Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Margaret B. Young’s Black American Leaders is a short book composed of brief biographical sketches of selected African-American leaders from a variety of fields during the period between the Civil War and 1969, the date of the book’s publication. Young divides the areas of leadership into civil rights, government, international leaders, and political leaders. Thirty-seven individuals have biographical sketches included, and each broad area of leadership is introduced with a brief essay by Young. Each biographical sketch begins with the person’s name, place of birth, spouse, children, and death date, if deceased. Most of the sketches are two pages in length, and a photograph of each subject is included. The sketches within each section of the book are arranged in chronological order.

This book is not a biography in the conventional sense, because it does not focus on the life of a single subject. The nature of the work is more that of a reference book that contains basic information. The author makes a distinction between those who have served in appointed offices, labeling these people “government leaders,” and those who have held elected offices, calling them “political leaders.” By grouping the subjects according to areas of activity, the author emphasizes the impact that non-officeholders can have on government policy; however, some artificial distinctions are also introduced, as when a subject has been active in several areas but is arbitrarily classified into a single category.

There is valuable material to be found in Black American Leaders, because in addition to the well known, some lesser-known African-American leaders are brought to the attention of young adult readers. The author introduces the book by saying, “If you would like some old notions erased and some new ones formed, this book is for you.” She continues, “If you have some knowledge of the contribution of major leaders but you would like more, this book is for you.” Young takes as her general thesis the idea that “there is still much to know about black leadership of yesterday and today.”

Several definitions of “leader” are offered, ranging from a well-known individual who leads a mass movement, to a pioneer who shows the way for others to follow, to an unsung person of only local influence. All these types of leadership are then portrayed in the biographical sketches presented.