Ronald Takaki, a nationally renowned ethnic studies scholar, who taught the campus’ first African-American history course at the University of California-Berkeley, died Tuesday at his home in Berkeley. He was 70.
Takaki, who had battled multiple sclerosis for many years, retired from UC Berkeley almost six years ago, but was a regular and popular guest lecturer at the university. He was also a highly sought-after speaker around the country and would appear at social-justice rallies and draw standing-room-only crowds at forums everywhere.
"When I think of Ron, the words that come to mind are: solidarity, justice, easy-going, self-effacing, generous, creative," said Beatriz Manz, chairwoman of UC Berkeley's Department of Ethnic Studies. "He poked fun at himself and had a contagious laugh. He embodied kindness."
Yasmin Anwar of Berkeley Media Relations writes that during Takaki’s more than 40 years at UC Berkeley, he “established the nation's first ethnic studies Ph.D. program as well as UC Berkeley's American Cultures requirement for graduation, and advised President Clinton in 1997 on his major speech on race. In his books, such as ‘Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb,’ ‘Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth Century America’ and ‘Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii,’ Takaki tracked the history of racist attitudes not just about Asian Americans, but about all minorities, using real people's stories to touch all readers, not just scholars.”
Don Nakanishi, director of and professor at UCLA's Asian American Studies Center and a longtime friend of Takaki's, said, "Ron Takaki elevated and popularized the study of America's multiracial past and present like no other scholar, and in doing so had an indelible impact on a generation of students and researchers across the nation and world. He had a very special gift of bringing to life - through his oratory and his voluminous writings - the dynamic interconnections between major historical and structural trends and the often unheard voices of ordinary people.”
Takaki's 1989 book, "Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.