GXB16892 Roy Wilkins by Lois Hatcher © Wind River Studios

For Roy Wilkins — the grandson of Mississippi slaves integration wasn’t an abstraction. It was reality. Born on August 30, 1901, Wilkins was raised by his aunt and uncle in an integrated St. Paul, Minnesota neighborhood. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he became managing editor for the Kansas City Call, a black weekly. In columns and oratory he decried the humiliation of Jim Crow, catching the attention of Walter White — who hired the crusading journalist to be his assistant in 1931. One of Wilkins’ first jobs was to investigate conditions among Negroes rebuilding Mississippi River levees. It was a dangerous experience that “took all the theory out of the race relations business for me and put in on a realistic basis.” Wilkins served as Administrator of the NAACP from 1950 to 1954 and became Executive Director in 1955. He played a major role in Civil Rights victories such as Brown vs. Board of Education — the 1954 Supreme Court decision promoting school desegregation — and the Civil Rights legislation of the ’50s and ’60s. The weapons of the NAACP were litigation and legislation, rather than withdrawal or confrontation. “We do not cry out bitterly that we love another land better than our own or another people better than our own,” Wilkins told his peers. “This is our land. This is our nation. We helped to build it. We have defended it from Boston Common to Iwo Jima.”

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