Sunday, May 29, 2011

R.D. Rucker: A Nice BAD Guy at the University of Arkansas, and Much More

R.D. (arm raised), Nov. 1969
R.D. Rucker was a leader of BAD, the Black Americans for Democracy, a student group at the University of Arkansas in the late ‘60 and early ‘70s.  This group formed in the late 1960s to promote the interest of African-American students on the University of Arkansas campus. While the University had been integrated for several years, the number of black students on campus was still quite small, and grievances had accumulated.

Those years were a time of activism on most campuses, the University of Arkansas included. With the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and urban violence, increasing numbers of students were motivated to try to bring about change.  

R.D. was one of those students. When recalling the 1969-70 Dixie controversy at the University of Arkansas (see the previous post), R.D. quickly came to mind.  BAD played the key role in the anti-Dixie effort, and R.D. was among the most active in its effort to stop the band from playing Dixie.

A young African-American, who some people think was brilliant, R.D. was a small guy with an easy manner. He also had an out sized assertiveness that made him stand out in public meetings. Friendly with a disarming smile and great energy, R.D. was one of BAD’s most aggressively visible advocates.  He sometimes used a radical rhetoric that would surprise those of us who otherwise enjoyed his company.  
Speaking to Students

Among his other activities, R.D. ran for Student Association secretary in spring 1970, mainly to have a forum to speak his views to fellow students. Predictably, he did not win the election. However, he did have a chance to talk to groups of students throughout the campus.

Dr. Gordon Morgan, University of Arkansas faculty member, was clearly impressed by R.D.  Morgan, a sociologist, wrote about the racial situation at UA in the 60s and 70s. In his book, The Edge of Campus: A Journal of Black Experience at the University of Arkansas (University of Arkansas Press, 1990), Morgan had a section called, “The Legend of R.D. Rucker.”  He wrote:

Rucker was a honey-colored kid with frizzy sandy hair.  He had a slight build and was about 5’ 7” tall.  His winning smile, disarming manners and obvious intelligence took most people by storm.

The “legend” begins with this story:

Nobody knows much about the background of this young black man who came to Fayetteville about 1968.  He didn’t know anything about the University of Arkansas when he came.  He said he was hitching a ride somewhere, anywhere, and the chicken truck he got a ride on stopped at Fayetteville.  Having no bags or personal belongings, he got off and found his way to the campus.  After wandering around for a few days, he decided to enroll...

This account of R.D.’s arrival does not square with the story told by George McGill (owner of the McGill Insurance Agency in Forth Smith) as part of his University of Arkansas-Ft. Smith commencement address on December 18, 2008 (see http://www.thecitywire.com/print/2309 ). He said in his speech:
[When McGill went to Fayetteville to enroll in college, he] gave a ride to fellow freshman R.D. Rucker, who showed pride as he held an acceptance letter to the university. McGill saw the student struggle to make it, having only two changes of clothing and riding a bicycle through rain, sleet and snow for three years. McGill said Rucker went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy and a law degree, becoming a writer, professor and assistant attorney general for the state of Texas. He said he shared Rucker’s story because he wanted the UA Fort Smith graduates to hold their diplomas with the same pride that Rucker had held his acceptance letter that day.
Both McGill and Morgan agreed that Rucker was poor.  According to Morgan:
During the three years Rucker was at the University, he claims he never had an address. He said he lived in a drainpipe for some time and sorority girls allow him to sleep in their attics during very bad weather... (p. 177)
It is not known how Rucker survived financially.  He never had enough to pay his bills and he frowned upon taking financial aid on ground that it placed one in financial and psychological debt to the capitalists. (p. 177)
Also, McGill and Morgan believed that Rucker was very intelligent.  Wrote Morgan:

What Rucker majored in is uncertain.  He studied anything he had a mind to, often showing up in science and mathematics classes to challenge  instructors in their own fields.  He didn’t have to be enrolled in a class to issue a  challenge.  He could cause a young instructor to turn gray with his penetrating questions and unarguable logic.  Mature teaches frequently turned over their lecterns to Rucker until the hour was finished. (p. 177)
Finally, Morgan summed up the Rucker legend like this:
The campus loved and feared R.D. Rucker, and he feared no one.  He often  challenged the opinions of the highest ranking officials at the University.  He would talk coldly about blowing up the Pentagon or Old Main as calmly as one might discuss the Pythagorean theorem.  No public meeting was safe from disruption, for he would challenge any speaker on any point, regardless of the speaker’s status. (p. 178)
For all the remarks against the militant R.D. Rucker, no one who knew him ever accused him of being impolite.  He was always gracious and generous.  His insights were always food for thought. (p 178)
I don’t know how much of this legend is true. The part about accidently finding himself on the UA campus most likely is not. While some of it squares with what I remember about R.D., other elements seem implausible. For example, a picture in the 1970 Razorback Yearbook shows that R.D. lived at least for a while in Hotz Hall. And, though he may have been “anti-capitalist,” a picture in the 1969 Razorback Yearbook showed that he was a member of the UA Young Republicans (YR) that year. (Of course, a YR membership then had a wholly different meaning than being a YR today. In 1969, the Republicans in Arkansas were the party of racial moderation and political change. In 1966, the Democratic candidate for governor had been Jim Johnson, a long-time segregationist. In 1968, his wife had come in second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. It is not surprising that a politically active African-American would be attracted to the party promoting equal rights.)

Likely the stories about his financial difficulties are factual. He was the tenth child of Kirk and Demora Rucker, born in Swifton, Arkansas. Unless the family was rich, they likely lacked the resources to pay for all of his college studies. (See item in this link: https://list.uiowa.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A3=ind0404&L=UI-NEWS&E=quoted-printable&P=253399&B=--B_3165481495_790407&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=US-ASCII&XSS=3&header=1 ; Family information is from the Newport Independent, Febuary 13, 2004, "Black History Month Tribute to R.D. Rucker: a man who made a difference", available for purchase through the newspaper archive). 

Thinking back about R.D. and his legend, I decided to try to find out what had happened to him after he finished his three years at UA and left with a B.A. in history in the early 70s?

I found no information about his life for a few years after he left UA, but according to internet sources, he studied history at Columbia University from 1976 to 1978, then did post-graduate study in Moscow with an IREX fellowship. Based on his research at Columbia and in Moscow, he wrote an article that was published in the Journal of East European Thought (vol. 19, no. 3, 1979) titled "Abram Moiseevic Deborin: Weltanschauung and role in the development of Soviet philosophy 

After he returned, he was a student at the University of Iowa, earning a Ph.D. in history in 1981. His dissertation was titled, The Making of the Russian Revolution: Revolutionaries, Workers and the Marxian Theory of Revolution.  

Following that, he studied law at the University of Texas, getting his law degree in 1985. With that degree, R.D. first worked as an assistant attorney general for a brief time, then was assistant district attorney in Waco and, afterwards, a public defender in Wichita Falls. He moved to Dallas in 1988 and was a defense attorney there until his death.  In the 1990s, he was three times an unsuccessful candidate for different judicial posts in Dallas and lost all three races.

R.D. self-published six books, which are still available through Amazon.  They are:

Abraham Lincoln’s Social and Political Thought,

Drugs, Drug Addiction, and Drug Dealing: The Origin and Nature of, and the Solution To, the American Drug Problem,

Eros and the Sexual Revolution,

Jesus Christ and the Origin of Christianity,

Marriage, Love, and the Family: An Investigation into the Role of the Black Woman in the African-American Family, and

Sweet Land of Liberty: A Poetical Journey Through America, 1996- 1998.


The fact that these books were self-published indicates that he or they likely were outside the mainstream of academic discourse. In the context of his 1998 candidacy for a judgeship in Dallas, the Dallas Observer savaged Rucker and his books, ridiculing his theories about the origin and nature of addictions and crime. The author of the nasty article called him a man “whose writings reveal him as one of the most sexist and racist candidates to come along in Dallas County, which has a long and not-so-distinguished history of putting such men in black robes.” The hatchet job on Rucker and his books are at this website:

On the other hand, a friend wrote that R.D. “was the smartest guy I have ever known and had a heart filled with compassion.” A remembrance of him is found at this website:

R.D. Marching in MLK Parade, 1969
R.D. was listed in the 2003 Who’s Who in America and the 11th edition of Who’s Who in American Law (2000-2001).

R.D. died too young on August 13, 2003 at the age of 53.  No doubt until that day, he was still making life interesting for those around him.  

6 comments:

  1. Came across this article by googling R.D. Rucker. Enjoyed it....R.D. was my uncle and this is the first I've read of his college days. Thanks

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  2. Thank you for your comment. I knew R.D. casually when at the University of Arkansas and liked him. I admired his spunk, courage, and energy. He was a bright guy. It was sad that he died at such a young age.

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  3. Hey there! I really enjoyed this article and have since passed it along to a few other Rucker family members! R.D. Rucker is my Great Uncle and one his brothers, my GrandPa- Willie Rucker has filled my head with many accounts of his success and accomplishments! It's incredibly encouraging to learn about his dedication to the cause, and I can't help but to be inspired, not only by his intelligence, but also his integrity, an example to remain respectful and humble no matter the circumstance!
    It seems that some of the hyperlinks in the Article are now defunct and may contain other bits of interest! If you could redirect me to some of your other sources would be great! This was a great read! Thanks again

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I'm sorry about the dead links. I will try to update them in the next couple of weeks if they can be found in another location. I am glad to hear that R.D. inspired you with his life. As I have noted, I did not know him well but admired him when we were both students at the University of Arkansas so many years ago. Not very many students left the mark that he did at UofA. I didn't know that R.D. had a brother, but I am glad he has been there to tell you stories about R.D.

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  4. I am RD's niece, my mom is his sister, I spent a few summers in Arkansas getting to know my uncle. I have most of his published books and one unpublished book " Veronica". I miss him, Thank you for posting this article

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    1. Thank you for your comment. Clearly, R.D. had a large and loving family, and many friends, who still miss him and honor his accomplishments and memory. I am glad that you had the opportunity to spend time with him when he was living in Fayetteville -- those were interesting years.

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