A History of African-American Leadership

A History of African-American Leadership

A History of African-American Leadership

A History of African-American Leadership


The story of black emancipation is one of the most dramatic themes of American history, covering racism, murder, poverty and extreme heroism. Figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are the demigods of the freedom movements, both film and household figures.

This major text explores the African-American experience of the twentieth century with particular reference to six outstanding race leaders. Their philosophies and strategies for racial advancement are compared and set against the historical framework and constraints within which they functioned.

The book also examines the 'grass roots' of black protest movements in America, paying particular attention to the major civil rights organizations as well as black separatist groups such as the Nation of Islam.


Since the appearance of the second edition of this book (Black Leadership in America: From Booker T. Washington to Jesse Jackson) in 1990, the political landscape has shifted dramatically with the improbable election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. In the jubilation that followed Obama’s triumph, there was talk of a “post-racial America,” where race is no longer an impediment to someone of color. Although it is clear that the United States has not yet become the color-blind society that Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamed of in his memorable speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., it also seems that in some important ways race is less of a barrier than it was when King gave that speech nearly four decades ago.

Interest in African-American history remains as great as, if not greater than, it was when the first and second editions of this book appeared. A virtual tidal wave of books, articles, and encyclopedias have appeared on black leaders, black radicals, black women, black organizations, and the like, especially on the civil rights movement, variously defined. This third edition incorporates some of this new scholarship throughout the text. The introduction, conclusion, and all of the chapters have been revised, especially those on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, and Jesse Jackson, and there are new chapters on Barack Obama and AfricanAmerican women. This edition remains interested in the themes of continuity and change, conflict and competition, race and class, theory and ideology, as exemplified by the thirteen major leaders selected, and the movements which they inspired or led. In sum, this book gives attention to the goals of successive black protest movements as perceived by their “leaders,” participants, and critics, as well as the interactions between the racial philosophies of the leaders themselves.

According to historian H. Viscount “Berky” Nelson, there have been multiple paths to black leadership, with some leaders arising from the humblest of origins, including enslavement, and others from middle-class professions, especially the ministry, journalism, education, government . . .

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