Rust College has been connected to greatness since the very beginning. People who do not attend Rust have been as equally inspired by the “Rust spirit” of education, service and excellence as those who do. Roy O. Wilkins, a key figure in the NAACP and the American Civil Rights Movement is one of them. Wilkins’ connection to Rust College and Holly Springs is an interesting one.
Roy Wilkins never attended Rust College nor did he grow up in Holly Springs. Nevertheless, Holly Springs is where his family hailed from. Wilkins mentions in his autobiography visiting his grandparents, who lived in Holly Springs in 1914, when he was 13 years old.
Although Wilkins never lived in Holly Springs or attended Rust College, he has had as much influence on the college as anyone living or dead.
According to Wilkins’ The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins Standing Fast (1982), his parents, William (Will) Wilkins and Mayfield (Sweetie) Edmundson met as students at Rust College in the 1800s.
Local lore also has it that his grandfather, Asberry Wilkins, was associated with the college either through his service on the Board of Trustees of the college or through his affiliation with Beverly Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church.
Whatever the connection, something about Rust College appealed to the elder Wilkins. Rust College appealed so much so that he sent his son, William, to be educated here. Rust College therefore was instrumental to Roy Wilkins even before he was born.
Roy Ottoway* Wilkins, was born August 30, 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri. However, following the death of his mother, at the age of 4, Wilkins and his siblings, Armeda and Earl were reared by his maternal aunt, Elizabeth and her husband, Samuel Williams in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both Elizabeth and her husband whom she affectionately referred to as “Sam,” like their parents were also native Mississippians.
While growing up in Minnesota, Wilkins achieved some of his greatest accomplishments as a civil rights leader. In 1922, he joined the St. Paul’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), graduated from the University of Minnesota (1923), and worked on his first job as a newspaper columnist with the Kansas City Call Newspaper (1923). He later married Aminda (Minne) Badeau in 1929, having by then moved to Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1930, Wilkins was first offered a job by Dr. W. E. B. DuBois with The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. He declined the offer. However in 1931, Walter Francis White, Acting Secretary of the NAACP offered him a job as Assistant Secretary, and Wilkins accepted his first position with the NAACP.
When W. E. B. Du Bois left the organization in 1934, Wilkins replaced him as editor of The Crisis. While living in New York, Wilkins had such prominent neighbors as Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1955, Roy Wilkins was selected to be the Executive Secretary of the NAACP and in 1964 became the 3rd Executive Director of the NAACP. During his tenure with the NAACP, Wilkins met many prominent figures who made significant contributions to American history, including eight U.S. Presidents, namely Franklin D. Roosevelt (F.D.R), John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter and a host of other dignitaries and activists.
Upon his retirement from the NAACP in 1977 at the age of 76, Wilkins was honored with the title Director Emeritus of the NAACP. He later died in New York on September 8, 1981. His autobiography Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins was published in 1982 posthumously by his wife, Aminda (Minne) Badeau Wilkins.
Although Roy Wilkins never attended Rust College, the “Rust spirit” of education, service and excellence instilled by his family and his Holly Springs connections no doubt influenced the man he became and his contributions to justice and equality.