Length: 400 pages
Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 48 minutes
First Published: 2022
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Mariner Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Born with mixed-race heritage to parents who were born as slaves, Walter F. White’s skin was light enough that he could easily “pass” as white. A leader of the Harlem Renaissance and an important member of the NAACP, White used his ability to lead a dual life, going undercover to investigate some of the worst racist murders in America. White’s leadership shaped public opinion, pushed forward the Civil Rights Movement, and altered the mission of the NAACP toward legal and political activism.
I absolutely loved A. J. Baime’s biography of Walter F. White, which I picked up only because I loved his previous book on auto racing, Go Like Hell. Unsurprisingly, I had never heard of the NAACP leader and activist who had a hand in almost every major civil rights advance from 1920 to 1950. Baime focuses on White’s life and details the race relations that wove through the decades of American history, making it a fascinating, albeit sobering, read.
A riveting biography of Walter F. White, a little-known Black civil rights leader who passed for white in order to investigate racist murders, help put the NAACP on the map, and change the racial identity of America forever
Walter F. White led two lives: one as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and the NAACP in the early twentieth century; the other as a white newspaperman who covered lynching crimes in the Deep South at the blazing height of racial violence. Born mixed race and with very fair skin and straight hair, White was able to “pass” for white. He leveraged this ambiguity as a reporter, bringing to light the darkest crimes in America and helping to plant the seeds of the civil rights movement. White’s risky career led him to lead a double life. He was simultaneously a second-class citizen subject to Jim Crow laws at home and a widely respected professional with full access to the white world at work. His life was fraught with internal and external conflict—much like the story of race in America. Starting out as an obscure activist, White ultimately became Black America’s most prominent leader. A character study of White’s life and career with all these complexities has never been rendered, until now.