“You have proved to be one of the great leaders of our time. Through your efficiency as an administrator, your genuine humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the principles of freedom and human dignity, you have carved for yourself an imperishable niche in the annals of contemporary history.”
~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in tribute to Wilkins’ 30th anniversary with the NAACP
Roy Wilkins was born to William and Mayfield Wilkins in St. Louis, Missouri on August 30, 1901. Both his parents had graduated from college and his father also studied for ministry in the Methodist church. The Wilkins family had moved to St. Louis from Holly Springs, Mississippi because, despite his formal education and aspirations, William was unable to obtain appropriate work to support his family in his hometown. Relocating to the more bustling and prosperous city, the only work William could secure was tending a brick kiln.
By the time that Roy was four years old, his mother, Mayfield, passed away after suffering from tuberculosis. William sent their three small children to live with their maternal aunt and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Williams in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. Living in an integrated, low-income community, the Williams lovingly reared the children; as such, these two adults were often regarded by Roy as his parents. The aunt and uncle emphasized the immeasurable values of education, virtue and honor. These would be essential in overcoming the never-ending obstacles that many African-Americans faced in life.