Black History Month – Servant Leader Series

Great African American servant leaders for Black History Month: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Bunche & Martin Luther King

In celebration of Black History Month, I compiled a list of several Black American servant leaders. This list is not comprehensive and you can expect more in the future. Whether you are looking for a list of great servant leaders, great Black leaders or just looking to get some reading in before the closure of this year’s Black History Month, you will enjoy the list below. Each individual listed has a larger profile available by clicking on the name.

Sojourner Truth Servant Leader ProfileSojourner Truth

Born Isabella Baumfree, the African-American abolitionistwomen’s rights activist gave herself the name Sojourner Truth to reflect her calling to travel and spread the truth. Born into slavery in New York, Truth escaped but was only able to take one child with her and had to leave a son behind. Later, she became the first black woman to win a court case against a white man when she reclaimed her son…

…Sojourner fought for the greater good of her community and our country at great personal risk and costs. Although she was well received by many, including multiple U.S. presidents, she also faced incredible opposition. She did not win every battle but never stopped fighting. She exemplified many servant leadership attributes, including integrity and strong character, healing, stewardship, building community, empathy and more.

Harriet Jacobs Servant LeaderHarriet Jacobs

Harriet Ann Jacobs was an African American who escaped slavery, was an influential abolitionist and ardent educator. She also wrote the first autobiography on the atrocities experienced by female slaves. She is probably best know for that book: “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl“, which included graphic detail of the sexual harassment and abuse endured by female slaves. She was also well known for improving the lives of freed slaves, largely through her fervent dedication to developing schools and working opportunities for freed slaves…

…Harriet’s self sacrifice and fearlessness in publishing her autobiography was a selfless means by which to promote the absolution movement. She inspired slaves and the freed poor everywhere with her example and motivated supporters of the cause to help with everything from the underground railroad to temporary housing, education and health improvements. Her torch was carried on by her daughter and others she inspired. Her actions expressed many servant leadership characteristics, chief among them: healing, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and a focus on building community.

Harriet Tubman Servant LeaderHarriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and became an abolitionist after escaping to the free states. Later, she also fought for the rights of elderly African-Americans and became a Union spy during the American Civil War. Harriet was beaten terribly by different masters as a child. In one instance, she received a tramatic blow to her head, when she refused help a slave master detain a runaway slave. Suffering from that injury included headaches, seizures and what modern docters attributed as powerful dreams and visions. These symptoms never ended throughout her  life. Tubman, however, ascribed the source of her visions and dreams to messages from God…

…Harriet’s risk of harm to herself did not deter from an unending battle of freedom for slaves. Whether risk her life for a single slave or hundreds at a time, Harriet did whatever she could to free others. Freedom for herself only seemed to motivate her further in the struggle against slavery. The personal afflications suffered in her childhood were not treated as an excuse but a driving force behind her mission. She served those she loved and she loved a great many. These and other attributes of Harriet Tubman’s character and life reflected many servant leader attributes, including: Healing, Empathy, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship, Conceptualization, Building Community and Comitment to the Growth of People.

W.E.B. Du BoisW.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois was, first and foremost, a civil rights activist. In addition, he was the first African American to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University, a professor of economics at Atlanta University, instrumental in the foundation and development of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), described by Martin Luther King as, “a radical all of his life” and was labeled “The Father of Pan-Africanism“. He also wrote in support of Joseph Stalin on occasions and was generally considered a proponent of communism. He maintained, against many contemporaries, that White people should play a critical role in the fight for civil rights…

…W.E.B. Du Bois represents a great example of how Servant Leaders are not always liked by all. To be sure, Du Bois was loved by many. His writing, causes and influence played a huge part in the advancement of Black Americans in the early 20th century. However, his positive perspective on communism, especially at a particularly difficult time of the mid 20th century, was often ill-received. He was quoted as saying, “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Stalin] was probably too cruel; but… he conquered Hitler.” Yet, as Martin Luther King later reflected, this should not be perceived as the negative it has become. Du Bois was not afraid to speak his mind regarding what he believed was best for others – whether that meant affirming Stalin or opposing Booker T. Washington. Much of his work – especially his writing, progressed civil rights for Black Americans.

Ralph Bunche - Servant Leader - Black History MonthRalph Bunche

Ralph Bunche was a political scientist and conflict mediator. He was the first person of color to receive theNobel Peace Prize and was an advocate and active participant in the civil rights movement. Although best known for his work negotiating the 1949 Armistice Agreements in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, he also played a major role in the foundation and advancement of the United Nations. Bunche also contributed to several Federal organizations, including the predecessor to the CIA

…Mr. Bunche’s service to his country, race and conflict-torn regions everywhere was selfless. He consistently put the needs of others before his own. In so doing, he reflected the best we have to offer, even at personal risk to himself. He expressed not only concern for issues such as civil rights, peace and security but also perseverance and commitment to resolution of these matters. For these reasons and more, Mr. Ralph Bunche was an excellent example of Servant Leadership.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King is among the greatest Servant Leaders this world has ever seen.  His vision, leadership and ultimate sacrifice blazed a path for millions.  There are many great posts, videos and other references that remind us of his vision and social injustices he would fight still today.  Included in this post are some of the best highlights, videos and other references.

Marting Luther King Jr. - I Have A Dream


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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