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About the Author: Walter Francis White

He was an African American journalist, novelist, and essayist who became a spokesman for his community in the United States for almost a quarter of a century. He graduated from Atlanta University in 1916 (now Clark Atlanta University). In 1918 he joined the small national staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in New York at the invitation of James Weldon Johnson, acting as Johnson's assistant national secretary. White later succeeded Johnson as the head of the NAACP, serving from 1931 to 1955.

White oversaw the plans and organizational structure of the fight against public segregation. Under his leadership, the NAACP set up the Legal Defense Fund, which raised numerous legal challenges to segregation and disfranchisement, and achieved many successes. Among these was the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which determined that segregated education was inherently unequal. He was the virtual author of President Truman's presidential order desegregating the armed forces after the Second World War. White also quintupled NAACP membership to nearly 500,000.[1]

White was the fourth of seven children born in Atlanta to George W. White and Madeline Harrison. George had graduated from Atlanta University and was a postal worker. Madeline had graduated from Clark University and became a teacher. They belonged to the influential First Congregational Church, founded by freedmen and the American Missionary Association after the Civil War. They were among the new middle class and ensured that Walter and all their children got an education. After graduating in 1916 from Atlanta University, a historically black college, White's first job was with the Standard Life Insurance Company, one of the new and most successful businesses started by African Americans. He also worked to organize an NAACP chapter in Atlanta. He and other leaders were successful in getting the Atlanta School Board to support improving education for black children. At the invitation of James Weldon Johnson, White moved to New York and in 1918 started working with at the national headquarters of the NAACP.

He married Gladys Powell in 1922, divorcing her in 1949. They had two children, actress Jane White and Walter Carl Darrow White. White then married a white magazine editor, Poppy Cannon, with whom he lived until his death in 1955.

White had the appearance of a white man, a point he emphasized in his autobiography A Man Called White (p. 3): "I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me." Five of his great-great-great-grandparents were black and the other 27 were white. All of his family was light-skinned, and his mother was also blue-eyed and blonde.[2] Her maternal grandparents were Dilsia, a slave, and William Henry Harrison, the future President. Her mother Marie Harrison was one of Dilsia's daughters and her father Augustus Ware was also white.[3]

Sinclair Lewis' 1947 novel, Kingsblood Royal, about a man who appears to be white but learns late in life that he is black, has characters based in part on White and his professional circles. In fact, Lewis consulted White on the novel. While some white critics found the novel contrived, the prominent African-American magazine Ebony named it the best novel of the year.[4]
White used his appearance to increase his effectiveness in conducting investigations of lynchings and race riots. He could "pass" and talk to whites, but also manage to identify himself as black and talk to the African-American community. Such work was dangerous, but he investigated 41 lynchings and eight race riots while working with the NAACP.


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Goodreads rating: 3.33

Paperback, Published in Dec 1969 by Greenwood Press

ISBN10: 0837109450 | ISBN13: 9780837109459

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