Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Walter Francis White
Walter Francis White (July 1, 1893, Atlanta, Georgia - March 21, 1955, New York, New York) was a spokesman for blacks in the United States for almost a quarter of a century and executive secretary (1931-1955) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He waged a long and ultimately successful campaign against the lynching of blacks by white mobs in the United States.
Investigating the Elaine Race Riot
White faced Southern justice first-hand in October, 1919, when the NAACP sent him to investigate the violence known as the Elaine Race Riot in Phillips County, Arkansas. More than two hundred African-American sharecroppers were killed by marauding white vigilantes and federal troops after a shootout left a white man dead in an attack on a church where the farmers were meeting.
White, who was blonde and blue-eyed and able to pass for white, was granted credentials from the Chicago Daily News. That enabled him to obtain an interview with Governor Charles Hillman Brough, who in turn gave him a letter of recommendation and his autographed photograph.
White was only in Phillips County for 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 passing for white and the boys are going to get him". Asked what they would do to him, the conductor told White that "when they get through with him he won't pass for white no more!"
White published his findings in the Daily News, the Chicago Defender and The Nation, as well as the NAACP's own magazine Crisis. Governor Brough asked the United States Postal Service to prohibit the mailing of the Chicago Defender and Crisis while others attempted to enjoin distribution of the Defender at the local level.
Leadership of the NAACP
White's experience in this investigation and the subsequent appeals of the black defendants charged with murder in connection with the violence led him to favor challenging racism through the courts rather than through traditional political activity. While the NAACP continued to press for passage of anti-lynching legislation, it achieved more headway through litigation. He hired Charles Houston, then Dean of the School of Law at Howard University, to head the NAACP's legal department.
White also led the successful fight to prevent the nomination of John Johnston Parker to the United States Supreme Court and organized support for the Scottsboro Boys, although the NAACP lost most of the internecine battles with the Communist Party and the International Labor Defense over the control of those cases and the strategy to be pursued.
White also battled with others within the NAACP itself. He was in constant conflict with W.E.B. Du Bois, who regarded White as self-centered and unscrupulous. His amateur interest in legal issues also caused disagreements with the NAACP's legal staff. He was most successful in maintaining the NAACP's close connections with other liberal organizations and keeping the organization, which always faced financial problems, solvent.
Author of Rope and Faggot (1929).
- Cortner, Richard, A Mob Intent On Death, ISBN 0819551619
- Kluger, Richard Simple Justice, ISBN 0394722558.
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