Emerging African-American Leaders

Read about important and influential African-American leaders.
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Updated on: August 30, 2006
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On the March

We cannot … keep on blaming white people for our shortcomings. We have to know our own sins … and repent of the evils that are destroying our own communities. … We must atone for the destruction that is going on: the fratricide, the death dealing drugs, and the violence that plagues us. The present generation of Caucasians, however, must accept the responsibility and the challenge to be participants in finding the solution that will correct the wrong that was done [to us] that has never been properly addressed.

—Louis Farrakhan

Harold Washington

Harold Washington, elected the first African-American mayor of Chicago in 1983, was one of a number of African-American mayors elected in this period. Thomas Bradley of Los Angeles, who served from 1973 to 1993, was another. Atlanta boasted an African-American mayor (Andrew Young, a former member of the Carter Administration) and so did New Orleans (Ernest Morial).

Washington served as mayor during a time of bitter racial division in the city of Chicago, and was frequently opposed by alderman Ed Vrdolyak, who controlled the city council. Redistricting in Chicago resulted in a sharp reduction in Vrdolyak's political power, however, and Washington briefly assembled a working majority in Chicago. He won reelection in 1987, but died shortly thereafter of a heart attack.

On the March

Remember me as one who tried to be fair.

—Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago

On the March

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.

— Colin Powell

Colin Powell

On August 10, 1989, General Colin L. Powell, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thereby becoming the first African-American to serve as head of America's armed forces. He later played a key role in strategizing the victory of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

In recent years, Powell has received attention as a potential presidential candidate, although he has yet to seek the office. (In 2000, President-elect George W. Bush nominated Powell as his Secretary of State; Powell was easily confirmed, making him the first African-American to assume that position, as well.)

Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas was confirmed by the Senate as the second African-American member of the Supreme Court on October 15, 1991. He was appointed to take the place of Thurgood Marshall, who had announced his retirement.

On the March

Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.

—Clarence Thomas

The confirmation vote of 52-48 was the closest vote for a Supreme Court nominee in the twentieth century, and it reflected the controversy surrounding Thomas's appointment. During the confirmation hearings, allegations of sexual harassment were outlined in detail before the Judiciary Committee in nationally televised hearings. The allegations came from Anita Hill, an African-American and a Yale Law School graduate. Hill had worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There was strong testimony on both sides of this issue, and the dispute cast a cloud over Thomas that has yet to disperse.

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History
The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History
Melba J. Duncan
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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