Lucius J. Barker, Trailblazing Scholar of Constitutional Law, Civil Liberties and African American Politics and Former APSA President, Dies At 92

Renowned Professor Taught Political, Legal Leaders Cory Booker, Julián & Joaquin Castro, Tony West

Stanford, Calif. – Lucius J. Barker, Ph.D., who broke through racial barriers to become a renowned academic leader, author and professor of political science, constitutional law and civil liberties, died in his Northern California home of complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease on June 21, 2020. He was 92.

Barker, who grew up in the rigidly segregated South and worked his way to the upper echelon of his field, won dozens of awards and held numerous leadership roles throughout his career. Among his achievements, he served as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1992-1993. He was the second Black leader to hold that position, more than 40 years after the organization’s first Black president, the late Dr. Ralph Bunche, Nobel peace prize winner and former United Nations official.

“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,” said Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., civil rights icon and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “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.”

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. He most recently taught at Stanford University as the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science from 1990 until 2006, twice serving as department chair.

“Lucius J. Barker was a giant in the field of political science,” said Paula D. McClain, Ph.D., president of the APSA, and Duke University professor of political science and public policy, Dean of the graduate school and Vice Provost for graduate education. “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. He will be missed by so many.”

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. (…)“- U.S. Sen. Cory Booker

Barker’s academic career spanned five decades and he authored dozens of books, including Civil Liberties and the Constitution with his brother, Twiley W. Barker Jr., Ph.D, (deceased), also a distinguished political science professor. The book is in its ninth edition and still widely used in political science courses.

A favorite of both undergraduate and graduate students, Barker was known for employing the Socratic teaching method in his classrooms. His students at Stanford included U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX); his twin brother, former U.S. Secretary of Housing Julián Castro; U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); and former U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West, now General Counsel at Uber. Even as his health declined, 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. I miss him and send love to his family during this difficult time. He – and they – will always be in my heart.”

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.”

Barker, the fifth of six children, was born on June 11, 1928 in Franklinton, La., 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, Inc., 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, then a young assistant professor who would later become president of the University of California system. Barker received his Ph.D. from Illinois in 1954, and began his teaching career there as a fellow.

Dr. Barker’s book on my 1984 presidential campaign, and his work overall, will remain crucial in understanding how racial groups can mobilize and drive meaningful change,”- Rev. Jackson

He returned to his alma mater Southern University to teach for several years, before moving on to teach at 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 (he would return to Harvard 25 years later as a visiting professor in the school of government.) In 1967, Peltason, then in his new role of chancellor, recruited Barker back to the University of Illinois to teach and serve as assistant chancellor. By this time, Barker had become a well-known scholar and a rising star in his profession. In 1969, Washington University in St. Louis secured him to teach and chair the political science department as the Edna Fischel Gellhorn Professor, where he remained until 1990.

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, which evolved through its four editions to become African Americans and the Political System. Always civically engaged, in
1984, Barker served as a Missouri delegate for Rev. Jackson at the Democratic National Convention. He wrote a book on this experience, Our Time Has Come, which examined the wide-ranging impact of Jackson’s campaign.

“Dr. Barker’s book on my 1984 presidential campaign, and his work overall, will remain crucial in understanding how racial groups can mobilize and drive meaningful change,” said Jackson.

During his final professorial tenure at Stanford, he joined Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (known as the Boulé.) In 2008, he also participated and volunteered in another historic presidential run by a dynamic African American leader, Barack Obama. Barker and his family celebrated the landmark victory by attending Obama’s first presidential inauguration in Washington DC on January 20, 2009. It was a full-circle moment for Barker: like thousands of African Americans of his generation, he went from fighting for the right to vote… to voting into office the nation’s first Black president.

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, Ca.; and Heidi Barker, of Chicago, Ill. and Miami, Fla.; two grandsons; several sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law; two wonderful caregivers, Christina and Katie; and a host of nieces, nephews, and grateful students, mentees and colleagues. Memorial arrangements are pending.

  •  For Lucius Barker’s complete bio on the Stanford University website, click here.
  • In 1996, as a testament to his family’s legacy of education and excellence, Barker created the Twiley Sr., Marie and Bringier Barker Scholarship Fund, named for his deceased parents and deceased younger brother, all revered educators in their hometown of Franklinton, La. The Fund awards a one-time college scholarship to eligible underserved high school seniors in Baton Rouge, and Franklinton, La. In lieu of flowers, donations in Lucius Barker’s memory may be made through the fund administrator, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (a 501c3 charitable organization.) Please specify your donation is for the Barker Scholarship Fund in the “Comments” section just before submitting
  • Listen to an interview with Dr. Lucius J. Barker, from the APSA-Pi Sigma Alpha Political Scientists Oral History Project