Leadership in the African American Freedom Struggle


The journey towards African American’s freedom was characterized by major setbacks on the part of the black Americans. Despite these setbacks, the African Americans continued in their quest for freedom believing that they were meant to be equal to their white counterparts. The oppression of this population especially due to the slave system of the time led this group of people to desire freedom as they were deprived of many privileges as slaves.

Among the privileges that they were denied included a right to education, right to own property, right to share public resources without being discriminated among many other rights that are vital in guaranteeing man’s happiness. This was in sharp contrast with the American declaration of independence. Among the major motivators for the quest for freedom was based on the American independence declaration that states that all men are created equal and have a right to pursue happiness.

In this regard, the African American population aggressively pursued a policy shift that would ensure that slavery was ended. After this objective was achieved, they pursued the end of discriminatory laws that made whites belong to a superior race.

Although African Americans finally won their freedom, the journey towards this freedom was not easy. It took the heart of several big-hearted leaders to aggressively pursue the ideology of equality and freedom of the African Americans in the United States. Among the notable characters in the journey towards the freedom of the African Americans are figures like Malcon X, Martin Luther King Junior, Booker T Washington, and William Du Bois among others (Weldon 6).

The contributions of these leaders towards the freedom of the African Americans have been extensively studied, with their styles of leadership and tactics used as well as failures of each leader being identified. This paper examines the contributions of two leaders towards the freedom of the African-Americans notably Booker T Washington and William Du Bois. Their success as well as their failures are noted and analyzed. The tactics used by these people with an aim of attaining freedom for the African-Americans are also examined.

Booker T Washington

Washington’s mother was an African-American slave who worked and resided at ‘Burroughs Plantation in southwest Virginia’ (Washington 6). He had a white father who took little responsibility in taking care of him. To educate himself, Booker was forced to work in various capacities since his mother could not afford to pay for his education (Washington 14). He was appointed the first president of the Tuskegee institute by Hampton’s president.

Booker is famed for being an American educator, a good orator, and a good political leader who authored various books (Washington 29). He spoke extensively on behalf of the majority of blacks who lived in the South and had lost their voting rights (Washington 31). Although he faced great opposition, he was able to maintain power due to sponsorships that he received from powerful whites who believed in inequality. His widespread support within the black business community as well as education and religious communities nationwide also gave him a positive image in his quest for leadership (Washington 22). He also had a good ability to appeal to philanthropists for financial support which further made him maintain leadership positions (Washington 22).

Washington’s approaches towards the freedom of the African-Americans included “cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists who helped raise funds which were used to start and run small community schools” and institutions of higher education for the betterment of blacks throughout the South (Washington 36).

As noted by Washington (39) when Booker was invited by General Armstrong to deliver an address at the Hampton commencement in 1879, he predicated his message on the belief that history recorded nowhere when there was a great demand for work, self-sacrificing work, work that will shape the character of generations yet unborn’. According to him, the way to success required not only education but also wisdom and common sense, a heart set on the right, and a trust in God (Washington 15).

As noted by Washington (17) Booker thought that education should lead to a job. He emphasized the importance of thinking and job skills. He made his appeal to thousands in a speech delivered in Atlanta in 1895 where he noted that blacks were one-third of the south’s people and therefore should not be ignored. He appealed to both races to be friendly to each other. He wanted African-Americans to stop agitating whites in order to acquire equal rights; instead, he thought blacks should learn skills that would help them get jobs (Washington 18).

Washington (40) believed that blacks should pride in farming as this could pave way for equal rights. He also believed that civil rights should be earned not given. However, this did not please African-Americans who thought he would demand equal rights. His critics thought that he was limiting black education to skill training while they wanted the African-Americans to choose their own course of study (Washington 40).


Booker appealed to white people through speeches that preached unity between blacks and whites (Washington 42). His main view was that since the blacks were outnumbered by the whites, they were most likely to suffer should there a confrontation between the races occur. (Washington 42).

He also called for the emancipation of Africans through education and hard work. He called upon Africans to embrace agriculture as this could earn the civil rights and equality that they needed (Washington 58). Booker also appealed to youth through education. His hard work and achievements as a black were able to earn him a great following not only from blacks but also from whites and Indians. Throughout his work, Booker able to impress General Armstrong and President Roosevelt who proved to be of great support in his African-American leadership roles (Washington 68).


Among Booker’s main success was his ability to bring together people of similar ideologies from across the racial divide towards supporting the struggle for the freedom of the African-Americans. He also had a rich network of powerful and wealthy individuals which made him have a significant impact on the financial flows for development projects. He is also credited due to his role in increasing the accessibility of the African-American children as he worked hard to ensure that many schools were opened (Washington 76).

He is also credited with his role in ensuring that moral standards were enlisted in the schools that he created (Washington 78). The school became a source of communal pride as they were seen as the first steps towards showing that the African-Americans were people who were as good as their white counterparts.

W.E.B. Du Bois

Born on February 23rd, 1868, William Du Bois grew to be a force to reckon with in the struggle for African-American freedom (Du Bois 3). Du Bois’s intellectual ambition was fed by local white leaders. As noted by Du Bois (4) Du Bois did not quarrel with Washington’s contention that blacks needed to improve their labor skills to become a more integral part of the nation’s economy. He is also credited for his role in the unmatched call for equality between the Africans and the Europeans.

He failed to agree with those who encouraged that property ownership remains in the hands of only the majority-white saying that such ideologies were not only baseless but also that such ideologies were meant to benefit the white people (Du Bois 24).

Despite his radicalism, he failed to have influential support among the masses. His only following was composed of a small community of rational thinkers and writers who bought his ideologies (Du Bois 48). The African-Americans he was advocating for saw his advice not only as inciting, but also as impractical and thus a piece of advice with no chance for effective influence towards a specific course. However, he is remembered for his role towards the realization of the African-Americans freedom within a manageable level especially due to the managed pace of the change process (Du Bois 69).


In conclusion, one can assert that the journey towards the freedom of the African-Americans was long and torturous. However, the efforts of some African-American leaders made the dream of an equal society in the United States be realized especially due to their role in ensuring that the rights of the black person have been realized. Although the poverty index today may show a discriminative distribution of poverty in the United States, the role that the mentioned leaders played towards the establishment of a free African-American society cannot be ignored.

Works Cited

Du Bois, William. The Souls of Black Folk (an African-American Heritage Book). New York: Wilder Publications, 2008. Print.

Washington, Booker. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. Maryland: Wild side Press, 2007. Print.

Weldon, James. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. New York: Filiquarian Publishing, 2007. Print.

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