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African-American Studies



African-AmericanStudies: Focusing On Black Leaders’ Highlights in the 19thAnd 20thCenturies

InAfrican-American studies, the focushas been on socio-cultural,and leadership operationsassociatedwith Black leaders. The role of the studies has not only lied inneedto understand the critical role played by African-Americans and theirleaders in shaping the state of political operations in America butalso to examine trends in the rise of these managers. August Meierand John Hope Franklin have assembled fifteen scholarly andsophisticated biographies. Titled BlackLeaders of the Twentieth Century,the work documents the lives and contributions of Afro-Americanleaders by highlighting and giving critical insights into the livesof Black women and men who were nationalists and moderates, as wellas integrationists and radicals. Thus, the work fulfills its promiseby focusing on individuals from the worlds of the arts, business,labor, religion, and professions. A similar study isconductedby Litwack and Meier (1988) regarding the rise and contribution ofAfro-American leaders on the socio-economic, cultural and politicalarena of America. Titled BlackLeaders of the Nineteenth Century,the work complements Franklin and Meier’s earlier version byselecting prominent leaders based on their importance and spaceinevitability. This paper provides critical highlights of Blackleaders perceived to have dominated the history of America during thenineteenth and twentieth century’s. In so doing, it isprojectedthat akeyinsight on issues such as trends in the rise of these leaders, theirvalues, the contributions felt, and possible implications forthe future of America will begained.

Section1:‘Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century’by Litwack and Meier (1988)

Inthis essay, less emphasis wasplacedon important and the Reconstruction leaders because of the need toavoid overlapping the previousvolume. Some of these leaders included Ida Wells-Barnett, ThomasFortune and Booker Washington, whose careers are affirmed to havespanned both the early twentieth and the late nineteenth centuries(Litwack &amp Meier, 1988).

RichardAllen and the African Church Movement’by Albert J. Raboteau (p. 1)

Anotable figure highlighted in this work is Richard Allen. Affirmed tohave spearheaded the African Church Movement, Allen isdocumentedas a religious leader who strived to address racial discriminationmarryingreligious life in the African-American context. Describing his“African brethren) as those that had long beenforgotten,Allen has settled in Philadelphia and suggested the need for a blackMethodist of Philadelphia. Despite this plan, the suggestion receivedlittle support from people at St. George’s and, thus, was rejectedoutright (Litwack &amp Meier, 1988). Despite the disappointment,Allen’s quest for a separate church that would address the needs ofthe blacks continued, especially that which wasinformedby the fact that regardless of status, all people were equal in thesight of God. Specifically, the leader advocates for a change fromthe passive reception of the word among African Americans to a statein which they would preach it. The effort is observed to haveculminated inthe formation of the Free African Society, a mutual aid associationmembership outcome and the core of a black congregation (Litwack &ampMeier, 1988).

NatTurner. The unknown slave as visionary leader’by Peter H. Wood (p. 21)

Anothervisionary leader that the work highlights is Nat Turner, the unknownslave. Born in the Southampton County of Virginia, Turner had beenseparatedfrom his parents by slavery. On August 22, 1831, Turner is documentedto have accompanied six other slaves to launch an insurrection, anevent that occurred in southeastern Virginia. Attributing thepossibility of the blacks passing over the earth to the black spotthat had passed over the sun, Turner was motivated and proceeded tocommence the apocalyptic movement. From a secluded gathering point inCabin Pond, Turner and his men set out to the house of Joseph Travis(his master) and murdered five members. A few more homesteads in theline of these rebels were also taken wholly by surprise. The processescalated so fast that Turner’s band had recruited six new members,secured a small supply of weapons, and nine horses. By midday,Litwack and Meier (1988) documented that Turner and his troop hadkilled over 50 individuals without losing a member, with theadditional group armed with clubs, swords, axes,and guns. Indeed, Turner isobservedas an African-American leader whose effort would onlybegin by murdering his master and escalate so fast that it expandedinto a revolt within hours. On the one hand, it is worth noting thatinitial opposition from the whites and death or capture of sectionsof his troops stalled progress in the quest to achieve freedom. Onthe other hand, the spread of the word of the uprising into regionssuch as North Carolina, Cabin Pond, Virginia and Halifax County ledto intense panic among the whites. Whereas theTurner was found after two months and tried and convicted beforebeing sentenced to death by hanging, the aftermath of the Southamptonrevolt posed significant implications. For example, the concernsarising fromthe resultant emancipation debates and the fear resultingfrom his insurrection led to political responses that defined slaveryas that which is a “positive right.”On economic and other grounds, emancipation wasopposedand the antebellum era saw an improved Christian treatment extendedto the slaves – to avoid a recurrence of such rebellions (Litwack &ampMeier, 1988). Overall, the revolt became a turning point that madeslave owners payfor hardships that they had caused inthe majority of African Americans, forming precedence for the blacks’struggle for liberation. Other prominent leaders that the proceedingchapters examine include Mary Church Terrell, Isaiah T. Montgomery,William Henry Steward, Robert Brown, Blanche K. Bruce, PeterHumphries Clark, and Martin R. Delany. Others include Henry HighlandGarnet, John Mercer Langston, Mary Ann Shadd, Frederick Douglass, andHarriet Tubman.

HarrietTubman`s unlikely leadership’by Benjamin Quarles (p. 43)

Regardingthe role played by Harriet Tan, Litwack and Meier (1988) affirmedthat she was born into slavery but escaped, subsequently making about13 missions while seeking to rescue about 70 enslaved friends andfamilies. The leader is documented to have adopted networks of safehouses (underground railroads) and networks of antislavery activists,eventually translating into the extension of support to John Brownrecruit men, who constituted abolitionists, in raiding Harpers Ferry.The work depicts further that Tubman was an active participant duringthe post-war era while struggling to address women suffrage.

FrederickDouglass: Humanistas race leader’by Waldo E. Martin, Jr. (p. 59)

AboutFrederick Douglass, Litwack and Meier (1988) highlight that he was astatesman, writer, orator, abolitionist, and reformer. Initiallyenslaved in Maryland, Douglass is observed to have escaped and ledthe abolitionist movement in New York and Massachusetts. Theleadership experience is avowed to remain attributable for theincisive antislavery writings and dazzling oratory that followed.Thus, Litwack and Meier (1988) suggest that abolitionists describedDouglass as a living counter-exampleto the arguments of slaveholders, who argued that slaves could notfunction as independent citizens due to the lack of intellectualcapacity. Emerging as a firm believer in all people’s equality(whether recent immigrant, Native American, female, or black),Douglass is documented to have initiated dialogues through whichalliances across ideological and racial divides emerged.

MaryAnn Shadd and the search for equality’by Jason H. Silverman (p. 87)

MaryAnn Shadd forms another importantleader that the book addresses. Shadd was an American-Canadianlawyer, teacher, publisher, journalist, and an anti-slavery activist.As such, her efforts are seen to concentrate on the need to abolishslavery. Shadd is also renowned for collaborating with the AmericanMissionary Association to establish a racially integrated school inWindsor, having moved to this Canadian region as a response to theU.S. 1850 Fugitive Law that threatened to return escaped slaves andfree northern blacks into bondage. Shadd is remembered further forrunning The Provincial Freeman, an anti-slavery newspaper that addedto her effort in advocating for full racial integration viamechanisms such as self-reliance and education (Litwack &amp Meier,1988).

JohnMercer Langston: Principleand Politic’by William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek (p. 103)

JohnMercer Langston, a politician, diplomat, activist, educator,attorney, and abolitionistforms another focal point in this book. The leader was born inVirginia as a free black and survived the Jim Crow era that in whichhe was elected (from the South) to the Congress. On collaborationwith Charles Henry Langston, his brother, the abolitionist had hisfirstcareer based in Ohio where he advocated for equal rights whileaddressing related issues such as suffrage, education, andAfrican-American freedom (Litwack &amp Meier, 1988).

Alast stern struggle: Henry Highland Garnet and liberation theoryby Sterling Stuckey (p. 129)

Regardingthe contribution of Henry Highland Garnet, Litwack and Meier (1988)observe that the African-American was not only an orator but also aneducator, minister, and abolitionist. Specifically, Garnet is foundto have advocated for militant abolitionism and emerged as a memberof the movement response for the push towards political action,rather than stop at the moral suasion stage. Thus, the bookacknowledges Garnet as one who will remain renowned for his skills asa public speaker, through which all blacks were urged to claim theirdestiny by taking action. Indeed, beforethe Civil War, Litwack and Meier (1988) indicated that Garnetsupported the emigration of free blacks from America to the WestIndies, Liberia, and Mexico.

MartinR. Delany. Elitism and Black Nationalism’by Nell Irvin Painter (p. 149)

Regardingthe contribution of Martin R. Delany, the authors affirm that theAfrican-American was a proponent of Black Nationalism, a writer,physician, journalist, and abolitionist. Having trained as a doctorat Harvard Medical School, Delany’s contribution was evident whenmost of the residents and doctors fled Pittsburgh in 1833 and 1854,having toembarkon a life-saving mission as a response to cholera outbreaks. Delanyis also observed to have collaborated with Frederick Douglass inpublishing the North Star before engaged in the recruitment ofcolored troops, a step that led to his appointment as the firstAfrican-American field officer, commissioned as a major.

PeterHumphries Clark: the dialogue of hope and despair’by David A. Gerber (p. 173)

Litwackand Meier (1988) observe that Peter Humphries Clark will berememberedas one of the most effective abolitionist speakers and writers inOhio. It is further notable that Clark established the first publichigh school constituting black students in 1866, eventuallyrecognized at the national level as an educator of black publicelementary.

Threereconstruction leaders: Blanche K. Bruce, Robert Brown Elliott, andHolland Thompsonby Howard N. Rabinowitz (p. 191)

RobertBrown was a key player in the American Revolution while Blanche K.Bruce was the first man elected to the Senate to representMississippi. Thus, these prominent leaders mark the turn of events inAmerica’s history whereby some of the political leadershippositions are seen to shift to the hands of members ofthe black community.

WilliamHenry Steward: moderate approach to Black leadership’by George C. Wright (p. 275)

Similarefforts were also exercised by William Henry Steward, Robert Brown,Blanche K. Bruce and Peter Humphries Clark. Appointed as the firstblack letter carrier, Steward was a co-founder of the AmericanBaptist and constituted the group of the National Afro-AmericanCouncil’s prominent members.

IsaiahT. Montgomery`s balancing act’by Janet Sharp Hermann (p. 291)

Onthe other hand, Isaiah T. Montgomery isrememberedfor the effort made towards black disenfranchisement. As such,Montgomery participated in the constitutional convention ofMississippi whereby a constitution that had, for long, disfranchisedblack voters for several decades was adopted. Indeed, Montgomeryremains renowned as a founder of Mississippi’s Mound Bayou.

MaryChurch Terrell: genteel militant’by Sharon Harley (p. 307)

Theauthors proceed to document the contribution of Mary Church Terrellas a national activist for suffrage and civil rights. Additionaleffort is seen to have culminated Terrell’s life into an academichigh school teacher and the founder of the National Association forthe Advancement of Colored People. The eventuality is that sheadvocated for improved social life among African-Americans. Overall,Litwack and Meier (1988) sensitize audiences regarding issues such ascivil rights and the suffrage, which faced most of theAfrican-Americans existing during the slavery period, with efforts ofthe aforementioned leaders culminating into critical changes thatyielded improvements and alterations in the values, as well asattitudes held by the whites towards the blacks.

Section2:Black Leaders of the Twentieth Centuryby Franklin and Meier (1982)

Inthis collaborative work, Franklin and Meier (1982) create anessential volume regarding significant achievements that blackleaders arising during the twentieth century realized. Specifically,15 leaders areexaminedand constitute bureaucratic, charismatic, integrationist andnationalist men and women whose backgrounds arevariedregardingarts, professions, business, labor, and religion. Specific leadersdiscussed include Whitney M. Young, Jr., Ida B. Wells-Barnett, MabelK. Staupers, Charles Clinton Spaulding, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., andJames Weldon Johnson. Others include Charles Hamilton Houston, MarcusGarvey, Thomas Fortune, Mary McLeod Bethune, A. Philip Randolph,W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X. and Martin LutherKing, Jr.

BookerT. Washington and the politics of accommodationby Louis R. Harlan (p. 1)

Thecontribution of Booker T. Washington forms another significantmovement to note. According to Franklin and Meier (1982), Washingtonplayed a significant role of the advisor to the Presidents of theU.S., besides operating as an orator, author, and educator. He alsoemerged as a dominant between 1890 and 1915, serving theAfrican-American community. It is further notable that Washingtonemerged from a generation that constituted the last black Americanleaders born into slavery. As such, he led the voice of descendantsand those of the present,former slaves. With the peak of lynching felt in 1895, Washington’sspeech that isfamously referredto as the Atlanta Compromiseis renowned for bringing him to national fame. Indeed, he isrememberedfor having mastered the late 19thcentury’s nuances characterizing the political arena and aided indistributing funds, rewarding friends, pressurizing, networking,strategizing, raising money and manipulating the media whilepunishing individuals opposed to his objective of uplifting theblacks. Thus, Washington was determined the vast majorityAfrican-Americans’ disenfranchisement, especially those in theSouth. Prominent in the National Negro Business League and theAfrican-American business, Washington remains renowned.

T.Thomas Fortune: Militanteditor in the age of accommodation byEmma Lou Thornbrough (p. 19)

Similarefforts wereseenin Timothy Thomas Fortune, a publisher, editor, writer, journalist,civil rights leader and orator. The highly influential writerand leading economist (who had been born into slavery to Sarah Janeand Emanuel Fortune in Florida) is affirmed to have agitated for theblack people’s rights and played a significant role in shaping therise of the Civil Rights Movement.

Lonelywarrior: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the struggle for Black leadershipby Thomas C. Holt (p. 39)

Onthe other hand, Wells is affirmed to have been an African-Americansociologist, suffragist, newspaper editor and journalist whoseleadership in the Civil Rights Movement culminated into the women’ssuffrage movement that advocated for the rights of women.

W.E.B.DuBois: protagonist of the Afro-American protestby Elliott Rudwick (p. 63)

DuBois is another leader that Franklin and Meier (1982) discuss.Documented as an editor, author, Pan-Africans, civil rights activist,historian and American sociologist, Du Bois was born inMassachusetts’ Great Barrington and was brought up in a communityperceived to be relatively integrated and tolerant. His rise tonational prominence isattributedas that which ledin the leadership extended to the Niagara Movement. Notably, theNiagara movement was that which wasformedby activists of the African-American origin seeking equal rights forblacks. An emergent and notable aspect in Du Bois is thatcontrary to most of the leadersabove, heled his supports in opposing the Atlanta compromise that Washingtonhad crafted. Indeed, the settlementmeant that African-Americans in the southern region would submit tothe political rule of the whites and work for the whites, with thelatter group guaranteeing economic opportunities and basic educationto the blacks. Thus, polemics of Du Bois targeted racism. Mainly,he would protest strongly against discrimination in employment andteaching,as well as negative attributes such as Jim Crow Laws and lynching. Tofight for African colony independence fromthe European powers, Du Bois is documented to have organized severalPan-African Congresses,besides making trips to Asia, Africa and Europe (Franklin &ampMeier, 1982).

JamesWeldon Johnson and the development of the NAACP/by Eugene Levy (p. 85)

Itis also worth noting that James Weldon Johnson, a civil rightsactivist, songwriter, diplomat, lawyer, educator, and author, isaffirmed to have led the National Association for the Advancement ofColored People. As the Harlem Renaissance set in, spirituals andpoems of black culture werecollectedin Houston’s anthologies, novels,and poems.

MarcusGarvey and the politics of revitalization byLawrence W. Levine (p. 105)

Relatedefforts are seen to have emerged from the work of Marcus Garvey, whowas an orator, entrepreneur, journalist, publisher and politicalleader. Garvey advocated for the Pan-Africans Movement and, in turn,established the African Communities League and the Universal NegroImprovement Association. Furthermore, Garvey founded a passenger andshipping line referred to as the Black Star Line. The role of thisline was to foster the African Diasporas’ return to ancestrallands. As such, Garvey was determined to see the European colonialpower leave while allowing people of the African ancestry to redeemtheir respective nations.

A.Philip Randolph: Laborleader at largeby Benjamin Quarles (p. 139)

Theauthors document further that Philip Randolph was a leader in thesocialist political parties, the American Labor Movement, and theAfrican-American Civil Rights Movement. Similarly, Randolph isaffirmed to have established one of the first labor unions that werepredominantly African, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters(Franklin &amp Meier, 1982). The leader isalso acknowledgedfor the critical role played in leading the March to Washington thatBayard Rustin had organized in 1963, a turning point that saw MartinLuther King, Jr. deliver the famous speech, “I Have A Dream.” Insummary, Randolph is renowned for having inspired the Freedom Budgetthat sought to address economic challenges with which the blackcommunity continued to grapple.

CharlesClinton Spaulding: middle-class leadership in the age of segregationby Walter Weare (p. 167)

CharlesClinton Spaulding forms another prominent black American who presidedover the largest black-owned business in America, the North CarolinaMutual Life Insurance Company. He also led the establishment ofDurham Committed on Negro Affairs in 1935, an organization thatsought to address problems faced by African-Americans.

MaryMcLeod Bethune and the National Youth Administration: a case study ofpower relationships in the Black Cabinetof Franklin D. Rooseveltby B. Joyce Ross (p. 191)

Aboutthe contribution of Mary McLeod, Franklin,and Meier (1982) observe that the American educator was ahumanitarian and civil rights activist, a philanthropist,stateswoman, and an educator. To cater tothe needs of African-American students in Beach, Florida, McLeodestablished a private school. The commitment to realize a better lifefor African-Americans translated into McLeod’s achievement of thetitle of “The First Lady of The Struggle,” coming after herappointment as Franklin Roosevelt’s national advisor in the BlackCabinet (Franklin &amp Meier, 1982).

CharlesHamilton Houston: social engineer for civil rightsby Genna Rae McNeil (p. 221)

CharlesHouston is another prominent leader that the book highlights. TheAfrican-American lawyer’s critical role emerged when he led indismantling the Jim Crow Laws. Indeed, this significant step sawHouston earn the title of “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow.”

MabelK. Staupers and the integration of Black nurses into the armed forcesby Darlene Clark Hines (p. 241)

MabelKeaton’s initial experience of racial discrimination led to hergraduation from the nursing school translated into advocacy forracial equality. Specifically, the supportwasbasedon her profession. Critical outcomes included reformations andchanges in race-related attitudes among members of the nursingprofession.

AdamClayton Powell, Jr.: the militant as politicianby Martin Kilson (p. 259)

Regardingthe role played by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the American politician,and Baptist pastor is remembered as the first African-American to beelected to the Congress in New York. At the national level, he was aspokesman on social issues and civil rights, urging the U.S. to lendsupport to Asia and Africa’s emerging nations while gainingindependence (Franklin &amp Meier, 1982).

MartinLuther King, Jr. and the promise of nonviolent populismby David Levering Lewis (p. 277)

Accordingto Franklin and Meier (1982), Martin Luther King, Jr. was an activistand Baptist minister whose leadership wasfeltduring the African-American Civil Rights Movement. With Christianbeliefs on focus, Martin Luther is observed to have adoptednonviolent civil disobedience as an ideal mechanism through whichcivil rights could beadvanced.Also,Martin Luther is remembered for leading the March to Washington in1963 while the struggle to curb segregation in 1962, which targetedGeorgia’s Albany region, was unsuccessful. In public discourses,speeches at church and religious meetings, Martin Luther would quotefrom Christian gospels and other teachings of Jesus Christ, aspiritualfoundation that constituted his primaryinfluence.

MalcolmX: witness for the prosecutionby Peter Goldman (p. 305)

Anotherimportantleader that Franklin and Meier acknowledge is Malcolm X. Emergingfrom a Muslim background, the African-American advocated for humanrights. Specifically, Malcolm X’s courage saw him target theoppression extended to the blacks whose rights were yet to befelt.Indeed, he used harsh terms to indict white America aboutthe crimes that it had committed against blacks, with detractorsassociating him with the preaching of violence and racism. In 1964,America witnessed Malcolm X disillusion himself from the Nation ofIslam and ended up embracing Sunni Islam. Journeys that followed inregions such as the Middle East and Africa saw him establish theOrganization of Afro-American Unity, as well as Muslim Mosque, Inc.Overall, Malcolm X continually advocated for black self-defense,black self-determination, and Pan-Africanism.

WhitneyM. Young Jr.: committing the power structure to the case of civilrightsby Nancy J. Weiss (p. 331)

Otherleaders that Franklin and Meier’s work documents include MabelKeaton Staupers, Ida B. Wells, and Whitney Young. The latter isseenas a civil rights leader whose most of the career wasspentin working to end employment-related discrimination in the U.S.,besides leading the National Urban League into anactivistorganization that sought equitable access to socioeconomicopportunities among historically disenfranchised people. In summary,critical insights aregainedfrom the works of Franklin and Meir (1982) and, Litwack and Meier(1988) regarding prominent African-American leaders who existed inthe nineteenth and twentieth century’s. Common emergent themescharacterizing the advocacies of most of these leaders entail racialdiscrimination regardingsocio-economic opportunities of employment and education, as well aslabor-related oppressions. Overall, the works sensitize readersregarding the important roles played by African-American leaderswhose efforts to improve the lives of members of the black communityare worth acknowledging.


Franklin,J. H. &amp Meier, A. (1982). BlackLeaders of the Twentieth Century.Champaign: University of Illinois Press

Litwack,L. &amp Meier, A. (1988). BlackLeaders of the Nineteenth Century.Champaign: University of Illinois Press