- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wilhelmina J. Rolark, a longtime civil rights activist, lawyer, publisher, philanthropist and former four-term D.C. Council member, died yesterday at Greater Southeast Community Hospital after a yearlong battle with colon cancer. She was 89.

Mrs. Rolark, with her now-deceased husband Calvin W. Rolark, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and co-founded the Washington Informer newspaper in 1964 and the United Black Fund, a nonprofit group that supports community initiatives, in 1969.

She also founded the National Association of Black Women Attorneys in 1970.

In addition, Mrs. Rolark represented Ward 8 on the D.C. Council from 1976 to 1992.

“She was an integral part of the District of Columbia City Council, serving as chairman of several committees. … She was truly a leader and an advocate for residents across our city,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “Wilhelmina was a true champion for the District, and her passing is a tremendous loss for our city.”

Born 1916 in Portsmouth, Va., Mrs. Rolark graduated from I.C. Norcum High School in Portsmouth in 1933. She then attended Howard University in the District, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science.

Upon graduating from Howard, she began working at the Treasury Department during the day and attending the Robert H. Terrell Law School at night, where she earned her law degree in 1944. She specialized in civil rights cases.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said Mrs. Rolark was “an institution in this town all by herself.”

“Her insistence that she who was last would someday be first, and her work to make this a goal, not a dream, can be seen today in the extraordinary turnaround of the Ward she loved and led in preserving and refashioning,” Mrs. Norton said.

As a D.C. Council member, Mrs. Rolark led several panels such as the Judiciary Committee, which set the budgets for 22 city agencies, including the police and fire departments. She headed that committee for 10 years.

She also helped found the annual Martin Luther King Day parade in Southeast and played a key role in the naming of two main thoroughfares in Ward 8 after Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Council member Marion Barry, who defeated Mrs. Rolark in her 1992 re-election bid, described her as “the people’s champion.”

“With the passing of Mrs. Rolark today, this community and nation has lost a valuable person,” said Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat. “I have lost a true friend, a longtime friend. Wilhelmina was not only a leader and activist for Ward 8, but for African-Americans all over this city. She fought her illness with character and dignity, a lesson from which all of us can learn.”

Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said D.C. residents owe Mrs. Rolark their gratitude.

“Council member Rolark’s activism and her compassion reflect her dedication to the residents of Ward 8 and to the rights of all citizens of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said Mrs. Rolark gave “a voice to the voiceless.”

She “was a true warrior for democracy and home rule for the District and its residents,” Mrs. Cropp said. “She has left a great legacy of achievement. We honor her memory and her work on behalf of Ward 8 and the residents of the District of Columbia.”

She was a member of Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest.

Mrs. Rolark is survived by her stepdaughter, Denise Rolark Barnes of the District; stepson Calvin Rolark Jr.; two nephews; and a niece. Her husband died in 1994.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.

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