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Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP

by Yvonne Ryan

Availablepaperback$24.95s 978-0-8131-7580-5
Availablecloth$60.00x 978-0-8131-4379-8
Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century
304 pages  Pubdate: 04/20/2018  6 x 9  13 b&w photos

Roy Wilkins (1901–1981) 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. Under his leadership, the NAACP spearheaded efforts that contributed to landmark civil rights legislation, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

In Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP, Yvonne Ryan offers the first biography of this influential activist, as well as an analysis of 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, D.C., 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.

Roy Wilkins fills a significant gap in the history of the civil rights movement, objectively exploring the career and impact of one of its forgotten leaders. The quiet revolutionary, who spent his life navigating the Washington political system, affirmed the extraordinary and courageous efforts of the many men and women who braved the dangers of the southern streets and challenged injustice to achieve equal rights for all Americans.

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 of London, and a Ph.D. from Leiden University.

Yvonne Ryan has written a very fine biography of one of the nation’s foremost civil rights leaders. Her prose is lively and engaging, presenting her subject as a man of dedication and conviction, one who committed most of his life to the NAACP and the cause of equal justice. Little has been written on Wilkins, and this book will certainly help to fill that void. -- Robert A. Pratt, author of We Shall Not Be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia

From the 1930s through the 1970s, NAACP leader Roy Wilkins was one of the most influential figures in the struggle for black freedom and equality. Forgotten by most Americans and dismissed by many historians as a 'bureaucrat,' Roy Wilkins has finally found a judicious and empathetic biographer. Yvonne Ryan’s book is an important contribution to civil rights scholarship. -- Manfred Berg, coeditor of The U.S. South and Europe: Transatlantic Relations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The first bio of a crucial, if now-overlooked, figure. Solid and thought provoking. -- American History

Ryan offers an insightful look at an influential but enigmatic figure in the civil rights movement, about whom little has been written. -- Vanessa Bush -- Booklist

Although Wilkins's early life gets brief treatment, the book's true focus and achievement is in its highly detailed, richly researched account of Wilkins's role in the NAACP, and, tangetially, his time as head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights—quite fitting for a subject who devoted so much of his life to the organization. -- Publishers Weekly

What distinguishes this biography from many of those civil rights warriors is Ryan's supreme skill at not letting any negative rumors or allegations hijack the memorable achievements of Roy Wilkins. She elevates the life of this disciplined, dignified, complex soul. Wonderfully written and illuminating. -- Neworld Review

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The longtime head of the NAACP was long overdue for a deeply researched and elegantly written biography. This is it. -- The Daily Beast

Ryan has done impressive work in filling a gap in the civil rights literature and adding nuance to Wilkins’s story. [Her] well-researched account explores much-neglected aspects of the history of the civil rights movement. -- American Historical Review

One of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders of the 1960s, Roy Wilkins has been relegated to a supporting role in most histories of the black freedom struggle. This able biography shows why Wilkins’s prominence in the 1950s and 1960s was well deserved. -- Historian