Black American Leaders Essay - Critical Context

Margaret B. Young

Critical Context

Author Young is the wife of Whitney Young, for many years the director of the National Urban League. She has written other books for young adult readers on the subject of civil rights and African Americans, including The First Book of American Negroes (1966), The Picture Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), and The Picture Life of Ralph J. Bunche (1968).

Although Black American Leaders has its shortcomings and is not a biography in the traditional sense, it does have a definite value for young adult readers. There are references here to leaders who would be difficult to find in any other place. The listing of spouses and children also makes accessible otherwise hard-to-find information.

Yet much has changed since 1969, when the book was first published. Careers that seemed to be moving toward having a major impact on the national scene have come to a close. Notable in this respect is Barbara Jordan. Her career led beyond her accomplishments as described in 1969, as she moved from the Texas state senate to the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. There she played a major role in the Watergate hearings, only to be forced into retirement by poor health. The Civil Rights movement reached a peak of accomplishment after the publication of this book, and the nation’s attention moved elsewhere. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created true political power for African Americans in the South and in other urban areas. As a result, there is a new generation and a new breed of African-American leaders in the United States.

Virtually none of those discussed as leaders in 1969 was a major figure on the national scene two decades later. Therefore, what was written as a partly historical and partly contemporary commentary has become entirely historical material. Thus, Young has provided, in Black American Leaders, a reference work that gives insight into conditions in the African-American community and into concerns in the United States in 1969.