White, Walter Francis, 1893-1955

Alternative names
Birth 1893-07-01
Death 1955-03-21

Biographical notes:

Executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

From the description of Correspondence with Johan Thorsten Sellin, 1935. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 243854199

Walter Francis White (1893-1955), was an African American civil rights activist and leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1931-1955. Walter White married Leah Gladys Powell (1893-1979) in 1922, and they had two children, Jane (1922-) and Walter Carl Darrow (1927-1975). Gladys Powell White worked as a stenographer in the NAACP offices in New York City, and also performed on stage, most notably in the Broadway production Deep River, in 1926. In 1948, Walter and Gladys White divorced, and shortly after Walter White married Poppy Cannon, a magazine editor. Jane became an actress and performed in the theater, and on television and film, from the 1940s through the 1990s. Jane White married Alfredo Viazzi in 1962. He died in 1977 of a heart attack. Walter Carl Darrow was also an actor, and lived in Germany for the majority of his life.

From the description of Walter and Gladys Powell White family papers, 1890-2010. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 699124409

Walter White was one of the most important civil rights leaders of the twentieth century.

From 1931 to 1955 he served as the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). White established the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, and came to the attention of James Weldon Johnson, the executive secretary of the national NAACP, who hired him in 1918 as the assistant executive secretary.

In his thirty-seven year career with the NAACP White played a leadership role in the national effort to achieve political, economic and social rights for African Americans. He led the fight for anti-lynching legislation, as well as several legal campaigns to end white primaries, poll taxes and segregated housing and education. He was the author of nine books, including two novels, "Fire in the Flint" (1924) and "Flight" (1926), and "Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch" (1929), which was an study of lynching, and an autobiography "A Man called White," which was published in 1948.

From the description of Walter White papers, 1921-1938. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122626195

Walter White (1893-1955) was an American civil rights leader and writer. He served as one of the Associate Secretaries (1918 to1929) and Secretary (1929-1955) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. White's writings include journalism for the New York Post and Chicago Defender as well as an exposé of lynching (Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch) and several novels. He married Poppy Cannon in 1949.

Poppy Cannon (1905-1975) was a writer and editor. She published a number of cookbooks and was a food editor for Ladies' Home Journal, House Beautiful, Town and Country, and Mademoiselle. She also worked as a publicity consultant for the Haitian government. In 1949 she married Walter F. White.

From the description of Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon papers, circa 1910-1958. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702135977

Walter White was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 1, 1893. He was one of the seven children (he had five sisters and one brother) of George White, a Post Office employee, and his wife Madeline Harrison White. He completed high school in 1912 and entered Atlanta University, from which he graduated in 1916. While an undergraduate he had a variety of part-time jobs and was at one time a hotel porter. He later became an insurance salesman for the black-owned, Atlanta-based Standard Life Insurance Company. After graduation, White became a full-time clerk with that company. White was an active and energetic member of the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), which he served as secretary. Through his work for that organization he became acquainted with James Weldon Johnson, then Field Secretary and National Organizer for the Association. It was on Johnson's recommendation and at his urging that White consented to become one of the Associate Secretaries of the N.A.A.C.P. He served in this capacity from 1918 to 1929. White married one of the Association's office secretaries, Leah Gladys Powell, in 1922. During the twenties White became famous for his first-hand investigations of lynching, which he conducted by posing as a white man. He also published two novels, Fire in the Flint (1924) and Flight (1926), and an exposé of lynching, Rope and Faggot, A Biography of Judge Lynch (1928).

When James Weldon Johnson left the N.A.A.C.P., Walter White was made acting Secretary. With Johnson's final resignation, White succeeded to the permanent position in 1931. During his tenure as Secretary, from 1929 to 1955, White led the campaign against the confirmation of John J. Parker to the Supreme Court, directed the Association's activities in the Scottsboro case, and directed activities designed to thwart communist influence in the organization. He also consolidated the powers of the Secretary by exercising strong personal control over the national staff. From 1943 to 1945 White served as a war correspondent for the New York Post . He visited most of the major war areas and as a result of his experiences wrote A Rising Wind (1945). Later he expanded his public writings by producing an editorial column for several newspapers, including the Chicago Defender . In 1948 he published his autobiography, A Man Called White .

The years 1949 and 1950 were very active years for White. It was at this time that he carried out his plans to divorce Gladys Powell and marry Poppy Cannon, a white woman. Just prior to his marriage, he submitted his resignation to the N.A.A.C.P., but his letter of resignation was filed without being acted upon, though he was granted a year's leave of absence. There may have been a connection between his impending marriage and his attempted resignation, as he had kept his marriage plans a secret from the Association. Later White withdrew his resignation. While on leave of absence White married, participated in the 'Round the World Town Hall Meeting, and entered on an extensive lecture tour. During his leave there were two developments within the Association that were to face White on his return. The first was a feeling that the communists had again gained an undue influence in some branches of the Association. The second internal difficulty involved White himself. Many members of the local branches and of the national staff felt that White exercised too much power, and there was an attempt to oust him. Though he thwarted this attempt and retained the secretaryship, the office was stripped of some of its power. During the last five years of his life White increased those of his activities not related to the N.A.A.C.P. and the field of race relations. He became particularly interested in Haiti and the Caribbean, and sometimes acted as an unofficial spokesman for the interests of that area. White was likewise active on behalf of India and interested himself in its economic and political development. He cultivated the friendship of "Nan" Pandit, Nehru's sister, and made arrangements for Nehru to meet black leaders when he visited the United States. During the 1950's White was in declining health as the result of a heart ailment. He died of a heart attack on March 21, 1955.

Members of Walter White's Immediate Family:

George White - father

Madeline White - mother

George White - brother

Madeline White - sister

Alice White Glenn - sister

Helen Martin - sister

*Olive White - sister

Leah Gladys Powell White - first wife

*Walter Carl Darrow White - son called "Pidge" for le petit pigeon

Jane White - daughter

Poppy Cannon White - second wife

Cynthia Cannon - second Mrs. White's child

Alf Askland - second Mrs. White's child

Claudia Philippe - second Mrs. White's child

Charles Claudius Philippe - second Mrs. White's third husband

* No material in collection

Poppy Cannon was born Lillian Gruskin in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 2, 1905, the eldest of four children of Robert and Henrietta Gruskin. She came with her parents to the United States in 1908 and settled in Kittening, Pennsylvania, where her father ran a store. She won a scholarship to Vassar College and eventually became a journalist, food editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, House Beautiful, Town and Country, and Mademoiselle, and the author of several cookbooks, including The Can Opener Cookbook, The Bride’s Cookbook, The Presidents’ Cookbook, Aromas and Flavors of the Past and Present (with Alice B. Toklas), and a memoir of her fourth husband, A Gentle Knight: My Husband Walter White . She first married Carl L. Cannon, who became Acquisitions Librarian at Yale in 1931, and bore a daughter Cynthia. Her second husband, the Norway-born Alf E. Askland, an investment counselor and the father of her only son, Jon Alf., died in 1939. In 1941 she married Charles Claudius Philippe, an executive at the Waldorf Hotel, whom she divorced in 1949 and with whom she had a daughter, Claudia. She married Walter F. White in 1949. She died in New York in April, 1975.

From the guide to the Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon papers, circa 1910-1956, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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  • Boxing--Fiction
  • African American women
  • African Americans--Social conditions
  • African American authors--20th century--Archives
  • War correspondents
  • African American actresses
  • African American actors
  • African American civic leaders
  • African American civil rights workers
  • African American intellectuals
  • Civil rights movements--History--20th century
  • Novelists, American--20th century--Archives
  • Civil rights workers
  • African Americans--Civil rights--History--20th century
  • African American novelists
  • World War, 1939-1945--Journalists


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  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Haiti (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)