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Roy Wilkins

The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP

Yvonne Ryan

Publication Year: 2013

Roy Wilkins (1901--1981) spent forty-six years of his life serving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and led the organization for more than twenty years. Under his leadership, the NAACP spearheaded efforts that contributed to landmark civil rights legislation, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

In Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP, Yvonne Ryan offers the first biography of this influential activist, as well as an analysis of his significant contributions to civil rights in America. While activists in Alabama were treading the highways between Selma and Montgomery, Wilkins was walking the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., working tirelessly in the background to ensure that the rights they fought for were protected through legislation and court rulings. With his command of congressional procedure and networking expertise, Wilkins was regarded as a strong and trusted presence on Capitol Hill, and received greater access to the Oval Office than any other civil rights leader during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Roy Wilkins fills a significant gap in the history of the civil rights movement, objectively exploring the career and impact of one of its forgotten leaders. The quiet revolutionary, who spent his life navigating the Washington political system, affirmed the extraordinary and courageous efforts of the many men and women who braved the dangers of the southern streets and challenged injustice to achieve equal rights for all Americans.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-4

On the morning of September 10, 1981, flags on all government buildings in the United States flew at half-mast to mark the death of Roy Wilkins, former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the country’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. At Wilkins’s funeral the following day, Vice President...

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1. The Family Firm

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pp. 5-32

Roy Ottoway Wilkins was born at the turn of the twentieth century, on August 31, 1901.1 (“Ottoway” was a tribute to the doctor who delivered him, but it was possibly too unusual and was discarded as soon as Wilkins could write.) His grandfather, Asberry Wilkins, had been born a slave but had won his freedom when he was fourteen years old at the end of...

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2.Treading Water

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pp. 33-52

The war years transformed the NAACP almost in spite of itself. By 1946 the Association had 1,073 branches and over 450,000 members, a remarkable increase of over 200,000 during the preceding three years.1 Southern branches, in particular, showed a surprising vigor. In South...

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3. A Strategy for Freedom

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pp. 53-80

Shortly after becoming executive secretary of the NAACP in April 1955, Wilkins laid out some ambitious goals for the next few years: “By 1963 [the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation] we definitely expect that segregation in education will be completely out in most areas, and on its way out in the die-hard areas.” He also said he expected...

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4. Politics and Protest

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pp. 81-122

As 1960 began, Wilkins’s primary concern was ensuring passage of a new civil rights bill that would extend voting rights. The presidential election due to take place in November of that year promised change only inasmuch as both parties admitted the need for action on civil rights. Unfortunately, neither had the appetite for the fight that would be required to...

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5. All the Way with LBJ

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pp. 123-158

President Kennedy’s death left everything in limbo, and it was far from clear what Lyndon Johnson’s sudden elevation to the Oval Office would mean for the pending legislation. Still, Wilkins tried to reassure NAACP members that the new president was a friend of black Americans. “As Vice-President,” he asserted, “Mr. Johnson has given active personal and...

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6. A Crisis of Victory

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pp. 159-176

The passage of the Voting Rights Act coincided with Wilkins’s tenth anniversary as head of the NAACP. Under his watch the Association’s general income had tripled; membership had increased from 240,000 at the end of 1954 to 455,150 ten years later, with a high point of over half a million members in 1963; circulation of The Crisis had risen by 200 percent; ...

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7. The Survivor

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pp. 177-196

Wilkins was tiring of the fight. The continued unrest in the ghettoes, the foiled RAM plan to assassinate him, and the aggressive rhetoric left him feeling “violence well[ing] up around all of us.”1 He was now in his late sixties and had suffered with ill health intermittently for the past thirty years. Nevertheless, he still refused to consider retirement; he had resisted...

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pp. 197-200

The obituaries and eulogies that appeared after Wilkins’s death spoke of his steady leadership; his quiet, calm, and reasoned persona; and his long dedication to the cause. Some made reference to his productive working relationship with President Johnson. Others referred to his early journalism and his arrest in 1932 as evidence that this urbane, reserved man had...


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pp. 201-204


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pp. 212-219


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pp. 205-248


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pp. 249-274


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pp. 275-285

Further Reading

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pp. 302-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780813143811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813143798

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century
Series Editor Byline: Steven F. Lawson & Cynthia G. Fleming See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 862372437
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Roy Wilkins

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Subject Headings

  • African American civil rights workers -- Biography.
  • Civil rights workers -- United States -- Biography.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
  • Wilkins, Roy, 1901-1981.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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