Political Advocacy Without a Choice

Highlighting African American Political Social Workers


  • Donisha Shepherd Full Circle Strategies
  • Suzanne Pritzker University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work




Political social work, African American social work, social work pioneers, social work history


From social work’s early days, African American social workers were engaged in what today is termed as political social work, yet their work is often overlooked in both social work education and the broader retelling of our profession’s history. This article examines the early history of African American political social work, using Lane and Pritzker’s (2018) five domains of political social work. We outline ways in which African American social workers’ lived experiences led them to engage in political social work to support community survival and to challenge injustice during the Black Migration period post-slavery, the Jim Crow Era, and the Civil Rights Movement. Even as broader structural dynamics sought to exclude African Americans from the political arena, dynamic and influential African American social workers laid the groundwork for modern political social work. They politically engaged their communities, lobbied for legislation, worked in the highest levels of government, supported campaigns, and ran and held elective office to ensure that civil rights were given and maintained. This manuscript calls for a shift from social work’s white-dominant historical narrative and curricula (Bell, 2014; DeLoach McCutcheon, 2019) to assertive discussion of the historic roles African American political social work pioneers played in furthering political empowerment and challenging social injustice.


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