- NAME: Roy Wilkins
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Editor, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: August 30, 1901
- DEATH DATE: September 08, 1981
- Did You Know?: A portrait of Roy Wilkins graced the cover of TIME magazine's August 30, 1963, issue, with art by Henry Koerner.
- EDUCATION: University of Minnesota, Mechanic Arts High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: St. Louis, Missouri
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
Best Known For
Roy Wilkins was a 20th century journalist and activist who became the leader of the NAACP and was a key figure of the Civil Rights Movement.
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Born on August 30, 1901, in St. Louis, Missouri, Roy Wilkins worked as a journalist/activist before becoming involved with the NAACP, succeeding Walter White as its leader in the 1950s. Wilkins was a major figure of the Civil Rights Movement and was involved in an array of key events, including the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the March on Washington. He died on September 8, 1981.
"Black power, in the quick, uncritical and highly emotional adoption it has received from some segments of a beleaguered people, can mean only black death. Even if it should be enthroned briefly, the human spirit would die a little."
"The only master race is the human race, and we are all, by the grace of God, members of it."
"Kansas City ate my heart out. It wasn't any one melodramatic thing. It was a slow accumulation of humiliations and grievances. I was constantly exposed to Jim Crow in the schools, movies, downtown hotels and restaurants.''
"We condemn the propaganda that Negro citizens must 'earn' their rights through good behavior. Good behavior wins the respect of our fellow citizens, which we value and seek, but no American is required to 'earn' his rights as a citizen. His human rights come from God and his citizenship rights come from the Constitution.'"
"Roy Wilkins worked for equality, spoke for freedom and marched for justice. His quiet and unassuming manner masked his tremendous passion for civil and human rights."
Roy Wilkins was born on August 30, 1901, in St. Louis, Missouri. After his mother died when he was just 4 years old, he and his siblings went to live with his maternal aunt and her spouse in the region of St. Paul, Minnesota.
He majored in sociology and journalism at the University of Minnesota, working various jobs to support his way—including as an editor for the university newspaper and the African-American periodical The St. Paul Appeal. Wilkins graduated from the school in 1923. He wed social worker Aminda "Minnie" Badeau in 1929.
Upon his move to Kansas City, taking an editorial position with the Kansas City Call in 1923, Wilkins was confronted with the viciousness of Jim Crow laws. He engaged in staunch activist work, eyeing politicians who were known for their overt racism, and eventually moved to New York in 1931 to serve as assistant to Walter White, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Working with the group's strong anti-lynching efforts, Wilkins also went undercover to observe and take part in the horrible job conditions African Americans toiled under as part of a federally funded river initiative in Mississippi. Wilkins's ensuing Mississippi Slave Labor report was instrumental in producing change for the workers.
By the mid-1930s, Wilkins had succeed intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois as editor of the NAACP's Crisis magazine, which Wilkins ran for a decade and a half. Later on, he was one of the key players in getting the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case to the Supreme Court, whose ruling declared public school segregation illegal. With White's passing in 1955, Wilkins was voted in as the NAACP's executive secretary, later known as executive director.
Wilkins continued his work as a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He believed in achieving social equality through legislation and Constitutional backing, and during speeches, urged African Americans to embrace U.S. citizenship. He went on to become an advocate of black-owned bank lending power and met with various U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, to advocate on his constituency's behalf.
Wilkins was also an instrumental figure in Congress' passing of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1950s and '60s, and was one of the key leaders in organizing the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his "I Have a Dream" speech. Additionally, Wilkins helped to oversee a rise in NAACP membership from 25,000 members in the 1930s to more than 400,000 by the 1970s.
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