In Search of Democracy: The NAACP Writings of James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins (1920-1977)

By Sondra Kathryn Wilson | Go to book overview

Foreword

This volume gives readers an intimate look into the workings of the nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP. More importantly, it gives readers a look into the minds of three of the NAACP's most important leaders—James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins. Their collective tenure paralleled the most trying days of the struggle for equal rights. Johnson began just after the nadir; White carried the NAACP through war; Wilkins saw young militants rise to challenge the NAACP's supremacy.

In her Introduction, Sondra Kathryn Wilson outlines the different challenges these very different men faced as white supremacy diminished and then was legally defeated. The generation Johnson and White represent sprang from a population born in the nineteenth century in slavery, freed from servitude by the Civil War, determined to make their way as free women and men, sharing confidence with the slave-born generation that preceded and produced them. Wilkins was born in the twentieth century; his generation was equally determined to make its way in expanded freedom. Opening with Johnson's 1920's reports to the NAACP's Board of Directors and closing with Wilkins's 1976 commentary on the FBI harassment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., these papers cover more than half a century of struggle, failure, and success.

As I write this foreword, black Americans face conditions very different from, but no less daunting than those faced by this remarkable trio in their distinct times. The scientific racism and social Darwinism that characterized these authors' times are too much with us today. We are now three decades past the second Reconstruction, the modern movement for civil rights that Johnson and White helped usher in and Wilkins helped direct and lead. Despite the distance traveled and the victories won, many remain unsure about what the goals of yesterday's movement were, and by and for whom that movement was made.

These pages are instructive. Here in sometimes dry and bureaucratic prose is the language of movement makers, reporting the sometimes gruesome effects of opposing the racial status quo and describing the plans the NAACP is making to ensure that the status quo is opposed. This work is part of a long-needed reap

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