The Los Angeles City Council paid tribute Friday to Rita Walters, the first black woman elected to the council, a longtime city library commissioner and a former teacher and member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.
Walters died Wednesday at age 89.
Councilman Curren Price, who holds the 9th District seat once occupied by Walters, made the motion to adjourn Friday’s council meeting in honor of Walters.
“During a time of great oppression for African-Americans, Ms. Walters was inspired to begin her career as a public servant, insisting on gaining respect wherever she went,” Price said. “She was a pioneer that laid the groundwork for blacks and other people of color for generations to come.”
Price said Walters was committed to ensuring minorities gained equal employment, and she challenged the use of force by police against people of color.
Council President Nury Martinez said Walters was an inspiration to young women throughout Los Angeles, including herself.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson noted that his father was Walters’ church pastor.
“I think the thing that stands out for me about Councilwoman Walters is her incredible gentleness, kindness and force of human spirit,” Harris-Dawson said. “You almost don’t think of her as a politician because she never lowered herself to the depths that politics can go and the rancor in which people can relate to each other. Ms. Walters never, ever did that.”
Councilman David Ryu said Walters moved to his 4th Council District after her time on the council, and she was active at community meetings well into her 80s.
Walters, a former teacher, served on the LAUSD board for more than a decade before being elected to the City Council, filling the 9th District seat left vacant by the 1990 death of Councilman Gilbert Lindsay.
She held the City Council seat until 2001, and the next year she was appointed to the city’s Library Commission, on which she served for 15 years.
Walters was a graduate of Shaw University in North Carolina and had a master’s degree in business administration from UCLA.
She was also a longtime civil rights advocate, working with groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. She taught adult- education courses and English-as-a-second-language classes in Watts before being elected to the LAUSD board in 1980.
Price said during her time on the school board, Walters demanded that schools be integrated and that she was “furious” when black students were excluded.
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