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Isle native pioneered ethnic studies


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POSTED: Saturday, May 30, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif. » Ronald Takaki, a Hawaii native who was a pioneer in the field of ethnic studies and taught the University of California system's first black history course, has died. He was 70.

Takaki killed himself Tuesday in his Berkeley home after suffering for two decades from multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurological disease, according to his son, Troy.

After joining UC-Berkeley's faculty in 1971, Takaki established the Ethnic Studies Department's Ph.D. program, the first of its kind in the nation, and worked to draw talented scholars to teach there. He was the author or editor of nearly 20 books, most of them dealing with marginalized Americans, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated “;Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans.”;

Takaki began his teaching career in 1966 at UCLA, where he taught the UC system's first black history class in the wake of the city's deadly 1965 Watts riots.

“;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,”; said Don Nakanishi, director of UCLA's Asian American Studies Center.

Takaki also advised President Bill Clinton on his major speech on race in 1997.

The grandson of Japanese immigrants, Takaki grew up in Hawaii, surfing and working in the Chinese restaurant run by his mother. He was the first in his family to attend college, graduating in 1961 from Ohio's College of Wooster with a bachelor's degree in history. He went on to UC-Berkeley, where he earned a master's degree in 1962 and a Ph.D. in history in 1967.

He is survived by wife Carol; children Todd, Troy and Dana; and seven grandchildren.

Plans for a UC-Berkeley memorial service are pending.