Roy Wilkins will be forever immortalized by way of Gil Scott-Heron’s stirring “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” poem, and his legacy is still greatly respected. Today is the late NAACP leader’s birthday.
Roy Ottoway Wilkins was born in St. Louis, Mo. in 1901. After losing his parents at a young age, he was raised by family in St. Paul, Minn., attended college at the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1923. The college journalist became an editor for the Black Kansas City, Mo. newspaper, The Call the same year he left school.
Frustrated with Jim Crow laws, Wilkins became an assistant NAACP secretary under Walter Francis White and swiftly rose in the ranks within the organization. In 1934, when W.E.B. Du Bois parted with the group, Wilkins was named the editor of its magazine, The Crisis.
In 1950, Wilkins, alongside A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Arnold Aronson, a prominent leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, formed the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which still exists today. He was also the uncle to the late Roger Wilkins.
Wilkins was named the NAACP executive secretary in 1955 and in 1964, he was named its executive director. Under his leadership, the NAACP thrived turning its attention to segregation in the deep South. His moderate views on politics soured his connection with the burgeoning Black Power movement who found his approach to racial equality too lenient.
After stepping down in 1977, the “senior statesman of the civil rights movement” as he was known, passed the mantle to Benjamin Hooks.
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