential inauguration in 2009.

Barker’s wife of 55 years, Maude, preceded him in death by just 33 days. He is also preceded in death by his five siblings. He is survived by his daughters: Tracey Barker-Stevens of Los Angeles and Heidi Barker of Chicago and Miami; two grandsons; several sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law; two caregivers, Christina and Katie; and many nieces (including Jan Barker-Alexander, Stanford assistant vice provost for inclusion and community) and nephews; as well as students, mentees and colleagues. Memorial arrangements are pending.

Members of the Barker family ask that donations in his memory be made to the Twiley Sr., Marie and Bringier Barker Scholarship Fund. The fund awards a one-time college scholarship to eligible underserved high school seniors in Baton Rouge and Franklinton, Louisiana. Donations may be made through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Please specify your donation is for the Barker Scholarship Fund in the “Comments” section just before submitting.