Rita Walters, the first black woman elected to the Los Angeles City Council and a former member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, died Thursday at age 89.
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.
"Sad to hear of the passing of Rita Walters, a model public servant who served our city passionately on the City Council and the Library Commission," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. "Her leadership planted the seeds that have enabled downtown to blossom. My thoughts are with her loved ones during this time."
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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.
"She fought hard for justice and peace," Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who served with Walters on the City Council in the 1990s, wrote on his Twitter page.
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.
John Szabo, Los Angeles' city librarian who worked with Walters during her time on the Library Commission, told NBC4 he feels "so fortunate to have known her and worked with her here at LAPL. Our libraries benefited significantly from her leadership and her voice."
Former Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry, who had been one of Walters' chiefs of staff, called her, "a tenacious fighter for people who historically had been overlooked by the political system."
"She believed in the power of education as a way to transform people's lives," Perry told City News Service. "She was always extremely passionate about libraries … and making certain people had access to them because reading was so essential to early childhood development."