Walter Francis White was born July 1, 1893, into a middle class family in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Atlanta University and in 1918 began to work for the NAACP Because of his very light complexion and the texture of his hair, White was able to access places, particularly in the South, that other African Americans could not. In the 1920s White did undercover investigations about lynching, which became the basis for his book The Fire in the Flint. White's book brought both controversy and attention to him.
In 1931 White was selected as executive secretary of the NAACP. Under White's leadership the organization gained prominence and was seen as influential in the African American community. The NAACP's perspective and participation were sought by various entities, including U.S. presidents. The organization fought for full voting rights, admission to graduate and professional schools, and equal pay for African American teachers.
White died on March 21, 1955, of a heart attack. Over three thousand people attended his funeral.