Friday, February 23, 2007

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois (2/23/1868-8/27/1963), civil rights activist and cultural revolutionary, earned a Ph.D. from Harvard, wrote a number of influential books, helped co-found the NAACP, edited its journal, The Crisis, came under investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for being a communist, and at the age of 93 (same age as my grandmother now), actually became a communist, joining the Communist Party, U.S.A. For that "sin," he was barred from returning to the States from Ghana, where he'd been invited to visit, and died there at age 95. The epitome of a man living on his feet in his own land of the free, home of the brave, Du Bois is now widely recognized for his social and intellectual contributions, and has even appeared on U.S. postage stamps -- a day late and a dollar short.

From The Souls of Black Folk (1903 book form):

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness,
this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes

of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world
that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever
feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls,
two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring
ideals . . . . .

The history of the American Negro is the history of this
strife,--this longing to attain self-conscious manhood,

to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In
this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.
He would not Africanize America, for America has too much
to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his
Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows
that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply
wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro
and an American, without being cursed and spit upon
by his fellows . . .

Today's Rune: Joy. It's Friday!

Birthdays: George Friedrich Handel, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, Karl Jaspers, Johnny Winter.


JR's Thumbprints said...

He wasn't the only Black American writer to join the Communist Party. Didn't Richard Wright do the same? Then there's Baldwin, to be black and a homosexual, he decided to move to France. I've always been fascinated by the struggles of Black American Writers. Jean Toomer also had an interesting history because I believe his very on race shunned him for marrying a white woman. I just wish that the youngsters I deal with would show more interest in the works of W.E.B. Du Bois and others. Instead, they idolize Donald Goines.

Charles Gramlich said...

Now we are on a subject I'm familiar with. I did a short bio article on Du Bois a few years back. His granddaughter, "Dubois Williams" is one of my best friends. Du Bois was an excellent writer, but most influential for his non-fiction. Baldwin was one of the best American fiction writers of the last century, without regard to color. He was, in my opinion, the best African American writer. Toomer's stuff is heavily poetical but is more a prose stylist than a writer sometimes. Ironically, I just finished reading a Goines book, Horribly written, but there is a certain amount of narrative drive.

Johnny Yen said...

Don't forget Paul Robeson. Another good Martin Duberman book-- his bio of Robeson.

When Robeson was hauled in front of HUAC and asked if he was a communist, he answered "would you like to follow me into a voting booth and look over my shoulder?"

Robeson was a phenonenally talented, complex and sometimes frustrating man.

I've actually read W.E.B. Dubois' classic "Black Reconstruction." It's fascinating on a lot of levels-- meticulous deconstruction of "the KKK saved the South" myths by going through municipal records and showing that black-run governments in the South were generally effective and that the white-run governments afterward were bascially third-world style kleptocracies.

JR-- when I was in college, one of my favorite professors was an old friend of James Meredith-- they'd attended Jackson State together before Meredith integrated "Ol' Miss." He pursuaded Meredith to come speak to his "History of the South" class that I was taking, and coincidentally my old friend Dobie.

This professor, who was black, was an outstanding teacher, but was also asst. coach of the basketball team; all jocks who took his classes got a C. The class, consequently, was mostly jocks, and mostly black. When Meredith walked into the class (we hadn't known that this was going to happen) he and I looked at one another in disbelief and our jaws dropped. There was history right in front of us. To our distress, we were the only two people in the room besides the professor who knew who Meredith was-- a guy who'd fought for their right to attend the college of their choice, and who'd taken a shotgun blast for civil rights.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks guys! Excellent comments. Much appreciated and much to think about here. Way cool on the social relationships, too! Three cheers and one Guinness ad!

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