Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Gerald Horne's 'W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography' (2010)

Gerald Horne, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2010). Du Bois: in the US, his name is pronounced not as in French, but more like "Doo-Boyz."

"Du Bois [1868-1963] . . . ranks with Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Frederick Douglass as, perhaps, the most important African American of all time . . ." (page xii).

The first serious non-academic conversation I had about W.E.B. Du Bois was with a postal worker in Philadelphia, when a new Du Bois stamp came out in the 1990s. I remember this specifically not only because of his clear knowledge about Du Bois but also because this particular post office (30th Street Station) was open on Sundays -- an ideal reflection of the separation of church and state. Not too many people seemed to know about this, so I often went on Sundays to mail things and occasionally chit chat with whichever postal worker was staffing the service desk; picking up such new insights in person was a true bonus. 

Du Bois, an intellectual, historian, general writer and energetic activist, co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and more. His life arc bridges the gap between the time of Frederick Douglass and the public time of Malcolm X and MLK. His contemporaries included Booker T. Washington, Howard Thurman and Marcus Garvey. 

After World War II as an older man, Du Bois was brought to trial for organizing against the use of atomic weapons and for world peace. As Horne points out: "A familiar nostrum . . . is that with age comes conservatism, a dismissal of past radicalism as so much youthful posturing. This did not hold true for W.E.B. Du Bois" (p. 163). In this and in many other ways, Du Bois endures as an excellent role model.  

Eventually he became so disillusioned with the slow pace of social progress in the United States that he permanently resettled in Ghana, which became independent in 1957. (It was formerly known as the British Gold Coast). Ghana, which is almost never mentioned in the US either in news or in conversation, has about 27 million people. 

W.E.B. Du Bois was a great consciousness raiser. In fact, one of his ideas is that of "double consciousness" -- but more on this, perhaps, in a future post. 

Horne's book provides a straightforward overview of Du Bois' life, times, writings, actions, and social relationships. 

Today's Rune: Movement.


the walking man said...

Interesting personality in Du Bois. Time isn't that patient now when it comes to who is going to lead the current generation of the up and coming.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'll have to get hold of this. I've read quite a bit of Du Bois's work. I had hoped that DuBois Williams would do a memoir about him. She's his granddaughter. She taught at Xavier many years and we became good friends!

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks, lads! Charles, that's so cool!