Early African American Leaders


Over a hundred years ago, African Americans fought against White southern supremacy for equality and eventually won in the mid twentieth century.

Equal rights did not come without humiliation, brutal beatings, and bloodshed. African Americans finally received equal rights, why does the issue of racism still come up? How have historians documented the events of the past and in what ways have their documentation effected the cries of racism today?

February is Designated as Black History Month

Many African Americans are opposed to this designation. They feel that every month should be Black History Month and taught in connection with American history.

Some African Americans believe that in order to get over the past indignations done to them they must look at their roots, which started way before they were brought to the United States. The belief of these African Americans who want to push Black history believe that if it is taught to them in school or if they learn about family history through genealogy they will develop a sense of pride.

Although slavery and segregation is part of their history it is important for African Americans to know there is more to their history than the brutality and loss of life they suffered.

Early African American Leaders

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois were early leaders of African Americans during the days of Jim Crow. Both these men had hopes for their generation and for future generations, but their ideals were different.

W.E.B. Dubois was born in 1868 in Massachusetts. He was for education of the Blacks and for integration. He helped to develop the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and became its director. DuBois leaned towards equality for the Black and made great strides towards impressing upon the Black community that it is vital to their survival to “cultivate their own aesthetic and cultural values.”

Booker T. Washington had a different view. He was born in 1856 in Franklin County, Virginia. His mother was black and his father, a local farmer, was white. He grew up on the James Burroughs tobacco farm, which he referred to as a plantation.

As a young boy he was not allowed to attend school, but he did carry the schoolbooks for Burroughs’ daughter. He said in his autobiography, “I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study would be about the same as getting into paradise.”

Free At Last

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation James Burroughs read it to his slaves. Burroughs freed his slaves and Booker’s family left for West Virginia to join his stepfather. He got a job in a salt mine and worked it out that he could also attend school. While living in West Virginia his passion to learn grew stronger. At sixteen, he left West Virginia and walked 500 miles to attend the newly opened Hampton Institute in Virginia.

The early life of Booker T. Washington influenced his future and his determination to show the Black people of his generation and the generations to come that through education they would become equal to White people.

In 1901, Washington published his autobiography, Up From Slavery.” His autobiography giving his “rags to riches” story. His book gave hope to others who were slaves or children of slaves. Washington had already built and become the president of Tuskegee University.

DuBois published Souls of a Black Folk in 1903. It was received with mix reviews.


  1. Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1901; Bartleby.com, 2000.
  2. Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.; [Cambridge]: University Press John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A., 1903; Bartleby.com, 1999.