White Lies: The Double Life of Walter F. White and America's Darkest Secretby A.J. Baime
Setting: United States
Narrator: Wayne Carr
Published on February 1, 2022
Format: Audiobook Source: Library
A riveting biography of Walter 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 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.
By the award-winning, best-selling author of The Accidental President,Dewey Defeats Truman, and The Arsenal of Democracy,White Lies uncovers the life of a civil rights leader unlike any other.
I was unfamiliar with the story of Walter White. He lived an amazing life. I can’t imagine being as brave as he was when he was investigating racism in the early 20th century.
Walter White was from Georgia. He fully considered himself to be a Black man. However, he could pass for white. This saved his life and the life of his father, who also could be mistaken for white, during a race riot in Atlanta. A white mob passed them on the street while hunting for Black people to kill. This experience of racially motivated violence led him into activism.
He met and impressed one of the founders of the NAACP, James Wendon Johnson. He remembered Walter when the NAACP was looking for someone to help investigate lynchings. Soon Walter’s job was to head to areas where lynchings took place and get the facts, especially if the local police were not willing to investigate. This was usually because they were complicit.
He found that he could go into a town and people would talk to him. They thought he was white so they had no fear of telling him what had been happening in town. They didn’t think they would ever be punished. He even managed to get himself deputized into a mob hunting Black people after the Tulsa Race Massacre in order to report on it.
Eventually he got too famous to continue this undercover work. He became the leader of the NAACP and moved the organization more into political activism. He was instrumental in getting President Truman on board with passing civil rights legislation.
This book covers lynching in detail. It is difficult to understand how people thought that this was acceptable. They didn’t just think it was acceptable – they made a day out of it. They brought picnics and bought souvenirs. I don’t understand. I would love to read a book that looks at the psychology and/or first hand accounts of What The Hell Were You Thinking, You F$#$@@# Racist?
Walter White’s story was forgotten after his death for two reasons. He fell out of favor because his second wife was a white woman. Also, the people in the civil rights movements of the 1960s felt that having a man of his complexion held up as a Black icon was not a good thing. He was an amazing man though and more people should know about him.
If you like history that has been partially forgotten, make sure to pick up this book.