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

Selected Reports of the Secretary to the
Board of Directors, 1955–1973

Editor's Note

When a New York City district attorney informed Roy Wilkins that he was a target of an alleged assassination plot by a black extremist group known as Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), he wasn't at all phased by the news. He refused police protection and continued to take the subway to the NAACP offices each morning alone.1 This attitude was so typical of Roy Wilkins because he disliked fuss and fanfare. As secretary, his frugality with NAACP funds was legend among staff. He was concerned for those who had sacrificed to pay the two-dollar membership fee because it was these dues-paying members who kept the NAACP solvent.

When he joined the staff of the NAACP in 1931, America was in the tight grip of the "separate but equal" doctrine. Lynchings were rampant across the South and in some border states. Jim Crow ruled in movie theaters, public accommodations, restaurants, hotels, and public transportation. By the time he became secretary in 1955, the doctrine "separate but equal" had been overturned, and lynchings had ceased across the South. At this time the NAACP had an impressive record, but it still faced the tasks of implementing school desegregation, abolishing the poll tax, acquiring federal protection for voting rights, and ending discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and jobs.

As secretary, Wilkins was chief executive officer, fund-raiser, propagandist, and orator. By the turbulent 1960s, one of his major challenges was to coordinate the Association's direction with that of other civil rights organizations which had also begun to speak for black America. To achieve this task, Wilkins pursued a more militant and activist stance for the NAACP, joining demonstrations such as the 1963 March on Washington, the Selma March in 1965, and the Meredith March Against Fear in 1966. His counterparts in these marches were such giants as Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, and James Farmer.

James Weldon Johnson, after joining the staff of the NAACP in 1916, endured criticisms from black leaders about the tightly-controlled white board of directors

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