Though overshadowed today by more celebrated figures, Walter Francis White was one of the most prominent campaigners for civil rights in mid-20th-century America. As Ronald L. Lewis
and Robert L. Zangrando
detail in Walter F. White: The NAACP’s Ambassador for Racial Justice
(West Virginia University Press, 2019), for all his relative obscurity today White’s accomplishments did much to lay the groundwork for the civil rights victories won later in the century. Growing up in Atlanta, White enjoyed the benefits of a middle-class upbringing and a college education. His work to establish a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Atlanta brought him to the attention of James Weldon Johnson, who brought him to New York in 1918 to work full time for the organization. Throughout the 1920s White worked to expose the atrocities of lynching as part of the NAACP’s unsuccessful campaign to ban such violence. Upon succeeding Johnson as executive secretary of the organization in 1931, White dealt with both the ongoing problems of racism and the challenges imposed by the Great Depression, which he worked to surmount with constant organizing and lobbying. During the 1940s White used his relationships with both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman to win greater federal action to surmount discrimination, though in his later years he faced a series of frustrations that were exacerbated both by his ill health and the controversy surrounding his divorce and remarriage to a white woman.