Conversation with a Kleagle is based on events and experiences in the life of Walter Francis White.
Walter Francis White
Walter Francis White was born July 1, 1893 in Atlanta Georgia and passed away March 21, 1955 in NYC.
Of African and European ancestry, White said in his autobiography, A Man Called White: "I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me."
White was a civil rights activist who led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for almost a quarter of a century and directed a broad program of legal challenges to segregation and disfranchisement. He was also a journalist, novelist, and essayist. He graduated from Atlanta University in 1916, now Clark Atlanta University.
Five of his great-great-great-grandparents were black and the other 27 were white. All of his family were light-skinned. His great grandparents were William Henry Harrison, who later became President of the United States, and his slave Dilsia. His grandparents were Marie Harrison, one of Dilsia's daughters by Harrison, and Augustus Ware who was a white man. His mother Madeline was blue-eyed and blonde, and his father George could pass for white.
The 1906 Atlanta race-riot changed 13-year-old Walter White’s life. White's house was attacked by men intent on hurting the "nigger mail carrier" and evicting him from the house that was "too nice for a nigger." White
said this about the attack: In the flickering light the mob
swayed, paused, and began to flow toward us. In that instant there opened within me a great awareness. I knew then who I was. I was a Negro, a human being with an invisible pigmentation which marked me a person to be hunted, hanged, abused, discriminated against, kept in poverty, and ignorance. This awareness informed the rest of Walter White's life.
In 1918 he joined the small national staff of the NAACP in New York at the invitation of James Weldon Johnson where he acted as Johnson's assistant national secretary. White later succeeded Johnson as the head of the NAACP, serving from 1931 to 1955.
White used his appearance to increase his effectiveness in conducting investigations of lynching and race riots in the American South. He could "pass" and talk to whites, but also managed to identify himself as black and talk to the African-American community. Such work was dangerous, but he investigated 41 lynchings and eight race riots while working with the NAACP.
One of the first riots he investigated was in October 1919 in Elaine Arkansas, where white vigilantes and Federal troops in Phillips County killed more than 200 black sharecroppers. The white militias had come to the town and hunted down blacks in retaliation for the killing of a white man killed in a shootout at a church where black sharecroppers were meeting on issues related to organizing with an agrarian union.
White was granted credentials from the Chicago Daily News. That enabled him to obtain an interview with Governor Charles Hillman Brough of Arkansas. Brough gave White a letter of recommendation to help him meet people, and his autographed photograph.
White was in Phillips County for only a brief time before his identity was discovered; he took the first train back to Little Rock. The conductor told him that he was leaving "just when the fun is going to start", because they had found out that there was a "damned yellow nigger down here passing for white and the boys are going to get him. When they get through with him he won't pass for white no more!"
White oversaw the plans and organizational structure of the fight against public segregation. Under his leader-ship, the NAACP set up the Legal Defence Fund, which raised numerous legal challenges to segregation and disfranchisement, and achieved many successes.
Among these was the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which determined that segregated education was inherently unequal.
White authored President Truman's presidential order desegregating the armed forces after WWII.
White also quintupled NAACP membership to nearly 500,000.
White was the author of critically acclaimed novels: Fire in the Flint (1924) and Flight (1926). His non-fiction book Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch (1929) was a study of lynching. Additional books were A Rising Wind (1945), his autobiography A Man Called White (1948), and How Far the Promised Land (1955). Unfinished at his death was Blackjack, a novel on Harlem life and the career of an African-American boxer.
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