Cover image for Walter White : the dilemma of Black identity in America


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E185.97.W6 D95 2008 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185.97.W6 D95 2008 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E185.97.W6 D95 2008 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The day Walter White was buried in 1955 the New York Times called him "the nearest approach to a national leader of American Negroes since Booker T. Washington." For more than two decades, White, as secretary of the NAACP, was perhaps the nation's most visible and most powerful African-American leader. He won passage of a federal anti-lynching law, hosted one of the premier salons of the Harlem Renaissance, created the legal strategy that led to Brown v. Board of Education, and initiated the campaign demanding that Hollywood give better roles to black actors. Driven by ambitions for himself and his people, he offered his entire life to the advancement of civil rights in America.

Author Notes

Thomas Dyja is a partner at the book packager and publishing firm Balliatt & Fitzgerald. Dyja lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Walter White, once known as Mr. NAACP, and unarguably the most influential black man in America, had a white face that he used in service of exposing the flagrant racism associated with America's national pastime of lynching. White put himself at risk by passing, securing the confidence of local whites to expose vulgar and crass racism often involving genocidal activities. Born in post-Reconstruction Era Atlanta, he was a son of black privilege. Following college graduation, with no ideological or philosophical bent, he found his way into national leadership with the NAACP by virtue of his fair complexion and capacity to exploit it for racial good. Having reached heights of significant achievement recognized in both black and white America, White was both a nuisance of sorts to Franklin Roosevelt and a confidant to Eleanor Roosevelt. In his later years, divorced from his black wife and estranged from his children, he became involved with a white socialite and his accomplishments were submerged. Dyja brings new light to an eclipsed but hugely important figure in the civil rights struggle.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2008 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Once known as "Mr. NAACP," Walter White and his contributions to African-American history have been lost in the margins of memory. Dyja (The Moon in Our Hands) offers a straightforward biography of the light-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-haired black man who served as executive secretary of the NAACP for the "complex and pivotal decades" from 1931 to 1955. White's daring made him an unparalleled investigator into the horrendous violence and systematic peonage that characterized the decades before WWII. His accomplishments were history making: desegregation of the armed forces owes a debt to his investigations into the treatment of black soldiers in Europe and the Pacific; the Legal Defense Fund owes much to White's focus on litigation. Usefully but often controversially, this "man of few theories and many tactics, remained squarely, sanely and consistently down the middle for almost four decades" and kept the NAACP along that same path. As in White's life, the NAACP holds the center, but Dyja attends to White's place as a writer of the Harlem Renaissance and to his more intimate life, including his "last act"--White's marriage to a white woman that, according to the author, "cost him his place in history." (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

By all external appearances, Walter White was, well, white. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and "Caucasian" features. Yet White self-identified as an African American. More to the point, he led the largest, most important civil rights organization in US history, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for more than a quarter of a century, during perhaps the most significant years of that organization's storied history. In this brief biography, Dyja, an independent writer, uses White's life as a springboard to discussions of the fraught nature of racial identity in the US. Though Dyja does not take a hagiographic approach to his subject, he clearly admires White and wants to place the NAACP's stalwart leader within the context of the times in which he rose to prominence. This crisply written book, part of the publisher's Library of African-American Biography, represents a welcome addition to undergraduate and graduate collections. It will appeal to general readers, and is a useful contribution to the literature on civil rights, racial identity, and modern US history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. D. C. Catsam University of Texas of the Permian Basin

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 A World of His Own
Chapter 2 The Life Insurance Temperament
Chapter 3 Undercover Against Lynching
Chapter 4 At the Center of the Harlem Renaissance
Chapter 5 Conflict, Control, and the Making of Mr. NAACP
Chapter 6 Fighting on All Fronts
Chapter 7 "I am white and I am black"