Cover image for Leading the race : the transformation of the Black elite in the nation's capital, 1880-1920
Leading the race : the transformation of the Black elite in the nation's capital, 1880-1920
Moore, Jacqueline M., 1965-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 257 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
The Washington Black elite: an 1880s overview -- The family -- Culture and leisure -- The church -- Primary and secondary education -- Howard University and higher education -- Occupation and enterprise -- Charitable, professional, and fraternal organizations -- Race and racial uplift.
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E185.93.D6 M66 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Historians of the African American experience after Reconstruction have tended to imply that the black elite served only their own interests, that their exclusive control of black institutions precluded efforts to improve the status of African Americans in general. In Leading the Race, Jacqueline M. Moore reevaluates the role of this black elite by examining how their self-interest interacted with the needs of the black community in Washington, D.C., the center of black society at the turn of the century.

Immediately following Reconstruction, black elites did concern themselves with creating social distinctions, but, Moore argues, the conditions of Jim Crow segregation quickly forced their transformation into a racially conscious group. Studying this transformation in detail, Moore focuses on Washington, D.C., whose leading men and women would be equalled in brilliance only by those of Harlem in the 1920s.

The small group who made up a black social elite in Washington from 1880 to 1920 faced many challenges to their economic and social status. The rise of segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South led to disillusionment with the Reconstruction promise of biracial cooperation and assimilation, and the end of Home Rule in the District cut the few political ties between blacks and whites.

In the struggle to maintain their status, the black elite created new strategies of racial advancement that tied them inseparably to the black community while establishing their claim to lead it. This new elite became more open to men and women of exceptional abilities and achievements, basing judgments on merit rather than on family background or skin color. As these blacks lost faith in assimilation, they began to build a solid community base from which to speak out against racism.

Author Notes

Jacqueline M. Moore is Assistant Professor of History at Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Moore's book is an informative account of the black elite in Washington, DC. The author suggests black leadership in the city underwent a process of transformation between 1880 and 1920 that proceeded in three phases: assimilation, nonconfrontation, and open protest. During Reconstruction and in the 1880s, the black elite aspired toward the goal of assimilation with whites. It was obsessed with being seen as distinct from lower-class blacks, in order to be more acceptable. To maintain respectability, the black elite sought to distance itself from the masses. "Aristocratic" families secluded themselves from the lower classes, priding themselves on their free ancestry, both black and white, and white patronage. However, as segregation and disenfranchisement became entrenched and the District lost control over the public schools, the children of the "aristocracy" lost hope that assimilation would be possible in the foreseeable future. They perceived that white Americans made no distinction between educated "elite" and working-class blacks. To Southern congressmen trying to segregate the streetcars of Washington, all classes of blacks were "niggers." The black elite closed ranks with the masses and supported black institutions such as banks, fraternities, sororities, and Howard University. All levels. W. Glasker; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 1
1 The Washington Black Elite: An 1880s Overviewp. 9
2 The Familyp. 33
3 Culture and Leisurep. 51
4 The Churchp. 70
5 Primary and Secondary Educationp. 86
6 Howard University and Higher Educationp. 111
7 Occupation and Enterprisep. 132
8 Charitable, Professional, and Fraternal Organizationsp. 161
9 Race and Racial Upliftp. 187
Notesp. 215
Bibliographyp. 241
Indexp. 249