Roy Wilkins: Facts and Major Achievements

African-American civil rights activist, journalist and editor Roy Wilkins was a highly regarded member of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Originally starting as a journalist, Wilkins would go on to play an important role in the struggle for civil rights throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

At just 33 years, he was tapped to replace fellow civil rights activist W.E.B Du Bois as the editor of the Crisis – the official magazine of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Wilkins also co-foundered the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), an organization that coordinates and seeks funding for the promotion civil rights in America. Throughout his career, he always championed nonviolence and steered away from violent “black power” groups and activities.

Wilkins was an astute legal mind who sought to use legislative processes to get the desired reforms across the finish line. This was evident in his numerous testimonies before the U.S. Congress. Such was his reputation in the African American community that a number of U.S. presidents sought his advice. Another famous accomplishment of his came when he coordinated the activities of the civil rights movement in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to end racial segregation in public schools (i.e. in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

In the article below, World History Edu presents an in-depth look at the biography, facts and major accomplishments of Roy Wilkins, one of America’s greatest civil rights campaigners.

Roy Wilkins: Fast Facts

Birthday: August 31, 1901

Place of birth: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Died: September 8, 1981

Place of death: New York City, New York, United States

Education: University of Minnesota

Spouse: Minnie Badeau (m. 1929)

Most known for: Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (1964-1977)

Most famous work published: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (posthumously published in 1982)

Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins was a big admirer of nonviolent approach of civil rights advocacy. He was quick to voice his strong disapproval of all forms of racism, be it from the left or the right.

Birth and Family

Born on August 31, 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri, Roy Wilkins spent large parts of his childhood with his aunt and uncle at St. Paul, Minnesota.

At the time of his birth, his father was on the run from bad people that wanted to lynch him.

At the age of four, his mother died from tuberculosis. That’s how come he and his siblings found themselves being raised by their aunt and uncle in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 1929, he tied the knot with a social worker called Aminda “Minnie” Badeau. He and Amanda had no children of their own; however, they took care of two children.

Did you know: Roy Wilkins was the uncle of fellow African American civil rights activist and educationist Roger Wilkins?

Major achievements of Roy Wilkins

Achievements of Roy Wilkins

During his illustrious civil rights career, Roy Wilkins was able to accomplish a lot of outstanding things. Some of his major accomplishments are as follows:

Editor of the Kansas City Call

Wilkins graduated from the University of Minnesota with sociology degree in 1923. While studying at the University, he worked at The Minnesota Daily. It was in that newspaper he got his formative training as a journalist. Wilkins would go on to work for a number of African American newspapers, including the Appeal and the Kansas City Call. In the latter, he served as the editor.

NAACP editor-in-chief and social justice campaigner

He used nonviolent approach to stand up against Jim Crow Laws while in the South. His pursuit for social justice and racial equality was the primary reason he moved up North to New York City, where he served as an assistant to NAACP leader Walter Francis White.

After the departure of W.E.B Du Bois from the NAACP in 1934, Roy Wilkins was selected to fill the big shoes left behind by the famous African American poet, educator and activist. Wilkins was appointed as the editor of Crisis – the official magazine of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In that role he continued to champion the cause of many civil rights programs and groups.

Co-founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR)

In 1950, Wilkins co-founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). The group served as the umbrella organization of many civil rights groups, coordinating and securing funding for the various civil rights causes. With the help of fellow co-founders of LCCR – A. Philip Randolph and Arnold Aronson – Roy Wilkins became a vocal voice in the fight for the passage of civil rights law.

Executive director of the NAACP

In 1964, Roy Wilkins succeeded his long-time mentor Walter Francis White as the executive director of the NAACP. Wilkins, who had served as the executive secretary in the nine years prior to that, continued in his predecessor’s footsteps. He would pour his heart and soul campaigning for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

He was of the firm belief that the reforms through legislative means could help fix the deep racial divide in America at the time. On a number of occasions, he was invited to Capitol Hill to give testimonies before Congressional hearings.

As the leader of the NAACP, he went to the aid of civil rights activists in Mississippi who were experiencing some financial difficulties. He worked with African American entrepreneur and surgeon Dr. T.R.M Howard to secure credit facilities from the Tri-State Bank of Memphis, Tennessee.

March on Washington (1963)

Organized and participated in the March on Washington in 1963.  Image: Roy Wilkins (right) with Sammy Davis, Jr. (left) and a reporter at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.

In the summer of 1963, he joined hands with a number of African American civil rights activists to plan and organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington. Wilkins also featured heavily at the March on August 28, 1963, joining hands with the likes of MLK, Walter Reuther , A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin. The March on Washington ended being a huge success kind courtesy to the tireless work put in by Wilkins and his team. A couple of years after the Washington March, Wilkins was again at the forefront of events during the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. Wilkins also featured in the March Against Fear in 1966.

Fought against racial segregation in public schools

His efforts were instrumental in bringing to an end to the “separate but equal” notion that was so widespread in many Southern states.  He worked with NAACP chief counsel Thurgood Marshall (later the first African-American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) in representing the Browns in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. In that case, the justices of the court unanimously ruled that racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. It was a big triumph for Wilkins and the NAACP.

Wilkins advocated good quality of education for African American students. He also worked very hard to to instill racial pride and confidence among African Americans

A key player in the Birmingham Campaign in 1963

He participated in the Birmingham campaign in 1963. The campaign was organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to draw the American public’s attention to nightmarish conditions African Americans and other minorities face on a daily basis due to racial discrimination and racial segregation, the later which was of immense proportions in the South, particularly in Birmingham, Alabama. With MLK at the forefront, the campaign is credited with helping the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), which outlawed racial discrimination across the nation.

Wilkins was involved in the famous Selma to Montgomery marches

More Roy Wilkins Facts

Throughout his illustrious career, he never supported the militant approach of the “black power” movement. He firmly believed that the way the civil rights movement in America ought to go was through nonviolent approaches. This way, he believed that they could raise greater awareness and secure the right solutions to the problems facing African Americans all across the nation.

For his decades’ long commitment to civil rights activism and fighting for social justice, his contemporaries gave him the name “Mr. Civil Rights”.

As chairperson of the National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization, he had the distinguished responsibility of working with many local, state and national civil rights groups. The St. Louis, Missouri –born social justice campaigner worked very hard to raise the issue of segregation, lynching and a host of other atrocities perpetrated by white supremacist groups in the deep South.

After several decades serving the NAACP, he retired in 1977. The 76-year-old was succeeded by an equally capable and devoted civil rights activist in the person of Benjamin Lawson Hooks.

Wilkins was a proponent of steady and systematic integration rather than radical desegregation. This view of his was evident in some of the criticisms he leveled against the Freedom Riders – a group of somewhat radical civil rights activists who drove into segregated Southern states to demand the end of segregation in public places. For his moderate stance on desegregation, many Black militant groups gave him the derogatory terms such as “Uncle Tom”.

After suffering a number of heart-related problems, Roy Wilkins passed away on September 8, 1981. He was 80 at the time of his death.

Other notable accomplishments of Roy Wilkins

One of America’s most revered civil rights leaders, Roy Wilkins served as the director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1964 to 1977.

  • During World War II, he worked as an adviser in the War Department.
  • As a result of the passion he put into his activism, Wilkins on so many occasions was invited to the White House, where he had candid discussions in the Oval Office about a wide range of issues affecting the African American community. He worked with many U.S. presidents to bridge the racial divide in America, including JFK, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.
  • In 1964, Roy Wilkins was honored by the NAACP with the Spingarn Medal, an annual award given to African Americans that have had tremendous impact in uplifting the lives of African Americans.
  • In 1968, he was appointed chair of the U.S. delegation to the International Conference on Human Rights.
  • After his retirement from the NAACP in 1977, he was given the title Director Emeritus of the NAACP.

    1964 interview granted to Robert Penn Warren for the book Who Speaks for the Negro?

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