The period 1865-1945 saw the civil rights movement develop gaining popular support and make steps towards equality for African Americans. When assessing whether a leader was the most successful several factors must be taken into consideration; this includes their legacy and lasting changes, their popularity at the time and the legal changes that they brought about, and the relationship held with the white leaders in power at the time. Marcus Garvey was a significant leader, he created ideas that gained him general support and started a new political movement, however, socially Booker T. Washington could be considered to have been more significant, and A. Phillip Randolph in terms of the legacy he left behind. In their own ways each African American civil rights leader could be considered significant, however, it was William Du Bois who most successfully met the aforementioned criteria.
The criteria previously stated that popular support is an important factor of being a significant leader. Marcus Garvey had attained this gaining support from ‘Back to Africa’ movement and thousands more supporters through UNIA which had established over 700 branches in numerous states by the early 1920’s. Marcus Garvey wrote for the ‘Negro World’ a newspaper that at its peak circulated over 500.000 copies. Garvey clearly demonstrated his popularity amongst those that were involved in the ‘militant black nationalist’ movement.
However, Booker T. Washington’s support was more influential, although it was not as large. Washington gained access to meeting with president Roosevelt, which was something that Garvey never achieved, allowing Washington to press his cause at the top level of government, making his support base more significant even though it was smaller. Du Bois gained support from his involvement in the Niagara movement which he founded in 1905 and consequently the NAACP. The NAACP is considered as one of the most influential and well organised group within the civil rights movement and at its peak had over 90,000 members. However, all the group’s success cannot be completely attributed to Du Bois as it was not his own, although he was a key founding member. Although in terms of size M.Garvey had the greatest popularity, Washington is considered to have the most influential support, which can be considered to be the most significant. However, if the support for the NAACP was true for Du Bois too, then his support was the most widespread and significant.
Legal changes brought about during this period are also a good indicator of a leader significance achieved, as they are lasting changes. Although Marcus Garvey was supported by the ‘Back to Africa’ movement, very little real changes were achieved. Garvey did get as far as setting up development projects in Africa, very little happened as only a handful of African-Americans did return to their native Africa. Overall, in legal terms Marcus Garvey did very little to further the civil rights movement. On the other hand, Randolph was very successful in this area and could be considered to be the most significant leader when looking at legal changes made. This assumption can be made when looking at the work done with unions including the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and his campaign which led to the signing of the executive order in 1941 which barred discrimination in defence industries and federal bureaus. The threat of the march on Washington finally pressured Roosevelt into signing the order.
Furthermore, Randolph won the fight to ban discrimination in the armed forces, although this in itself seems significant, it was poorly enforced as arms industries in the south continued to be segregated. Du bois had great political influence and this was seen when in the aftermath of racial violence in 1906, Du Bois urged blacks to withdraw their support from the Republican Party, because Republicans Roosevelt and William Howard Taft did not support blacks. Most African Americans had been loyal to the Republican Party since the time of Abraham Lincoln. To some extent this action changed the face of American politics. The success of the NAACP bringing about constitutional change in the 1930’s can be attributed to Du Bois as well. They stopped the appointment of a known racist to the Supreme Court. However, these changes were not clear and Du Bois’ involvement in the NAACP campaign was limited. Considering the changes made by leaders; Garvey achieved little and therefore cannot be considered the most significant, Randolph however, did change the law but unfortunately it was not properly implemented and still allowed racism. Du Bois did achieve considerable change that was the most significant; however, this statement is only true if the actions of the NAACP were a result of Du Bois.
A leader’s legacy and lasting influence is a key marker of their significance. The majority of Garvey’s influence was mainly short term seen through well attended rallies and meetings however, some may argue that the significance of his influence is far greater as the movement he founded went on to inspire the actions of Malcolm X . This clearly shows that he did leave a legacy behind him that went on to make further civil rights improvements. Randolph too could be considered to be significant as he too influenced a great civil rights leader. His ideas inspired Martin Luther King, who in some respects was the leader who took the civil rights movement the furthest. Randolph’s work in trade unions eventually led to the executive order improving working conditions of blacks in the long run as well as entrenching these changes.
Du Bois’ legacy can be considered when looking at his written works and the success of the NAACP which are still functional. However, although his legacy undoubtedly is the NAACP his lasting influence diminished greatly after being persecuted as a communist and later emigrated to Ghana. Washington’s significance was the greatest, although no significant legal changes were made, his significance stems from the fact that he was the first African American to gain access to meeting with the president, he was the first to start a relationship with high ranking politicians which was continued by other leaders in later years. Both Du Bois and Garvey’s significance are mainly judged in terms on the organizations that they left behind, this compared to the significance achieved by Randolph and Washington as mere individuals does not seem as great. However, this does not change the fact that the organizations did have greater influence and they were a legacy.
Garvey could be considered to be the most influential African American leader in the period 1865 to 1945 if we only look at his significance in terms of influence and gaining widespread support. However, he failed in being significant in making legal changes, which could be considered to be most significant; leaving behind an entrenched legacy. Furthermore, he met directly with the KKK. Randolph however, succeeded in making legal changes and helped the formation of black workers unions, however he failed to widen his support base as his political beliefs limited his involvement with other civil rights movements. Although Washington had close ties with the white house this did not result in any real constitutional change, furthermore, his actions were localized making it hard for him to be considered as the most significant leader of the national civil rights movement. It is Du Bois who can be considered to be the most significant leader of the civil rights movement of the period. It is a combination of his writing and his actions in both the Niagara movement and the NAACP, as they brought about constitutional change and the NAACP was one of the most popular civil rights groups that has existed.