Black History Month is a special time to recognize and celebrate the achievements of African Americans. The late African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History started Negro History Week in 1926, which in now Black History Month. Many history makers we celebrate during the month were great servant leaders with an unwavering commitment to improving the quality of life for others, even if it meant risking their life. Leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as South Carolinians, Septima Clark, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Matthew Perry, and Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, are great examples of servant leaders.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we must remember the significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which transformed the well-being of African Americans. This transformation was achieved through African-American servant leadership along with the blood, sweat, and tears of followers and the leaders who were from all socio-economic sectors of society. The newly passed Acts were game changers in opening up opportunities for African Americans.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to overcome barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Together, the legislation opened doors for African-American servant leaders to ascend to a leadership position in politics, government, businesses, and the non-profit sector, where they would push for improving the plight of African Americans and other disadvantaged groups.
Recognizing servant leadership is an integral part of Black History Month. African American servant leaders then and now are advocates and champions in leveling the playing field for the poor and disenfranchised. According to Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of the modern servant leadership movement, “servant leadership is a leadership philosophy built on the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others, rather than accrue power or take control.”
As we celebrate Black History Month, we are calling on leaders in various sectors of society, to embrace servant leadership as a means of improving the quality of life for disadvantaged and underserved communities.
James T. McLawhorn, Jr.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Columbia Urban League, Inc.
Martha Scott Smith
2009 United Way of the Midlands Humanitarian of the Year Award Recipient
Retired, AT&T Director of Public Affairs-SE