Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins was born in St. Louis on 30th August, 1901. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1923, with a degree in sociology, Wilkins worked as a journalist. As well as writing for the Minnesota Daily and the Kansas City Call, he was editor of the St. Paul Appeal, an African American weekly.

Wilkins was active in the NAACP and between 1931 and 1934 was assistant secretary under Walter Francis White. When William Du Bois left the organization in 1934, Wilkins replaced him as editor of Crisis.

Following the death of White in 1955, Wilkins became executive secretary of the NAACP. He participated in the March on Washington (1963), the Selma to Montgomery March (1965) and the March Against Fear (1966).

Wilkins was totally opposed to violence and disapproved of Black Power. He also rejected student demands for all-black university departments describing the idea as a "return to segregation and Jim Crow". Roy Wilkins died on 9th September, 1981. His autobiography, A Man's Life, was published in 1982.

Primary Sources

(1) Roy Wilkins, speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (28th August, 1963)

For nine years our parents and their children have been met with either a flat refusal or a token action in school desegregation. The Civil Rights Bill now under consideration in the Congress must give new powers to the Justice Department to enable it to speed the end of Jim Crow schools, North and South.

Now, my friends, all over this land and especially in parts of the Deep South, we are beaten and kicked and maltreated and shot and killed by local and state law-enforcement officers. The Attorney General must be empowered to act on his own initiative in the denial of any civil rights, not just one or two, but any civil rights in order to wipe out this shameful situation.

Just be your presence here today we have spoken loudly and eloquently to our legislature. When we return hoome, keep up the speaking by letters and telegrams and telephone and, wherever possible, by personal visit. Remember that this has been a long fight. We were reminded of it by the news of the death yesterday in Africa of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois. Now, regardless of the fact that in his later years Dr. DuBois chose another path, it is incontrovertible that at the dawn of the twentieth century his was the voice that was calling to you to gather here today in this cause. If you want to read something that applies to 1963 go back and get a volume of The Souls of Black Folk by DuBois published in 1903.

(2) Roy Wilkins wrote about meeting President Lyndon B. Johnson during the riots in Detroit in 1967 in his autobiography, A Man's Life (1982)

Johnson went around the room and asked everyone for an opinion. I thought we shouldn't send any troops in until we could get some high-level civilians on the ground to see what was really going on. Others thought the President couldn't wait that long for fear of inviting the charge that he had fiddled while Detroit burned. After a little more discussion, the President announced that he was going to send a civilian team in to head the operation. Vance would lead the team, which was to include Christopher, Doar and me, from Justice, and Dan Henkin, a press spokesman, from Defense. He would send the 82nd up to Detroit, but they would be stationed outside the city, at the Michigan State Fair Grounds, until we civilians decided that they were needed.

Then Johnson delivered a fierce monologue about what he didn't want to happen. If the troops were ordered into Detroit, he didn't want them walking around with loaded guns unless their commanders thought there was a sufficient emergency for them to carry them. No bayonets. No bullets.

"I don't want my troops shooting some ni..." he glanced sharply at me and stopped. Then he started again, " - some pregnant woman."

Then he pulled a phone from its cradle by his chair under the cabinet table, handed it to Ramsey and had him call Governor Romney to inform him of the plan.

As we were being dismissed, the President touched my arm, looked at me for a long moment and then said, "Have a safe trip, Roger."

It was his way of saying that he was sorry that he had almost said "******" in front of me. I was amused, because I was sure it was one of the mainstays of his uninhibited vocabulary.

(3) After Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed a Commission of Inquiry into the Black Panthers and the Police was co-chaired by Roy Wilkins and Ramsey Clark. Its report, Search and Destroy, was published in 1973.

This report pursues the truth of an episode that occurred early on December 4, 1969, at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago, Illinois. It was a time of darkness, cold, rage, fear, and violence. Facts are not easily found in such company.

The early dawn stillness had been broken at about 4:45 a.m. by heavy gunfire, eighty rounds or more, which lasted over a period of ten minutes. When it stopped, two young men, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were dead. Four other occupants of the premises, the Illinois Black Panther Party headquarters, were seriously wounded. Two police officers were injured, one by glass, the other by a bullet in the leg.

Approximately six shots were apparently fired as the police entered the living room through the front door - two by Sergeant Groth, three by Officer Davis, and one by Mark Clark. The FBI's ballistics analysis shows that during the remainder of the raid between seventy-seven and ninety-four shots were fired by the police - and none by the apartment's occupants. Accordingly, with the exception of one shot, the police testimony of gunfire directed at them

from the occupants must be rejected.

The death of Fred Hampton appears to the Commission to have been isolated from the killing of Mark Clark and the wounding of Brenda Harris on the one hand, and from the wounding of Ronald Satchel, Verlina Brewer, and Blair Anderson on the other. The Commission has concluded that there is probable cause to believe that Fred Hampton was murdered - that he was shot by an officer or officers who could see his prostrate body lying on the bed. Unfortunately, the inadequate investigation by the police and the other officials and their inadequate examination of the available evidence make it impossible to know which officer or officers actually fired the fatal bullets.

The Commission has been unable to determine whether the purpose, or a purpose, of the raid was specifically to kill Hampton. There is some evidence that Hampton was shot after the other occupants of the rear bedroom were removed. If that was not the sequence of events, it seems likely that he was the sole target of the police shooting from the doorway of the bedroom. Neither of those consequences, however, would establish that Hampton's death was an object of the raid.