Walter White was a Black American civil rights leader and executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1929 to 1955. Born into a prominent family in Atlanta, Georgia in 1893, he was a graduate of Atlanta University. White joined the NAACP in 1918 and gained prominence for his investigations of lynchings, especially in the American South, through which he traveled extensively in the 1920s.
After becoming NAACP Executive Secretary in 1929, he worked tirelessly for a Federal anti-lynching law. This effort drew virulent criticism from Southern Democrats, but also gained the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, who joined the NAACP in 1934. Though President Franklin D. Roosevelt never supported the legislation outright, White nevertheless helped lay the groundwork for the post-World War II Civil Rights Movement by establishing the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He worked closely with President Harry S. Truman on a number of civil rights issues. Also a literary figure, White’s 1948 autobiography “A Man Called White” received widespread acclaim. He died in New York City in 1955.
Hundreds of letters exchanged between Walter White and the Roosevelt administration now reside in the Archives of the FDR Library, filed throughout FDR’s Papers as President, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. The letters document his ardent activism, and his influence in catalyzing Eleanor Roosevelt’s own advocacy for racial justice.
White’s key role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1930s and 1940s will be featured in the Library’s upcoming special exhibit, “BLACK AMERICANS, CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE ROOSEVELTS” which opens on June 3rd. Look for more information about the exhibit in the coming weeks.