The University Press of Kentucky has just released paperback editions of two books that are instrumental to our understanding of civil rights history and how racism is perpetuated. Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP, by Yvonne Ryan is part of the Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century series, and Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South by Kristina DuRocher is in the New Directions in Southern History series.
In Roy Wilkins, Ryan offers the first biography of this influential activist who spent forty-six years of his life serving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and led the organization for more than twenty years. She also analyzes his significant contributions to civil rights in America. While activists in Alabama were treading the highways between Selma and Montgomery, Wilkins was walking the corridors of power in Washington, DC, working tirelessly in the background to ensure that the rights they fought for were protected through legislation and court rulings. With his command of congressional procedure and networking expertise, Wilkins was regarded as a strong and trusted presence on Capitol Hill and received greater access to the Oval Office than any other civil rights leader during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.
In Raising Racists, DuRocher examines how the racial and gender identities of white children in the Jim Crow South were molded to perpetuate segregation. Using the autobiographies of Southern social activists to evaluate the participation of white youth in racial violence, she investigates the societal views constructed by white southerners that were passed down to their children. Exploring many areas of socialization, including parental instruction, public schools, churches, and the expansion of consumerism in the South, DuRocher exposes how white children were indoctrinated as the future enforcers of white supremacy, providing greater insight into how ideas are cultivated and spread throughout society.
Together, these two books provide lessons from history that are applicable today. Roy Wilkins’ (1901-1981) leadership during perhaps the most tumultuous period in the NAACP’s history can serve as a model for the current generation of activists. His attention to the legislative and legal agendas of the movement codified the gains made by groups such as SNCC, the SCLC, and CORE, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Likewise, DuRocher’s examination of the mechanisms by which white children were conditioned to perpetuate a racist society serves as a valuable resource to understanding the evolution of society’s beliefs and the action needed to prevent history from repeating itself.
Yvonne Ryan is managing editor of The Economist‘s annual World In publication. She holds a Master of Arts degree from the Institute of the Americas, University College London, and a Ph.D. from Leiden University.
Kristina DuRocher is assistant professor of history at Morehead State University.