Betsy Graves Reyneau
Oil on canvas, 1945
National Portrait Gallery
From 1918 to 1931, Walter White served in the position of assistant executive secretary of the NAACP. Upon the retirement of James Weldon Johnson, White took over the leadership of the organization, serving as its executive secretary until his death.
As a boy, White had witnessed the Atlanta Race Riot in 1906. The horrors of the mob violence later motivated him to risk his life investigating forty-one lynchings, eight race riots, and numerous Ku Klux Klan cross-burnings for the NAACP. Throughout his career, White diligently fought for civil rights legislation, lectured on the evils of lynching, and battled to end discrimination and segregation in travel and education.
In addition to his crusading work with the NAACP, White also authored numerous books and publications that related "race prejudice, segregation and Jim Crowism." A Guggenheim Fellow for European study and writing, White won the Harmon Award in Literature (1929) for Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch, and received the Spingarn Medal in 1937. Critics found his writing "impartial, fair, scholarly, yet impassioned enough to stir the American public to realize not only what lynching does to the Negro body but to the soul of whites."