Cover for Leading the Race
Leading the Race
The Transformation of the Black Elite in the Nation's Capital, 1880–1920
Jacqueline M. Moore
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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.

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