New Leaders for Black Community

As older blacks who sparked the civil rights revolution depart, younger African Americans assume prominence

THEY are men and women who, by and large, never experienced Jim Crow segregation first-hand. Some of them may not even have encountered racial discrimination in its blatant forms. Now in their 30s and early 40s, these successful black people came of age in an America very different from the land known to their parents and grandparents.

They are the beneficiaries of the civil rights revolution achieved by a generation of remarkable black leaders, sung and unsung. While the battle for full legal rights for blacks (and other minorities) in America certainly goes on, the distinctive "civil rights era" is past, and most of its prominent leaders either have left the scene or are nearing retirement.

As a result, a kind of changing of the guard is taking place in black leadership in the United States. Across the nation - in politics and pulpits, in companies and community organizations, on college faculties and in the media - a new generation of African-Americans is emerging in positions of authority.

Many of them are highly educated, and they have enjoyed (and taken advantage of) opportunities that their elders could hardly imagine. They are as likely to live in suburbs as in cities, their children attend good schools, and for many the American Dream is no longer a bitterly ironic phrase.

Yet their inheritance is decidedly mixed. Sadly, racism is far from eradicated in the US. Even the most privileged and accomplished of younger blacks have, if only subtly, felt racism's sting. And for many of their less fortunate black brothers and sisters trapped in the inner cities or on hardscrabble farms, racism and racism's legacies of poverty and despair are still everyday facts of life.

For young black leaders concerned about the condition of their race, the challenges they confront - though in many ways different from those faced by their predecessors - are no less daunting. In today's special report, Monitor writers tell the stories of a few of these new African-American movers and shakers.

This is the first in a series of special reports about America's minority groups that will appear in the Monitor this year.

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