White, Walter Francis

(1893-1955)
   African American civil rights leader Walter Francis White graduated from Atlanta University in 1916 and worked for two years in insurance. In 1918, he was appointed assistant executive secretary to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He held the position until 1929 and then became executive secretary of the organization until his death in 1955. White took advantage of his light color to investigate and report on lynching in the South during the 1920s, and his reports were used in support of the antilynching bills in 1922, 1937, and 1940. His book on the subject, Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch, was published in 1929. He also wrote two novels, The Fire in the Flint (1924) and Flight (1926). White and the NAACP successfully opposed the nomination of John J. Parker to the Supreme Court in 1930 because of racist views he expressed during his career. White was also instrumental in initiating the NAACP’s legal challenges to discrimination that eventually culminated in the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. Through his friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, White gained some influence in the White House, and he helped shape changes in military policy with regard to African Americans in 1940. He supported A. Philip Randolph’s campaign against discrimination in defense industries and the threatened March on Washington in 1941 that resulted in the creation of a Fair Employment Practices Committee. During World War II, White toured U.S. military bases in Europe and Asia to see the treatment of black soldiers firsthand. He published his account in A Rising Wind (1945). After the war, he brought details of violence against returning African American servicemen to the attention of President Harry S. Truman and was influential in persuading the president to appoint a committee on civil rights in 1946. White was also a consultant to the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations in 1945 and 1948.
   White’s marriage to a white woman in 1949 alienated some white and African American supporters of the NAACP, and he increasingly had differences with fellow activists in the organization because of his anticommunist stance before his death. White’s autobiography, A Man Called White, was published in 1948.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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