Social justice leadership against racism and sexism: A retrospective and prospective analysis

Fenwick W. English, Rosemary Papa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


The conventional view of leadership, especially which is manifested in producing deep-seated social change, has to be “heroic” in nature. While we do not argue that such leadership inevitably involves heroic actions, the idea that social change requires a “heroic leader” is closely examined in this chapter in the case of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1957 and the women’s movement toward equal rights. Historical analyses of these two social justice movements revealed that there were many leaders who contributed to the agenda of ending racism and sexism. The evidence suggests that there were multiple “co-leaders” and that singling out just one person for the success or failure ignores the historical evidence and obfuscates the reality that real leadership for social change is not singular but co-relational. This chapter closely examines the role that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and it examines the broad-based assault on sexism through critical court cases which broke open the traditions of sexism and are still being pursued. The problem with “heroic” leaders is that they rest on the assumption of “entitism,” that is, that there are clear borders which separate leaders from followers when upon close examination there is a dynamic and fluid relationship between leaders and followers in which there are role reversals when the followers empower their leaders and consent to be led by them. The Montgomery Bus Boycott against racism on public transportation and the court cases regarding sexism in public life are examples that relational leadership theory offers a more accurate picture of successful social justice leadership in the past and in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook on Promoting Social Justice in Education
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9783030146252
ISBN (Print)9783030146245
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • American civil liberties union
  • Civil rights movement
  • Martin luther king jr.
  • Montgomery bus boycott
  • Racism
  • Relational leadership
  • Ruth bader ginsburg
  • Sexism
  • Willystine goodsell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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