La Shawn Barber

On May 17, 2004, during the NAACP’s 50th anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education — the 1954 Supreme Court case that ended government-mandated racial segregation in public schools — featured speaker Bill Cosby surprised the audience of limousine liberals.

Instead of a canned speech about the benefits of Brown and how far blacks had come since segregation, he led with a righteously indignant censure about wasted opportunities in the post-civil rights movement era, including criminality, illegitimacy, drug abuse and other pathologies that have eroded poor black communities.

This is what’s known in the vernacular as airing dirty laundry.

National Public Radio senior correspondent and FOX News political analyst Juan Williams has committed the same sin in his new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — and What We Can Do About It. Williams exhorts so-called black leaders to return to the days when leadership had meaning and purpose beyond corporate shakedowns, scandals, and outdated rants about the sins of white people.

Influenced by Cosby’s resounding and still-reverberating speech, Williams argues that poor blacks are not holding up their end of the Brown deal. With the enormous changes effected through civil rights legislation, blacks today have opportunities those who came before them couldn’t even imagine. Poor blacks aren’t poor because of white racism; they are caught up in a culture of failure, and the current crop of black leaders helps perpetuate the cycle.

Black leaders must stop painting blacks as powerless victims, says Williams, and use their energy and resources to help poor blacks equip themselves to compete in a global economy, which has little regard for historical (and outdated) racial grievances. Today’s leaders “misinform, mismanage and miseducate by refusing to articulate established truths about what it takes to get ahead: strong families, education and hard work.”

In a fluid prose style, Williams provides a panoramic view of post-slavery black leadership, which emphasized high moral character, hard work and self-sacrifice, revealing a sharp dividing line between leaders like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, and corrupt post-civil rights “leaders” Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and big-city mayors like Marion Barry.

Blacks did not make enormous gains during their struggle for full citizenship and equal justice by playing put-upon victims. They made those gains by harnessing the power to control their own destinies. Williams writes:

La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.