White Lies: The Double Life of Walter F. White and America’s Darkest Secret

Mariner. Feb. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9780358447757. $30. BIOG
Baime (The Arsenal of Democracy) writes a biography of Walter Francis White (1893–1955), a Black American civil rights activist who directed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1929 to 1955. White (who was blue-eyed and blond but identified as Black) cut his teeth as an undercover investigator of lynchings. He sometimes passed for white to gain the confidences of racist murderers and witnesses and expose crimes in the newspapers, Baime writes. Later, succeeding his mentor James Weldon Johnson as leader of the NAACP, White quintupled its membership to 500,000, refocused the association on fighting for civil rights through the courts and via political lobbying, and helped persuade President Harry S. Truman to mandate racial equality in the U.S. military. White wrote six books and figured prominently in the Harlem Renaissance, but despite these achievements, White has been sidelined by scholars and the public, Baime argues, perhaps in part due to the scandal of his marriage to a white woman in 1949. Baime tells White’s story with verve, clarity, and perspicacity. The result holds its own with more scholarly biographies of White from Kenneth Janken (2003) and Robert Zangrando and Ronald Lewis (2019).
VERDICT A riveting profile of a little-studied Black civil rights leader.
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