April 1955 to August 1977
“Saint Paul’s Roy Wilkins becomes a national leader in the civil rights movement during its most turbulent and productive years. In April 1955, Wilkins is named executive secretary (the title was later changed to executive director in 1964) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He serves in that position until August 1977.
Wilkins participates in the March on Washington (1963), the Selma to Montgomery marches (1965), and the March Against Fear (1966).
In 1969 President Lyndon B. Johnson will bestow the Medal of Freedom on Mr. Wilkins, the highest civilian honor awarded by the United States.” *
Roy Wilkins landed in Saint Paul, Minnesota circa 1906 after losing his mother. Raised by an aunt and uncle, he attended an integrated school, (much to his pleasure), and grew up happy in a blue-collar neighborhood. After high school, Roy attended the University of Minnesota gaining a degree in sociology with a minor in journalism. His articulate writing led to multiple positions as a journalist reporting for: “Minnesota Daily”, “Kansas City Call”, “St. Paul Appeal”, and “The Crisis”. ,*
Returning to Missouri with his bride Minnie, his birthplace, Mr. Wilkins noted the atmosphere of racism surrounding Kansas City. To use his own words, “…even good manners could be a crime for a black man.” ** Such experiences made the Wilkin’s family take note of differing treatment of African Americans regionally, and so moved him to join the NAACP where he served his community continuously from 1934 until 1977.
What one finds most characteristic about him in the era he led the NAACP, (1955-1977), is his model of peaceful dissent. He wanted to exhort and persuade society, and make legal changes following a Constitutional process. In the words of the NAACP,
“Wilkins strongly opposed militancy in the movement for civil rights as represented by the “black power” movement.” *** In agreement, the Black Heritage Commemorative Society stated the following about Executive Director Wilkins:
“…the militant “black power” movements of the 1970s, including the Black Muslims and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, faulted Wilkins and the NAACP for failing to take more direct action. Wilkins held unswervingly to the principal of democratic processes within the legislative system, saying: “Muffle your rage. Get smart instead of muscular.”” **
How did Roy Wilkins sum up his life’s work? Again, we let the man speak for himself.
“Without us, without our struggle, the country would have floundered in moral emptiness long ago. We must never lose faith in the justness of our cause and the certainty of our success. We have tried to create a nation where all men would be equal in the eyes of the law, where all citizens would be judged on their own abilities, not their race.”
-(Excerpt from “Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins” by Roy Wilkins and Tom Mathews, 1982.)
With these words ringing in our ears, we turn to the Lord in prayer. Heavenly Father, how proud we are of Your commitment to all of Your human family throughout history!
We remember this song of David to You; Our Dear One.
“When they were few in number,
few indeed, and strangers in the land,
they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
He let no man oppress them;
He rebuked kings on their behalf:
‘Do not touch My anointed ones!
Do no harm to My prophets!’
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Proclaim His salvation day after day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but it is the LORD who made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him;
strength and joy fill His dwelling.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name;
bring an offering and come before Him.” ****
Eternal Father, how fitting this song is for the life of Roy Wilkins, and his tireless advocacy for African-Americans! He followed Your example, but instead of rebuking kings he challenged the Presidents of the United States. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter all listened to his message to: impute, assign, attribute, evaluate, and pass fair judgment on Americans of African descent.
We see such powerful examples of Your masculine strength of love in his determination. Again, we also see Your strength under control in his actions; though he had reason to rage, he put it away. He communicated deliberately, continuously, and took the painful slow path to persuasion and success. How grateful we are to You for his message and methods to convey it!
We acknowledge to You: by the Cross of Christ, by the blood of Christ, by the Resurrection of Christ, and Your unchanging Word, the bitter root judgments and curses made against Roy Wilkins, Black citizens of Minnesota, and Black America in his era. We name names of only some of these generational root sins: enslaving Africans, transporting Africans to America against their will, embittering their lives with hard labor, judgments based in ethnocentrism of their: appearance, lifestyle, culture, dreams and abilities, that all dark-skinned people think alike and share the same culture, judgments stemming from their participation in the Civil, Spanish, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, judgments made on their Republicanism, judgments made on their Democratism, judgments made on their acceptance of the New Deal, FERA (Federal Relief Emergency Administration), judgments made on their acceptance of welfare: Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, Housing Assistance, and Food Stamps, and finally the political judgments made upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and denying the Image of G-d in His Black peoples? Will You take this pain: up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ?
Conversely, will You forgive the counter bitter root judgments of African American culture of Wilkins era against their non-Black neighbors in Minnesota and the greater United States? We name names of only some of these generational root sins: ethnocentrism against the: appearance, lifestyle, culture, dreams and abilities of non-African-Americans, that all light-skinned people think alike and share the same culture, their Democratism or Republicanism, and denying the Image of G-d in His Non-Black peoples? Will You take this pain up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ?
By the Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Cross, His Blood, His Resurrection, and His eternal word we announce His forgiveness of these bitter root judgments, experiences, and curses of Minnesota and the greater United States during the decades of Director Wilkin’s career with the NAACP. Will You breathe life into his wisdom for all of us to; “Muffle our rage. Get smart instead of muscular.”?
Will You give us impartations of love to see Your Masterpiece: the African-American human being before us? Will You give us favor, Holy Spirit to see Your Masterpiece, the non-African American human being before us? May we “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations” the dignity and beauty of His handiwork both in the present and until He returns! By the Authority of the One existing before all races, and for whom all races exist! Amen!
*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
** From “Black History Now”, an excellent source of biographies for heroes of the Civil Rights movement. http://blackhistorynow.com/roy-wilkins/
**** Excerpt of I Chronicles 16:19-29. https://biblehub.com/bsb/1_chronicles/16.htm