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The Civil Rights Era: Today's Leaders

February 15, 2011
by findingDulcinea Staff
Over the last four decades, blacks have become integral members of American society, offering visible and highly revered work in fields as varied as the arts, sciences and business. This year, racial integration is perhaps most visible in American politics. In the final part of our series, we examine black Cabinet members and lawmakers who grew up during the civil rights movement, illustrating that African-Americans are not just regarded as regular civilians, but also as American leaders.

The George W. Bush Administration

Condoleezza Rice served as the first black female national security adviser during Bush’s first term and as secretary of state during his second term. Rice was born in 1954 and raised in Birmingham, Ala. During her childhood, the civil rights movement was at her doorstep and she experienced segregation and violence firsthand. As a child, Rice discovered that she had to be “twice as good” to make a mark—a fact that formed her drive and determination.

After earning a masters degree and Ph.D. and becoming a fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control, Rice was invited to join the George W. Bush administration. She also worked for President George H.W. Bush as Soviet affairs adviser on the National Security Council.

Colin Powell served as secretary of state during George W. Bush’s first term, and was the first black to hold the office. Prior to that he served as lieutenant general and assistant to the president for National Security Affairs under Bush Sr.; he was the first black to hold the position, as he has been in every office he has held since.

Powell was born in Harlem in 1937 and joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) while in college. His military service took him to Vietnam, where he earned a Purple Heart, Bronze star and the Soldier’s Medal. Before joining George W. Bush’s administration, Powell served in the Reagan, Carter, Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations.

The Republican Party

In January 2009 the Republican Party elected its first black chairman, Michael Steele. In 1993 Steele became the first African-American elected to statewide office in Maryland after becoming lieutenant governor. In addition to holding public office, Steele has worked as a lawyer and as head of his own company, The Steele Group, which specializes in business and legal consulting.

Steele was born in 1958 at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince Georges County, Md., but was raised in Washington, D.C. Before deciding to pursue a law degree at Georgetown University, Steele spent three years as a seminarian in the Order of St. Augustine studying to become a priest.

The Obama Administration

Eric H. Holder Jr. is the first black lawmaker appointed attorney general. Holder was tapped by President Obama in November 2008, and was approved for the position in late January. The child of Bermudan immigrants, he received his undergraduate degree and J.D. from Columbia University.

Holder has a diverse background in law, though he has spent most of his career as a federal prosecutor. During the Clinton administration, he served as deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. After being nominated by President Ronald Reagan, he worked as United States attorney for the District of Columbia. Holder has also served as a federal judge on the superior court bench in Washington.

Most remarkable of all, however, is the 2008 election of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. Obama is truly a child of the civil rights movement, born on Aug. 4, 1961. He is the child of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, and was raised by his grandparents in Hawaii.

Obama worked his way to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree and later earned a J.D. at Harvard University. He served on the Illinois state Senate and later served as U.S. senator. He won the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2008 and defeated Republican John McCain in November. Obama is the author of the 1995 autobiography, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" and, more recently, “The Audacity of Hope,” which outlines his ideals for American law and politics.

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