Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP (Civil Rights and Struggle)
Roy Wilkins (1901–1981) spent forty-six years of his life serving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and led the organization for more than twenty years. Under his leadership, the NAACP spearheaded efforts that contributed to landmark civil rights legislation, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
In Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP, Yvonne Ryan offers the first biography of this influential activist, as well as an analysis of his significant contributions to civil rights in America. While activists in Alabama were treading the highways between Selma and Montgomery, Wilkins was walking the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., working tirelessly in the background to ensure that the rights they fought for were protected through legislation and court rulings. With his command of congressional procedure and networking expertise, Wilkins was regarded as a strong and trusted presence on Capitol Hill, and received greater access to the Oval Office than any other civil rights leader during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Roy Wilkins fills a significant gap in the history of the civil rights movement, objectively exploring the career and impact of one of its forgotten leaders. The quiet revolutionary, who spent his life navigating the Washington political system, affirmed the extraordinary and courageous efforts of the many men and women who braved the dangers of the southern streets and challenged injustice to achieve equal rights for all Americans.
Notes, Interview between Althea Simmons and Sam Rose, December 18–19, 1963, Roy Wilkins Papers, Box 29, LOC. 76. Judge Nathaniel Jones, interview by the author, December 15, 2007. 77. Notes, interview between Althea Simmons and Sam Rose, December 18–19, 1963. 78. Ibid. 79. Organizational chart, Organization and Conference Manual, West Coast Region, May 1953, Arthur Spingarn Papers, Reel 35, LOC. 80. Conclusions of the management survey commissioned by the NAACP and completed by Lennon/Rose,
return. Making a none-too-subtle dig at Wilkins—and making full use of the fear of the Communist threat—he said, “I have encountered reports of dissension and disruption in the NAACP which convinces me that in this most critical period the NAACP’s enemies are attempting to ‘divide and conquer’ us.” Upon discovering he was “heartbound” to the organization, he added, he had decided to withdraw his resignation and dedicate himself to leading the organization—as only he could—through this turbulent
March by an assertion by longtime board member and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt that he had written to her to criticize White’s marriage to Poppy Cannon. The alleged letter from Wilkins angered her to such an extent that she resigned from the board, although she had previously tried to offer her resignation some months before, citing pressure of work. After heated denials from Wilkins (and it does seem highly unlikely that he would have written such a letter to such a prominent and
Wilkins, reported in the Amsterdam News that some members of the board wanted to dismiss Wilkins and replace him with Franklin Williams, a former NAACP official on the West Coast who by this time was a member of the staff at the Peace Corps, and also suggested that there was a move to change the manner in which the president of the NAACP was elected.64 Wilkins moved swiftly to dismiss Booker’s assertions. In a letter to the executive staff criticizing the article, Wilkins made only an implicit
was unable to define the purpose of the less militant route indicates how quickly and how far the more militant groups had redefined the parameters of the movement. This, McPherson pointed out, placed Johnson in an uncomfortable position in his support for civil rights: “The very fact that you have led the way toward first-class citizenship for the Negro, that you are identified with his cause, means that to some extent, your stock rises and falls with the movement’s.”51 But within the Johnson