Kenny Alexander, Ph.D. is a 2019 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr. Alexander at his Dissertation Defense.

L-R: Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, Committee Member, Dr. Philomena Essed, Committee Chair, Dr. Tommy Bogger (not shown), Committee Member.

Dissertation Committee

  • Philomena Essed, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Tommy Bogger, Ph.D., Committee Member


Social sciences, Citizenship, African American women, Civil rights movement, Qualitative, Narrative inquiry, Narrative analysis, Poll tax, Bridge leader, Citizen leader, American history, Voting rights, Race, Class, Political development, Virginia

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This study tells the deep, rich story of Evelyn T. Butts, a grassroots civil rights champion in Norfolk, Virginia, whose bridge leadership style can teach and inspire new generations about political, community, and social change. Butts used neighbor-to-neighbor skills to keep her community connected with the national civil rights movement, which had heavily relied on grassroots leaders—especially women—for much of its success in overthrowing America’s Jim Crow system of segregation and suppression. She is best-known for her 1963 lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision to ban poll taxes for state and local elections, a democratizing event hailed as a progressive victory over the entrenchment of property and wealth as prerequisites for suffrage. Virginia required an annual $1.50 poll, while other Southern states had similar levies. Butts’ legacy from her 1954–1970 grassroots heyday is also built on what she did before and after her court victory to help blacks and poor whites attain political citizenship—the right to fully participate in political decision-making. Butts, who stood amid the continuum of black resistance leaders questing for freedom, civil rights, equality, justice, and dignity, exercised effective leadership on diverse concerns, including segregated schools, employment discrimination, and substandard housing. Self-determination for marginalized people lay at the heart of her crusades, especially for voter education, registration, and turnout. This first, full-length scholarly examination of Butts’ leadership is a qualitative study and narrative inquiry that includes the context of her times. This interdisciplinary study draws on literature in history, political science, sociology, civil rights, voting rights, critical race theory, and leadership theories, and is built on narrative analysis and constructivist/interpretivist techniques. Butts, who died in 1993, did not leave many personal writings, so research findings emerged from a triangulation of resources: interviews with friends; a self-published memoir by Butts’ youngest daughter; and newspaper archives. This study contributes to closing the gap in leadership literature about grassroots black women who remain unsung and understudied because of nontraditional leadership styles. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, and OhioLINK ETD Center,


Kenny Alexander, Ph.D.

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0001-5601-9497

Kenneth Cooper Alexander has made historic achievements in government, while transforming a small family business into a regional institution. He possesses a proven track record as a legislator, government executive, college lecturer, and entrepreneur. Alexander’s career in public service began in the neighborhood where he was raised and where his family’s funeral business is still based – Norfolk’s Berkley Community. In the thirty years since he completed his undergraduate studies at Old Dominion University, and graduate studies at Norwich University, Alexander has successfully performed a myriad of critical roles with community – based organizations, and in government, business, and academia.

Improving communities, reshaping political relationships, and enhancing economic opportunities have been the focus Alexander’s twenty – year record of service as a leader. Alexander holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, currently serves as the Mayor of the City of Norfolk and has lectured at a series of colleges and universities in Virginia and North Carolina. Policy and research interests include civic, political and bureaucratic leadership in the public arena, political citizenship for poor and marginalized people, civil rights leadership in literature, public finance, international relations, economics and urban development, transportation, higher education, and career technical education.