Throughout American history, the Civil Rights movement has been graced with a variety of visionary leaders. Not surprisingly, each leader possessed different perspectives on the philosophical basis of the movement as well as the methods the movement should employ to overcome them. As a result, each leader met with varying reactions from their contemporaries and the American public at large. Understanding the different styles of and responses to each leader represents a crucial step in framing the Civil Rights movement in a historical perspective. This essay will examine the respective careers of W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X and compare their ideologies, methods, and public reactions.
African-American historical scholar Elliot Rudwick describes W.E.B. DuBois as a "propagandist" (Franklin and Meier 63). Indeed, DuBois described himself as a "master of propaganda" in his own writing (Franklin and Meier 63). Rudwick and DuBois employ the term's original definition, which does not have the negative connotation of an individual attempting to sway opinion against a just cause. DuBois' use of propaganda served to "employ symbols to influence the feelings and behavior of an audience" in service of justice (Franklin and Meier 63).
DuBois' propaganda often took on a strident tone in eyes of both whites and blacks. From the perspective of white audiences, his calls for "the abolition of all caste distinctions based