(Reprinted with permission from the Huntsville (Alabama)Times, written by Douglas Turner.)

In African-American Leadership, Ronald W. Walters and Robert C. Smith, provide a scholarly discussion of the theory, research and praxis of black leadership. Acknowledging the challenges now faced by African Americans, they address a number of issues related to black leadership, such as its historical development, major subcategories, black leadership’s primary functions and its future.

Part one of this wide-ranging work assesses the social science research from the 1930s to 1966—the old “Negro” leadership literature; and from 1966 to 1980—the new “black” leadership literature. Walters and Smith conclude that while the “Negro” leadership literature is “not theoretically robust” and somewhat limiting because of its reliance on the case method, “there are really few studies of the new black leadership that are of the depth and sophistication” of the old Negro leadership studies.

To correct this, the authors propose that future research go beyond the study of black elected officials and civil rights organizations, and focus on the role of the church and clergy in black politics, the power structure of the black community and leadership at the grassroots level.

Part one ends with a postscript and review of the literature on black leadership since 1983. They characterize the relatively few systematic studies of African-American leadership in the last fifteen years as frequently “ad hoc, atheoretical, methodologically diffuse and hence noncumulative—in other words, a confused series of unrelated and disjointed articles and books instead of cumulative body of knowledge.”

Part two takes a “ground-up” approach to black leadership in the modern era by building a framework, presenting some cases, and the raw material for future research. Calling racism “the major impediment to the forward progress of African Americans in the United States,” Walters and Smith provide a comprehensive view of the strategies utilized by black leadership, including discussions of the National Black Leadership Roundtable and the continued necessity of mass mobilizations.

African American Leadership is a valuable resource for students of black leadership and for black leaders involved in strategy and policy. Walters is professor of Afro-American studies, government and politics and a fellow at the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. Smith is professor of political science at San Francisco State University.


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