J. Ernest Wilkins, Sr.
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J. Ernest Wilkins, Sr.
J. Ernest Wilkins Sr.
J. Ernest Wilkins Sr. -Assistant Secretary of Labor -U.S. Government portrait V3 -cropped-.jpg
J. Ernest Wilkins Sr.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor, 1954-58
Born(1894-02-01)February 1, 1894
DiedJanuary 19, 1959(1959-01-19) (aged 64)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois; University of Chicago
Known forLabor leader, Undersecretary of Labor, Civil Rights
Political partyRepublican
Lucille Robinson
(m. 1922)
Children3 sons, including J. Ernest Wilkins Jr.

Jesse Ernest Wilkins Sr. (February 1, 1894 - January 19, 1959)[1] was a U.S. lawyer, labor leader, undersecretary in the Eisenhower administration and both the first African-American to be appointed to a sub-cabinet position in the United States Government and the first to attend White House cabinet-level meetings.[2][3]

After a public falling-out with the president and his administration, Wilkins was dismissed from his post by Eisenhower, and then went on to join the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1958.

Education and early career

J.E. Wilkins, 1918

Wilkins is the son of a Missouri Baptist preacher.[2] He studied mathematics at the University of Illinois and then attended the University of Chicago Law School in the 1920s, becoming one of its first-ever black graduates. He graduated with a PhD at age 20, a member of its Phi Beta Kappa Society and then practiced law locally for several years.[4]

Public service

In 1954, Wilkins was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as Undersecretary of Labor for International Labor Affairs (UL-ILA),[2] thus becoming the first Black to attend White House cabinet level meetings in the absence of his superior, Labor Secretary James Mitchell.[2][5] Wilkins had previously served the Eisenhower administration as acting chairman of the President's Committee on Government Contracts at the request of Val Washington.[6][7]

During his tenure with the administration he was a member of Equality Committee, working with Frederic Murrow, Val Washington, Joseph Douglas, James Nabrit Jr. and Samuel Pierce.[8] Still earlier he had been a member of Eisenhower's President's Committee on Governmental Employment Policy (PCGEP) board when he was with the Labor Department.[7]

After a public falling-out with the administration,[] Wilkins was dismissed from his post by President Eisenhower, and then went on to join the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1958.[9] During a later election campaign, John F. Kennedy was quick to note that when Wilkins had been fired he had been replaced by the son of one of the Republican Party's outspoken anti-civil rights advocates.

While investigating charges that Black voting rights had been violated, his work with the six-member Civil Rights Commission was hampered in Montgomery, Alabama when he was refused accommodation at the hotel where the other commission members were staying. He subsequently found a room for himself at Maxwell Air Force Base.[10] When the commission tried to subpoena county voting records, they discovered that then-Circuit Judge George Wallace had seized the records, and was threatening to jail any commission member who would interfere in his jurisdiction.[10]

Other achievements

In 1953, Wilkins became the first African American to serve on the nine-member Judicial Council of the Methodist Church, when he was elected its secretary. The body is Methodism's nominal and administrative head.[11]

From 1954 to 1957, Wilkins served as U.S. representative on the governing body of the International Labour Organization.[3] In 1959, Wilkins also became the first African-American president of the Judicial Council of the Methodist Church.[3]

He also served as the Grand Polemarch (national president) of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.[2]

Personal life

Wilkins married Lucille Robinson (b. 1899 (?) - d. November 1964, Brooklyn, N.Y., aged 65), who taught school in Chicago, was secretary to the women's division of the Methodist Church, and who also practiced law with her husband for 33 years.[12]

Lucille Robinson Wilkins, in her marriage announcement on December 2, 1922[13]

Together they raised three sons: J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., who achieved fame as a mathematician and nuclear scientist; John Robinson Wilkins, who attended University of Wisconsin at the age of 14, Harvard Law School at 19, was elected to the Harvard Law Review, and went on to serve President Kennedy as general council for the Agency for International Development (AID);[4] and Julian B. Wilkins, who practiced general and corporate law.[12]

Wilkins died as a result of a heart attack in Washington, D.C., in late January 1959, at the age of 64.[3]

Wilkins is the grandfather of two notable attorneys: David B. Wilkins, a professor at the Harvard Law School, and Timothy A. Wilkins, a partner with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.[14] In 2010 Wilkins' granddaughter, Carolyn Marie Wilkins, a Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, wrote of her grandfather and her family more generally in her biography Damn Near White: An African American Family's Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Chicago Bar Record. Chicago Bar Association. 1959.
  2. ^ a b c d e "To the White House", Time, August 30, 1954
  3. ^ a b c d Milestones, Time, February 2, 1959.
  4. ^ a b Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara, Respect, Da Capo Press, 2000, ISBN 0-7382-0318-1, ISBN 978-0-7382-0318-8
  5. ^ Perret, Geoffrey, Eisenhower, Adams Media, 2000, ISBN 1-58062-431-6, ISBN 978-1-58062-431-2;
  6. ^ Mjagkij, Nina, Portraits of African American life since 1865, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, ISBN 0-8420-2967-2, ISBN 978-0-8420-2967-4;
  7. ^ a b Mjagkij, Nina, Organizing Black America: an encyclopedia of African American associations, Taylor & Francis, 2001, ISBN 0-8153-2309-3, ISBN 978-0-8153-2309-9
  8. ^ Robert Weems & Lewis Randolph, Business in Black and White: American Presidents and Black Entrepreneurs in the Twentieth Century, NYU Press, 2008, ISBN 0-8147-7517-9, ISBN 978-0-8147-7517-2;
  9. ^ "Washington Notebook", Ebony, November 1980, Vol. 36, No. 1, p.27, Johnson Publishing Co, ISSN 0012-9011;
  10. ^ a b Predictable Welcome, Time, December 15, 1958
  11. ^ Methodist Council Elects Negro Secretary Jet, July 9, 1953, Johnson Publishing Co., ISSN 0021-5996;
  12. ^ a b "This Week's Census: Died - Mrs. Lucille Robinson Wilkins", Jet, December 3, 1964.
  13. ^ Taylor, Julius F. (December 2, 1922). "The Broad Ax" (10). Retrieved 2015.
  14. ^ "Race, Sustainability, and Social Justice: A Conversation with the Wilkins Brothers". Harvard CLP. Retrieved .
  15. ^ Wilkins, Carolyn Marie. Damn Near White: An African American Family's Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success, University of Missouri Press, 2010, ISBN 0-8262-1899-7, ISBN 978-0-8262-1899-5.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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