W. E. B. DuBois 1868-1963
This information in this section is from Dead Sociologists' Society created by Larry R. Ridener, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Radford University. Retrieved on August 12, 2002, from http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/INDEX.HTML#dubois
My Birth and Family
I was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which began the freeing of American Negro slaves. The valley was wreathed in grass and trees and crowned to the eastward by the huge bulk of East Mountain, with crag and cave and dark forests. Westward the hill was gentler, rolling up to gorgeous sunsets and cloud-swept storms. The town of Great Barrington, which lay between these mountains in Berkshire County, Western Massachusetts, had a broad Main Street, lined with maples and elms, with white picket fences before the homes. The climate was to our thought quite perfect.
In 1868 on the day after the birth of George Washington was celebrated, I was born on Church Street, which branched east from Main in midtown. The year of my birth was the year that the freedmen of the South were enfranchised, and for the first time as a mass took part in government. Conventions with black delegates voted new constitutions all over the South, and two groups of laborers--freed slaves and poor whites--dominated the former slave states. It was an extraordinary experiment in democracy. Thaddeus Stevens, the clearest-headed leader of this attempt at industrial democracy, made his last speech, impeaching Andrew Johnson on February 16, and on February 23 I was born.
The house of my birth was quaint, with clapboards running up and down, neatly trimmed; there were five rooms, a tiny porch, a rosy front yard, and unbelievably delicious strawberries in the rear. A South Carolinian, lately come to the Berkshire Hills, owned all this--tall, thin and black, with golden earrings, and given to religious trances. Here my mother, Mary Burghardt, and my father, Alfred Du Bois, came to live temporarily after their marriage ceremony in the village of Housatonic, which adjoined Great Barrington on the north. Then after a few years my father went east into Connecticut to build a life and home for mother and me. We meantime went to live on the lands of my mother's clan on South Egremont Plain in the southern part of our town.
The black Burghardts were a group of African Negroes descended from Tom, who was born in West Africa about 1730. He was stolen by Dutch slave traders and brought to the valley of the Hudson as a small child. Legally, Tom was not a slave, but practically, by the custom of the day, he grew up as either slave or serf, and in the service of the Burghardts, a white family of Dutch descent. Early in the 18th century, "Coonraet Borghardt" and Tom came east from the Hudson Valley and settled in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, which was described as a "howling wilderness." When the Revolutionary War broke out, Tom Burghardt "appears with the rank of private on the muster and payroll of Captain John Spoors company, Colonel John Ashley's Berkshire county regiment."
Tom "was reported a Negr." He enlisted to serve for three years; but how long or where he served the records do not show. At any rate this war service definitely freed him and his family from slavery; and later the Bill of Rights of 1780 declared all slaves in Massachusetts free. Tom's mother or wife was a little black Bantu woman, who never became reconciled to this strange land; she clasped her knees and rocked and crooned:
Do bana coba--gene me, gene me,
Ben d' nuli, ben d' le--
The song came down the years and I heard it sung at my grandfather's fireside. Tom died about 1787, but of him came many sons; one Jack, who took part in Shays' rebellion; and a daughter named Nancy Pratt. Jack is said to have married the celebrated Mom Bett as his first wife. Violet was Jack's second wife, and from these two were born a mighty family, splendidly named: Harlow and Ira, Chloe, Lucinda, Maria and Othello!
These Burghardts lived on South Egremont Plain for near 200 years. The last piece of their land was bought from a cousin of mine and given to me in 1930 by a group of friends. Among them were Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow, Mrs. Jacob Schiff and Moorfield Storey. I planned eventually to make it my country home, but the old home was dilapidated; the boundaries of the land had been encroached upon by neighbors, and the cost of restoration was beyond my means. I sold it in 1955.
Here in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the black Burghardts lived. I remember three of those houses and a small pond. These were homes of Harlow and Ira; and of my own grandfather, Othello, which he had inherited from his sister Lucinda. There were 21 persons in these three families by the Census of 1830. Here as farmers they long earned a comfortable living, consorting usually with each other, but also with some of their white neighbors.
The living to be earned on the farms gradually became less satisfying, and the group began to disintegrate; some went to the Connecticut Valley; some went West; many moved to town and city and found work as laborers and servants. Usually their children went to school long enough to learn to read and write, but few went further. I was the first of the clan to finish high school.
Work for black folk which would lead to a more prosperous future was not easy to come by. Just why this was so it is difficult to say; it was not solely race prejudice, although this played its part; it was lack of training and understanding, reluctance to venture into unknown surroundings, and fear of a land still strange to family mores which pictured travel as disaster. In my family, I remember farmers, barbers, waiters, cooks, housemaids and laborers. In these callings a few prospered. My cousins, the Crispels of West Stockbridge, owned one of the best homes in town, and had the only barber shop; my Uncle Jim long had a paying barber business in Amherst; several hotel cooks and waiters were in charge of dining rooms, did well and were held in esteem; a cousin in Lenox was a sexton in the most prominent church, and his wife and four daughters ran an exclusive laundry; the family was well-to-do, but they worked hard and unceasingly. Few of my folk entered the trades or went into mercantile business or the professions. My cousin Ned Gardner, a nice-looking and well-bred man, worked his whole life at the Berkshire Hotel; honest, prompt, courteous; but he died a waiter. One uncle became the lifelong servant of the Kellog family, and the legend was that his unpaid wages kept that family from suffering until one daughter married the Hopkins who helped build the Pacific Railroad. She was left a rich widow and returned to Great Barrington in 1880. This circumstance helped me enter the profession of teaching.
My mother's ancestral home on Egremont Plain, the house of my grandfather, Othello, one of three farming brothers, was sturdy, small and old-fashioned. There was a great fireplace, whose wrought-iron tongs stand now before my fireplace as I write. My immediate family, which I remember as a young child, included a very dark grandfather, Othello Burghardt. I dimly remember him, "Uncle Tallow," strong-voiced and redolent with tobacco, who sat stiffly in a great high chair beside the open fire, because his hip was broken. He was good-natured but not energetic. The energy was in my grandmother, Sally, a thin, tall, yellow and hawk-faced woman, certainly beautiful in her youth, and efficient and managing in her age. She had Dutch and perhaps Indian blood, but the rest of the family were black.
Othello and Sally had ten or more children. Many of these had moved away before I was old enough to know them; but I remember my Aunt Lucinda, who married a Gardner, and after his death a Jackson; then my Aunt Minerva, whose married name was Newport. The youngest children were my Uncle Jim and my mother, Mary Silvina. She was born in 1831, and died in 1885, at the age of 54 years. Mother was dark shining bronze, with smooth skin and lovely eyes; there was a tiny ripple in her black hair, and she had a heavy, kind face. She gave one the impression of infinite patience, but a curious determination was concealed in her softness.
As a young woman she had a son, Idelbert, born of a love affair between her and her first cousin, John Burghardt. The circumstances of this romance I never knew. No one talked of it in the family. Probably the mating was broken up on account of the consanguinity of the cousins. My mother became a silent, repressed woman, working at household duties at home, helping now and then in the neighbors' homes, and finally going into town where her married sisters lived and where she worked as a housemaid. When she was 35, Alfred Du Bois came to town
In the early 17th century, two French Huguenots, sons of Cretian Du Bois, migrated from Flanders to America. Perhaps a third son who spelled his name Du Bose went South. Louis and Jacques Du Bois settled in Ulster County, New York State. They were in all probability artisans descended from peasants; but the white American family declares they were aristocrats, and has found a coat of arms which they say belongs to them.
From Jacques in the fifth generation was descended James Du Bois, born about 1750, who became a physician in Poughkeepsie, New York, and migrated to the Bahamas. Lord Dunmore, Governor of New York and later of Virginia and the Bahamas, had given grants of land to various members of the Du Bois family, who were loyalists, and young Dr. James Du Bois went to the Bahamas soon after the Revolution and took over several plantations and one lake of salt which still bears his name. He prospered after some vicissitudes, and founded a family.
Whether, as is probable, he took a slave as a concubine, or married a free Negro woman--in either case two sons were born, my grandfather Alexander in 1803 and a younger brother, John. After their mother's death, Dr. James Du Bois brought both boys to New York in 1810. Both were white enough to "pass," and their father entered them in the private Cheshire School in Connecticut. He visited them regularly, but on one visit, about 1820, he suddenly fell dead.
The white New York family removed the boys from school and took charge of their father's property. My grandfather was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Just what happened to John, I do not know. Probably he continued as white, and his descendants, if any, know nothing of their colored ancestry. Alexander was of stern character. His movements between 1820 and 1840 are not clear. As the son of a "gentleman," with the beginnings of a gentleman's education, he refused to become a shoemaker and went to Haiti at the age of perhaps 18. Boyer had become President just after the suicide of Christophe, and held power until 1843, bringing the whole island under his control and making a costly peace with France.
Of grandfather's life in Haiti from about 1821 to 1830, I know few details. From his 18th to his 27th year he formed acquaintanceships, earned a living, married and had a son, my father, Alfred, born in 1825. I do not know what work grandfather did, but probably he ran a plantation and engaged in the growing shipping trade to the United States. Who he married I do not know, nor her relatives. He may have married into the family of Elie Du Bois, the great Haitian educator. Also why he left Haiti in 1830 is not clear. It may have been because of the threat of war with France during the Revolution of 1830 and the fall of Charles X.
England soon recognized the independence of Haiti; but the United States while recognizing South American republics which Haiti had helped to free, refused to recognize a Negro nation. Because of this turmoil, grandfather may have lost faith in the possibility of real independence for Haiti. Again trade with the United States was at this period exceeding the trade of England or France and amounting to more than a million dollars a year. This trade was carried on with Northern cities like New Haven, but it was also demanded by the rapidly growing Cotton Kingdom in the South. Also, perhaps domestic difficulties with his wife's family and over family property may have arisen. For any or all of these reasons my grandfather left Haiti and settled with his son, now five years of age, in New Haven.
He arrived from the West Indies at a critical time: David Walker had published his bitter Appeal to Negroes against submission to slavery, in 1829; Nat Turner led his bloody Virginia slave revolt in 1831; slavery was abolished in the British West Indies in 1833; the rebelling slaves of the ship Amistad landed in Connecticut in 1839, and their trial took place in New Haven. Riots against Negroes occurred in New England cities, in New York and Philadelphia in this decade, and Negroes held conventions in Philadelphia. Among other things these Negroes determined to build an industrial college in New Haven, and later Prudence Crandall tried there to let Negro girls enter her seminary, to the disgust of the whites. In New Haven, the abolitionists Simeon Jocelyn and Arthur Tappan worked, and here Garrison visited.
In New Haven my grandfather settled. He opened a grocery store at 43 Washington Street. The color line was sharp in New Haven and abolitionists were stirring up dissension. In Trinity parish of the Episcopal church were a few colored communicants, including my grandfather. But the rector, Harry Croswell, was reactionary and openly condemned the abolition movement. Soon the colored communicants of Trinity were given to understand that they would be happier in their own racial church. Alexander Crummell, the great Negro minister, encouraged this move, and the example of Amos Beman who was building the Temple Street Negro Congregational Church, made the move inevitable.
This must have infuriated my grandfather, and yet his very pride drove him into joining this segregated church. He was made treasurer probably because he owned property; eventually he became the first senior warden of St. Luke's, as this "jim-crow" church was called. It still exists. Also, he and certain other Negroes with property were permitted to buy lots at the rear of the new Grove Street Cemetery, opposite the Yale campus. Years later when this cemetery was enlarged, those Negro lots lay on the center path. Here my grandfather lies buried and here I shall one day lie. 
Alexander, in addition to his grocery, now became steward on the passenger boat which ran between New Haven and New York. Here he reformed the treatment of the servants, kept the boats in first-class order, and achieved a degree of independence. He was in charge of repairing and hiring. He had charge of the workers and saw to it that the Negro servants were served their meals regularly at a table. But race segregation in New Haven and New York was growing, and grandfather, after a time, determined that Springfield, Massachusetts, offered a better place for him and his family to live. In 1856 he removed to Springfield. He bought a farm not far from the city, down the Connecticut River, and established his family in the city of Springfield. He spent the winters there, but in Spring and Summer kept his stewardship of the New York-New Haven boats. He lived well: "bought a silk vest at Laws Clothing Store for $6.75. . . . Had a few invited guests at supper, one-half past six o'clock, champagne, a rather poor quality from Webster's . . . dedication ball at city hall." He joined the white Episcopal church and notes attendance at lectures. "Finished reading Shakespear's Othello," he writes one day.
Suddenly, in late May 1861, my grandfather took a trip to Haiti. This may have been caused by the outbreak of the Civil War. Perhaps he had just lost an American wife. In March, 11 American slave states had seceded and formed the Confederacy. In April, Southern ports were blockaded, and on May 14, Lee became Brigadier-General. The relation of colored folk to the war was uncertain, and my father, Alfred, was eligible for drafting. The future of colored folks in the United States was a problem; then, too, the rector of St. Luke's was Theodore Holly, who early in 1861 had led a migration of Negroes to Haiti, and painted a future for them there. It is possible also that grandfather was seeking property either of his father, Dr. James Du Bois, in the Bahamas, which was but a few hundred miles north from Haiti; or, perhaps, especially in Long Key, his birthplace; or from the family of his former Haitian wife. But he was a reticent man, and even his diary is silent on the most important points.
"Thursday, May 9. Have thoughts of leaving the vessel, but want resolution to do so. Wrote to friends we should sail on Friday the 10th. Feel ashamed to back out, will wait a day or two longer but feel like one rushing on his fate. If God forsakes me, I am undone forever. 'There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew as we will.'
"May 15. Sun rose clear, wind west. Hove anchor, got under way 20 minutes past six o'clock. God speed the ship, and grant me deliverance from my enemy that I may conquer before I die." (Who was this enemy? The white Du Boises? The colored Haitians?)
On his lonely trip grandfather writes poetry, not very good, but indicating deep emotion. On May 19:
A single soul, One! Only one!
Of all I know or ever knew
My star by night, by day the sun
Now guide my bark, now bound my view.
It may be right, perchance tis wrong
To love without the priestly ken,
Such things are often known among
The disappointed Sons of Men.
Bodies may be joined together
By priestly craft and laws, so strong
In vain you try the bonds to sever
Yet love in laughter breaks the thong.
(Was grandfather confessing desertion of a Haitian wife whom he had not married and excusing his marriages in the United States?)
"Monday, June 3: Landed in Port Au Prince, took board at Mr. Fredd's, Rue Caserne; rain clearing; mosquitoes, jackasses, Negroes, mud water, soldiers, universal filth.
"Saw emigrants at the emigrant house in a condition that if not changed soon will send many to the grave. Poor men and women, I am sorry, heart sorry for them. They put on an air of cheerfulness, which I am satisfied there is not one of them, but would give all they had in the world if they could stand where I did a few weeks ago."
Boyer had ruled Haiti. He had united the whole island under Haitian rule and had finally made peace with France, albeit on almost fatal terms. Four Presidents succeeded in the next four years; and then for ten years came the Emperor Faustin, who had been the slave Soulouque. The regime had an impressive magnificence, but was an economic failure.
The empire was overthrown in 1859 and Geffrard, a progressive and hard-working man, became President, from 1859 to 1867. He promoted education and industry and tried to cooperate with American abolitionists and colored leaders like Holly in encouraging the immigration of American Negroes. It was under Geffrard that my grandfather arrived. He "saw the President, Baron Dennis, August Elie; invited me to take passage in government steamer to St. Mark." It was in the vicinity of St. Mark that he had resided when he formerly lived in Haiti, and here his son Alfred had been born. Perhaps here were his strongest ties to Haiti. He stayed from June 4 to June 9. He says no word of what he did or whom he saw. We only know that on June 10 he was bound home on a British steamer "just eight days after I went ashore; I felt happy to arrive. I am more than happy to leave."
The ship loaded 6,000 tons of salt, the commodity which was the basis of Alexander's father's wealth, but Alexander does not mention the fact; nor apparently does he stop at Long Key where he himself was born. He is silent until Monday, June 24, when he lands in the United States. It is possible that in Haiti he received funds which gave him greater independence, or again it may be that he had left Alfred in Haiti, when he left in 1830; that his wife had died and that in 1861 he returned to get his son and bring him to America. This is conjecture.
Soon after returning he seems to have given up his New Haven work and connections and taken up a new career in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he had been living for some time. On July 12, 1861, "Du Bois and Thomas rented a shop on Main Street of W. W. Parsons at $150 a year."
I saw grandfather but once, when I was 15 and he 77. Always he held his head high, took no insults, made few friends. He was not a "Negro"; he was a man! Yet the current was too strong even for him. Then even more than now a colored man had colored friends or none at all, lived in a colored world or lived alone. A few fine, strong, black men gained the heart of this silent, bitter man in New York and New Haven. If he had scant sympathy with their social clannishness, he was with them fighting discrimination.
Beneath his sternness was a very human man. Slyly he wrote poetry--stilted, pleading things from a soul astray. He loved women in his masterful way, marrying after his Haitian experience three beautiful wives in succession, in the United States, clinging to each with a certain desperate, even if unsympathetic affection. As a father he was naturally a failure --hard, domineering, unyielding. His four children reacted characteristically: one was until past middle life a thin spinster, the mental image of her father; one died; one passed over into the white world, and her children's children are now white, with no knowledge of their Negro blood; the fourth, my father, bent before grandfather, but did not break --better if he had. He yielded and flared back, asked forgiveness and forgot why, became the harshly-bold favorite, who ran away and rioted and roamed, and loved and married my brown mother.
He arrived in Great Barrington in 1867. He was small and beautiful of face and feature, just tinted with the sun, his wavy hair chiefly revealing his kinship to Africa. In nature, I think, he was a dreamer--romantic, indolent, kind, unreliable. He had in him the making of a poet, an adventurer, or a Beloved Vagabond, according to the life that closed round him; and that life gave him all too little.
I really know very little of my father. He had been brought from Haiti by his father. How he was schooled, I do not know. New Haven then had separate schools and all public schools were poor. Perhaps he was put into one of the better private Negro schools, which existed in New Haven at times. What he did between the ages of 15 and 35, I do not know. He probably worked and wandered here and there. There is no hint of his marrying during this time. But his picture which he gave mother showed him in the uniform of a Civil War private. How long he served or where, I do not know, nor whether he enlisted as colored or white. Connecticut raised two Negro regiments.
When my father came to Great Barrington in 1867, the black Burghardts did not like him. He was too good-looking, too white. He had apparently no property and no job, so far as they knew; and they had never heard of the Du Bois family in New York. Then suddenly in a runaway marriage, but one duly attested and published in the Berkshire Courier, Alfred married Mary Burghardt and they went to live in the house of Jefferson McKinley. Here they lived for a year or two and against them the black Burghardt family carried on a more or less open feud, until my birth.
I was of great interest to the whole town. The whites waited to see "when my hair was going to curl," and all my Burghardt relatives admired me extravagantly. They still looked askance at my father and he was not attracted by them. There loomed the question as to where we were going to live and what my father was going to do for a living. He must have had some money on hand when he came, and he recoiled from grandfather Burghardt's home where Mary and her baby were expected eventually to live. After a year or more of hesitation, father went away to establish a home for his family. He would write for mother to come. Mother and I went to live on Egremont Plain with the Burghardts. In a few months father wrote from New Milford, a small town in Connecticut about 40 miles south of Great Barrington on the Housatonic River. Mother hesitated. She had seldom been out of her hometown. Once as a girl she had taken an excursion to New York. The family objected to her leaving and expressed more and more doubt as to father. The result was in the end that mother never went and my father never came back to Great Barrington. If he wrote, the letters were not delivered. I never saw him, and know not where or when he died.
My mother worried and sank into depression. The family closed about her as a protecting guardian. The town folk who knew the Burghardts took her and me into a sort of overseeing custody. We lived in simple comfort, and living was cheap. And yet as I look back I cannot see how mother accomplished what she did. Her brother and sisters, her cousins and relatives always stood by. My silent older half-brother early went to work as a waiter and was seldom home, but always he was ready to help.
My mother seldom mentioned my father. She was silent before family criticism. She uttered no word of criticism or blame. I do not remember asking much about him. Why, I am not sure; but I think that I knew instinctively that this was a subject which hurt my mother too much even to mention.
As I look back now, I can see that the little family of my mother and myself must often have been near the edge of poverty. Yet I was not hungry or in lack of suitable clothing and shoes, or made to feel unfortunate in company with my fellow students. That was partly because most village folk were poor or middle class. There were but few rich families. Most of my schoolmates belonged to families of small farmers, artisans, or shopkeepers. When special expenditures were called for, new shoes or school books, the money often came from gifts from my uncle or aunts or less frequently from white families, long closely connected with the Burghardts. There may have been other gifts but they were never conspicuous. I never wore cast-off clothes. I never asked folk outside the family for money. Our landlord, Mrs. Cass, received no rent, I am sure, for long intervals. I think the rent was four dollars a month, and finally it was accounted for by settlement as a gift when I went to college.
We continued to live with grandfather Burghardt until I was about five, and grandfather died. The family then moved into town. We lived on the Sumner estate on south Main Street, where we had rooms over what was once the stables. There was a nice wide yard and a running brook which afforded me infinite pleasure. Right opposite the front gate was the long lane leading down to the public school grounds. I suspect this nearness to school induced mother to choose this home. Then after grandmother died, we moved up to Railroad Street, right next to the station. We lived with a poor white family, kindly, but the wife was near insanity.
Soon after, my worrying mother had a paralytic stroke from which she never entirely recovered. As I remember her, she was always lame in her left leg, with a withered left hand. We always walked arm in arm. The misfortune never seemed to me to hurt us. I continued in school and had plenty to eat. Aunts and cousins did our mending and neighbors were always ready to help out. Sometimes mother went out for a day's work and people seemed to like to have her. I always went to bring her home at night and was never left alone.
We soon moved to the Cass home which mother and I occupied during my high school days. It was on Church Street and stood back of the Cass residence and next to the horsesheds of the Congregational church, which was empty except on Sunday. We occupied two rooms and a pantry on the ground floor and two bedrooms on the second half-story.
None of these successive homes had modern conveniences: the "back house" and running water were outdoors; our heat came from stoves. Usually the houses were weatherproof and we had furniture enough for health and comfort. We had no gardens, but sometimes a border bit of land. Always after I was 12, I had a bedchamber to myself, a luxury which I never dreamed was so rare until I was much older.
In the public schools of this town, I was trained from the age of six to 16, and in the town schools, churches, and general social life, I learned my patterns of living. I had, as a child, almost no experience of segregation or color discrimination. My schoolmates were invariably white; I joined quite naturally all games, excursions, church festivals; recreations like coasting, swimming, hiking and games. I was in and out of the homes of nearly all my mates, and ate and played with them. I was as a boy long unconscious of color discrimination in any obvious and specific way.
I knew nevertheless that I was exceptional in appearance and that this riveted attention upon me. Less clearly, I early realized that most of the colored persons I saw, including my own folk, were poorer than the well-to-do whites; lived in humbler houses, and did not own stores. None of the colored folk I knew were so poor, drunken and sloven as some of the lower class Americans and Irish. I did not then associate poverty or ignorance with color, but rather with lack of opportunity; or more often with lack of thrift, which was in strict accord with the philosophy of New England and of the 19th century.
On the other hand, much of my philosophy of the color line must have come from my family group and their friends' experience. My immediate family eventually consisted of my mother and her brother. Near to us in space and intimacy were two married aunts with older children; and a number of cousins, in various degrees removed, lived scattered through the town and county. Most of these had been small farmers, artisans, laborers and servants. With few exceptions all could read and write, but few had training beyond this. These talked of their work and experiences, of hindrances which colored people especially encountered, of better chances in other towns and cities. In this way I must have gotten indirectly a pretty clear outline of color bars which I myself did not experience. Moreover, I couldn't rationalize my own case, because I found it easy to excel most of my classmates in studies, if not in games. The secret of life and the loosing of the color bar, then, lay in excellence, in accomplishment. If others of my family, of my colored kin, had stayed in school instead of quitting early for small jobs, they could have risen to equal whites. On this my mother quietly insisted. There was no real discrimination on account of color --it was all a matter of ability and hard work.
This philosophy saved me from conceit and vainglory by rigorous self-testing, which doubtless cloaked some half-conscious misgivings on my part. If visitors to school saw and remarked on my brown face, I waited in quiet confidence. When my turn came, I recited glibly and usually correctly because I studied hard. Some of my mates did not care, some were stupid, some excelled, but at any rate I gave the best a hard run, and then sat back complacently.
I entered public school at the age of about five or six. For ten years I went regularly to school, from nine o'clock until noon, and one o'clock until four each day, five days a week, ten months a year. The teachers were mature women, most of them trained in State Normal Schools and invariably white American Protestants. Miss Cross, my first primary teacher, was stern and inflexible, but with an inward kindliness and sense of fairness which made her a favorite of mine; and since I was a bright boy who got his lessons, I became a favorite of hers.
The school grounds were not particularly attractive or large, and yet they were ample for the play of children at recess. A great choke-cherry tree with bared roots gave shade in the summer, and fences hemmed us in from the private homes at the side and the low meadows beyond. The primary schoolhouse was wooden, with wooden hand-made furniture, and usually pretty well crowded. The grammar and high school building was brick. We had short devotions and singing each morning and there my clear young voice brought some initial distinction.
Gradually I became conscious that in most of the school work my natural gifts and regular attendance made me rank among the best, so that my promotions were regular and expected. I look back upon my classmates with interest and sharpened memory. They were boys and girls of town and country, with a few Irish and never but once another colored child. My rapid advancement made me usually younger than my classmates, and this fact remained true in high school and at college and even when I began my life work it influenced my attitudes in many ways. I was often too young to lead in enterprises even when I was fitted to do so, but I was always advising and correcting older folk.
Of course, I was too honest with myself not to see things which dessert and even hard work did not explain or solve. I recognized ingrained difference in gift. Art Benham could draw pictures better than I; but I could express meaning in words better than he; Mike Gibbons was a perfect marble player, but dumb in Latin. I came to see and admit all this but I hugged my own gifts and put them to test.
As playmate of the children I saw the homes of nearly everyone. The homes I saw impressed me, but did not overwhelm me. Many were bigger than mine, with newer and shinier things, but they did not seem to differ in kind. One class of rich folk with whom I came in contact were summer boarders who made yearly incursions from New York. I think I was mostly impressed by their clothes. Outside of that there was little reason so far as I could see to envy them. The children were not very strong and rather too well dressed to have a good time playing. I think I probably surprised them more than they me, for I was easily at home with them and happy. They looked to me just like ordinary people, while my brown face and frizzled hair must have seemed strange to them.
The schools of Great Barrington were simple but good, well-taught; and truant laws were enforced. I started on one school ground, and continued there until I was graduated from high school. I was seldom absent or tardy. The curriculum was simple: reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic- grammar, geography and history. We learned the alphabet, we were drilled vigorously on the multiplication tables and we drew accurate maps. We could spell correctly and read with understanding.
5. In fact, Dr. Du Bois was buried after a State funeral, in Accra, Ghana, at the beach perhaps 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 61-77.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 132-153.
When I was a young man, we talked much of character. At Fisk University character was discussed and emphasized more than scholarship. I knew what was meant and agreed that the sort of person a man was would in the long run prove more important for the world than what he knew or how logically he could think. It is typical of our time that insistence on character today in the country has almost ceased. Freud and others have stressed the unconscious factors of our personality so that today we do not advise youth about their development of character; we watch and count their actions with almost helpless disassociation from thought of advice.
Nevertheless, from that older generation which formed my youth I still retain an interest in what men are rather than what they do; and at the age of 50, I began to take stock of myself and ask what I really was as a person. Of course I knew that self-examination is not a true unbiased picture; but on the other hand without it no picture is quite complete.
From childhood I tried to be honest; I did not mean to take anything which did not belong to me. I told the truth even when there was no call for the telling and when silence would have been golden. I did not usually speak in malice but often blurted out the truth when the story was incomplete and was therefore as seemed to me wrong. I had strict ideas about money and its earning. I worked and worked hard for the first 25 cents a week which I earned. I could never induce myself to gamble or take silly chances because I figured the loss vividly in fatigue and pain. Once on a French train I played the pea in a shell game and lost two dollars. Forty years later in Mexico I won two dollars on a horse race. These were my first and last games of chance.
I was careful about debt. My folk were poor but seldom in debt. I have before me a statement of my indebtedness, September 1, 1894, when I started on my first life job. My salary was $800 a year and my living expense I calculated at: Board $100; Room $35; Clothes $65; Books $100; Debts $350; Sundries $25--Total $675; Savings $125. This proved too optimistic but still I kept out of debt. When I taught at Atlanta at a salary of $1,200 a year for 12 years, I owed nobody. I had a wife and child and each year I took them somewhere north so as to give them fresh air and civilization. It took every cent of my salary, together with small fees from lectures and writing, to pay our way and yet only once was I compelled to overdraw my salary for a month ahead.
Saving I neglected. I had had no experience in saving. My mother's family with whom I lived as a child never had a bank account nor insurance; and seldom a spare dollar. I took out a small life insurance of $1,000 when I was 27. I was cheated unmercifully by the white Pennsylvania company in the fee charged because I was colored. Later after marriage I took out $10,000 of insurance in a Negro company, the Standard Life. Eventually the company went bankrupt and I lost every cent. I was then too old to obtain more insurance on terms which I could afford.
My income has always been low. During my 23 years with the NAACP, I received for the first five years $2,500 a year. For the next 18 years, $5,000. With savings from this I bought a home and then sold it later for an apartment building in Harlem. There were five apartments, one of which my family was to occupy and the others I calculated would pay me a permanent income. But the house was overpriced; neglected orders for expensive sewer repairs were overdue. The down payment which I could afford was low and the property was overloaded with three mortgages on which I had to pay bonuses for renewal. Downtown banks began to squeeze black Harlem property holders and taxes increased. With the depression, tenants could not pay or moved.
There was one recourse: to turn the property into a rooming house for prostitution and gambling. I gave it to the owners of the mortgages and shouldered the loss of all my savings at 60 years of age. In all this I had followed the advice of a friend skilled in the handling of real estate but who assumed that I was trying to make money and not dreaming of model housing conditions. As many of my friends have since informed me, I was a fool; but I was not a thief which I count to my credit.
I returned to Atlanta University in 1934 at a salary of $4,500 a year but still out of debt. When ten years later I was retired without notice, I had no insurance and but small savings. A white classmate, grandson of a railway magnate, berated me for not wishing to give up work. He could not conceive of a man working for 50 years without saving enough to live on the rest of his days. In money matters I was surely negligent and ignorant; but that was not because I was gambling, drinking or carousing; it was because I spent my income in making myself and my family comfortable instead of "saving for a rainy day." I may have been wrong, but I am not sure of that.
On one aspect of my life, I look back upon with mixed feelings; and that is on matters of friendship and sex. I couple them designedly because I think they belong together. I have always had more friends among women than among men. This began with the close companionship I had with my mother. Friends used to praise me for my attention to my mother; we always went out together arm in arm and had our few indoor amusements together. This seemed quite normal to me; my mother was lame, why should I not guide her steps? And who knew better about my thoughts and ambitions? Later in my life among my own colored people the women began to have more education, while the men imitated an American culture which I did not share: I drank no alcoholic beverages until I went to Germany and there I drank light beer and Rhine wine. Most of the American men I knew drank whiskey and frequented saloons which from my boyhood were out of bounds.
Indeed the chief blame which I lay on my New England schooling was the inexcusable ignorance of sex which I had when I went south to Fisk at 17. I was precipitated into a region, with loose sex morals among black and white, while I actually did not know the physical difference between men and women. At first my fellows jeered in disbelief and then became sorry and made many offers to guide my abysmal ignorance. This built for me inexcusable and startling temptations. It began to turn one of the most beautiful of earth's experiences into a thing of temptation and horror. I fought and feared amid what should have been a climax of true living. I avoided women about whom anybody gossiped and as I tried to solve the contradiction of virginity and motherhood, I was inevitably faced with the other contradiction of prostitution and adultery. In my hometown sex was deliberately excluded from talk and if possible from thought. In public school there were no sexual indulgences of which I ever heard. We talked of girls, looked at their legs, and there was rare kissing of a most unsatisfactory sort. We teased about sweethearts, but quite innocently. When I went South, my fellow students being much older and reared in a region of loose sexual customs regarded me as liar or freak when I asserted my innocence. I liked girls and sought their company, but my wildest exploits were kissing them.
Then, as teacher in the rural districts of East Tennessee, I was literally raped by the unhappy wife who was my land-lady. From that time through my college course at Harvard and my study in Europe, I went through a desperately recurring fight to keep the sex instinct in control. A brief trial with prostitution in Paris affronted my sense of decency. I lived more or less regularly with a shop girl in Berlin, but was ashamed. Then when I returned home to teach, I was faced with the connivance of certain fellow teachers at adultery with their wives. I was literally frightened into marriage before I was able to support a family. I married a girl whose rare beauty and excellent household training from her dead mother attracted and held me.
I married at 29 and we lived together for 53 years. It was not an absolutely ideal union, but it was happier than most, so far as I could perceive. It suffered from the fundamental drawback of modern American marriage: a difference in aim and function between its partners; my wife and children were incidents of my main life work. I was not neglectful of my family; I furnished a good home. I educated the child and planned vacations and recreation. But my main work was out in the world and not at home. That work out there my wife appreciated but was too busy to share because of cooking, marketing, sweeping and cleaning and the endless demands of children. This she did naturally without complaint until our firstborn died--died not out of neglect but because of a city's careless sewage. His death tore our lives in two. I threw myself more completely into my work, while most reason for living left the soul of my wife. Another child, a girl, came later, but my wife never forgave God for the unhealable wound.
As I wandered across the world to wider and higher goals, I sensed two complaints against the pairing of the sexes in modern life: one, that ties between human beings are usually assumed to be sexual if a man and woman are concerned and two, that normal friendships between men and women could not exist without sex being assumed to be the main ingredient. Also, if a man and woman are friends, they must be married and their friendship may become a cloying intimacy, often lasting 24 hours a day, with few outside friends of the opposite sex on pain of gossip, scandal and even crime engulfing the family. My travel and work away from home saved us from this. One difficulty of married life we faced as many others must have. My wife's life-long training as a virgin, made it almost impossible for her ever to regard sexual intercourse as not fundamentally indecent. It took careful restraint on my part not to make her unhappy at this most beautiful of human experiences. This was no easy task for a normal and lusty young man.
Most of my friends and helpers have been women, from my mother, aunts and cousins, to my fellow teachers, students, secretaries, and dreamers toward a better world. Sex indulgence was never the cause or aim of these friendships. I do not think my women friends ever gave my wife harm or unease. I was thoughtful of her comfort and support and of her treatment in public and private. My absence from home so much helped in the household drudgery. I still make my own bed of mornings; for many years I prepared my own breakfast, especially my coffee; I always leave a bathroom cleaner than when I enter; but sewing and sweeping I neglect. I have often wondered if her limitation to a few women friends and they chiefly housekeepers; and if her lack of contact with men, because of her conventional upbringing and her surroundings--if this did not make her life unnecessarily narrow and confined. My life on the other hand threw me widely with women of brains and great effort to work on the widest scale. I am endlessly grateful for these contacts.
My first married life lasted over half a century, and its ending was normal and sad, with the loneliness which is always the price of death. To fill this great gap, and let my work go on, I married again near the end of my days. She was a woman 40 years my junior but her work and aim in life had been close to mine because her father had long believed in what I was trying to do. The faith of Shirley Graham in me was therefore inherited and received as a joy and not merely as a duty. She has made these days rich and rewarding.
In the midst of my career there burst on me a new and undreamed of aspect of sex. A young man, long my disciple and student, then my co-helper and successor to part of my work, was suddenly arrested for molesting men in public places. I had before that time no conception of homosexuality. I had never understood the tragedy of an Oscar Wilde. I dismissed my co-worker forthwith, and spent heavy days regretting my act.
I knew far too few of my contemporaries. I was on occasion incomprehensibly shy, and almost invariably loath to interrupt others in seeking to explain myself. This in the case of my fellow Negroes was balanced by our common experiences and shared knowledge of what each other had lived through; but in the case of white companions, and especially those newly met, we could not talk together, we lived in different worlds. We belonged to no social clubs, and did not visit the same people or even stand at the same liquor bars. We did not lunch together. I did not play cards, and could never get wildly enthusiastic even over baseball. Naturally we could not share stories of sex.
Thus I did not seek white acquaintances, I let them make the advances, and they therefore thought me arrogant. In a sense I was, but after all I was in fact rather desperately hanging on to my self-respect. I was not fighting to dominate others; I was fighting against my own degradation. I wanted to meet my fellows as an equal; they offered or seemed to offer only a status of inferiority and submission.
I did not for the most part meet my great contemporaries. Doubtless this was largely my own fault. I did not seek them. I deliberately refused invitations to spend weekends with Henry James and H. G. Wells. I did not follow up an offer of the wife of Havelock Ellis to meet him and Bernard Shaw. Later, when I tried to call on Shaw he was coy. Several times I could have met Presidents of the United States and did not. Great statesmen, writers and artists of America, I might have met, and in some cases, might have known intimately. I did not try to accomplish this. This was partly because of my fear that color caste would interfere with our meeting and understanding; if not with the persons themselves, certainly with their friends. But even beyond this, I was not what Americans called a "good fellow."
This too illustrates a certain lack of sympathy and understanding which I had for my students. I was for instance a good teacher. I stimulated inquiry and accuracy. I met every question honestly and never dodged an earnest doubt. I read my examination papers carefully and marked them with sedulous care. But I did not know my students as human beings; they were to me apt to be intellects and not souls. To the world in general I was nearly always the isolated outsider looking in and seldom part of that inner life. Partly that role was thrust upon me because of the color of my skin. But I was not a prig. I was a lusty man with all normal appetites. I loved "Wine, Women and Song." I worked hard and slept soundly; and if, as many said, I was hard to know, it was that with all my belligerency I was in reality unreasonably shy.
One thing I avoided, and that was envy. I tried to give the other fellow his due even when I disliked him personally and disagreed with him logically. It became to me a point of honor never to refuse appreciation to one who had earned it, no matter who he was. I loved living, physically as well as spiritually. I could not waste my time on baseball but I could appreciate a home run. My own exercise was walking, but there again I walked alone. I knew life and death. The passing of my first-born boy was an experience from which I never quite recovered. I wrote:
"The world loved him; the women kissed his curls, the men looked gravely into his wonderful eyes, and the children hovered and fluttered about him. I can see him now, changing like the sky from sparkling laughter to darkening frowns, and then to wondering thoughtfulness as he watched the world. He knew no color-line, poor dear--and the veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun. He loved the white matron, he loved his black nurse; and in his little world walked souls alone, uncolored and unclothed. I--yea, all men--are larger and purer by the infinite breadth of that one little life. She who in simple clearness of vision sees beyond the stars said when he had flown--'He will be happy There; he ever loved beautiful things.' And I, far more ignorant, and blind by the web of my own weaving, sit alone winding words and muttering, 'If still he be, and he be There, and there be a There, let him be happy, O Fate!'
"Blithe was the morning of his burial, with bird and song and sweet-smelling flowers. The trees whispered to the grass, but the children sat with hushed faces. And yet it seemed a ghostly unreal day--the wraith of Life. We seemed to rumble down an unknown street behind a little white bundle of posies, with the shadow of a song in our ears. The busy city dinned about us; they did not say much, those pale-faced hurrying men and women; they did not say much-- they only glanced and said 'Niggers.'"
My religious development has been slow and uncertain. I grew up in a liberal Congregational Sunday School and listened once a week to a sermon on doing good as a reasonable duty. Theology played a minor part and our teachers had to face some searching questions. At 17 I was in a missionary college where religious orthodoxy was stressed; but I was more developed to meet it with argument, which I did. My "morals" were sound, even a bit puritanic, but when a hidebound old deacon inveighed against dancing I rebelled. By the time of graduation I was still a "believer" in orthodox religion, but had strong questions which were encouraged at Harvard. In Germany I became a freethinker and when I came to teach at an orthodox Methodist Negro school I was soon regarded with suspicion, especially when I refused to lead the students in public prayer. When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer, but the liberal president let me substitute the Episcopal prayer book on most occasions. Later I improvised prayers on my own. Finally I faced a crisis: I was using Grapsey's Religion and Politics as a Sunday School text. When Grapsey was hauled up for heresy, I refused further to teach Sunday School. When Archdeacon Henry Phillips, my last rector, died, I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church creed. From my 30th year on I have increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war. I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools.
Religion helped and hindered my artistic sense. I know the old English and German hymns by heart. I loved their music but ignored their silly words with studied inattention. Great music came at last in the religious oratorios which we learned at Fisk University but it burst on me in Berlin with the Ninth Symphony and its Hymn of Joy. I worshipped Cathedral and ceremony which I saw in Europe but I knew what I was looking at when in New York a Cardinal became a strike-breaker and the Church of Christ fought the Communism of Christianity.
I revered life. I have never killed a bird nor shot a rabbit. I never liked fishing and always let others kill even the chickens which I ate. Nearly all my schoolmates in the South carried pistols. I never owned one. I could never conceive myself killing a human being. But in 1906 I rushed back from Alabama to Atlanta where my wife and six-year old child were living. A mob had raged for days killing Negroes. I bought a Winchester double-barreled shotgun and two dozen rounds of shells filled with buckshot. If a white mob had stepped on the campus where I lived I would without hesitation have sprayed their guts over the grass. They did not come. They went to south Atlanta where the police let them steal and kill. My gun was fired but once and then by error into a row of Congressional Records, which lined the lower shelf of my library.
My attitude toward current problems arose from my long habit of keeping in touch with world affairs by repeated trips to Europe and other parts of the world. I became internationally-minded during my four years at Harvard, two in college and two in the graduate school. Since that first trip in 1892, I have made 15 trips to Europe, one of which circled the globe. I have been in most European countries and traveled in Asia, Africa and the West Indies. Travel became a habit and knowledge of current thought in modern countries was always a part of my study, since before the First World War when the best of American newspapers took but small account of what Europe was thinking.
I can remember meeting in London in 1911 a colored man who explained to me his plan of leading a black army out of Africa and across the Pyrenees. I was thrilled at his earnestness! But gradually all that disappeared, and I began building a new picture of human progress.
This picture was made more real in 1926 when it became possible for me to take a trip to Russia. I saw on this trip not only Russia, but prostrate Germany, which I had not seen for 30 years. It was a terrible contrast.
By 1945 all these contacts with foreign peoples and foreign problems and the combination of these problems with the race problem here was forced into one line of thought by the Second World War. This strengthened my growing conviction that the first step toward settling the world's problems was Peace on Earth.
Many men have judged me, favorably and harshly. But the verdict of two I cherish. One knew me in mid-life for 50 years and was without doubt my closest friend. John Hope wrote me in 1918:
"Until the last minute I have been hoping that I would have an opportunity to be with you next Monday when you celebrate the rounding out of 50 years in this turbulent but attractive world. But now I am absolutely certain that I cannot come, so I am writing Mr. Shillady expressing my regret and shall have to content myself with telling you in this letter how glad I am that your 50th birthday is going to be such a happy one because you can look back on so much good work done. But not the good work alone. What you may look upon with greatest comfort is good intention. The fact that every step of the way you have purposed to be a man and to serve other people rather than yourself must be a tremendous comfort to you. Sometime soon if I chance to be back in New York I am going to have you take your deferred birthday dinner with me. You do not realize how much that hour or two which we usually spend together when I am in New York means to me."
Joel Spingarn said:
"I should like to have given public expression by my presence and by my words, not merely to the sense of personal friendship which has bound us together for 15 years, but to the gratitude which in common with all other Americans I feel we owe you for your public service. It so happens that by an accident of fate, you have been in the forefront of the great American battle, not merely for justice to a single race, but against the universal prejudice which is in danger of clouding the whole American tradition of toleration and human equality.
"I congratulate you on your public service, and I congratulate you also on the power of language by which you have made it effective. I know that some people think that an artist is a man who has nothing to say and who writes in order to prove it. The great writers of the world have not so conceived their task, and neither have you. Though your service has been for the most part the noble one of teacher and prophet (not merely to one race or nation but to the world), I challenge the artists of America to show more beautiful passages than some of those in Darkwater and The Souls of Black Folk."
Let one incident illustrate the paradox of my life.
Robert Morse Lovett was perhaps the closest white student friend I made at Harvard; when not long before his last visit to New York about 1950 he wanted to see and talk with me, he proposed the Harvard Club of which he was a member. I was not. No Negro graduate of Harvard was ever elected to membership in a Harvard club. For a while Jews were excluded, but no longer. I swallowed my pride and met Lovett at the Club. A few months later he died.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 277-288.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 396-408.
A Calendar of the Public Life of W. E. B. DuBois
1868 (February 23): Birth at Great Barrington, Mass.
1883-188S: Western Massachusetts correspondent for New York Age, New York Globe and Freeman; and Great Barrington Correspondent for Springheld Republican.
1884: Graduates from High School in Great Barrington; valedictorian, speaker, subject: "Wendell Phillips."
1885-1888: Attends Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., receiving B.A. in 1888; teaches in country schools during summers.
1887-1888: Chief editor of the Fisk Herald.
1888: Enters Harvard as a junior.
1890: Graduates, B.A., cum laude in a Harvard class of 300, is one of six Commencement speakers, subject: "Jefferson Davis: Representative of Civilization"; attracts national attention.
1892: Awarded, after considerable effort, a Slater Fund Fellowship for Graduate Study abroad.
1892-1894: Graduate student, mostly history and economics, at University of Berlin; also considerable travel in Europe.
1894-1896: Professor of Greek and Latin, Wilberforce University, Ohio.
1896: Ph.D. degree from Harvard University.
18961897: Assistant Instructor in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania.
1897-1910: Professor of Economics and History, Atlanta University.
1897-1911: Organizer of the annual Atlanta University Studies of the Negro Problem; editor of their Annual Publications.
1900: Secretary, First Pan-African Conference in England.
1905-1909: Founder and General Secretary of The Niagara Movement.
1906: Founder and editor of The Moon, published in Tennessee.
1907-1910: Chief founder and an editor of The Horizon, published in Washington, D.C.
1909: Among original founders and incorporators of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
1910-1934: Director of Publicity and Research, Member, Board of Directors, NAACP.
1910: Founder and editor of The Crisis (until 1934); joins Socialist Party.
1911: Participates in First Universal Races Congress in England.
1912: Supports Woodrow Wilson in Presidential campaign; helps organize first significant Negro breakaway from Republican Palty; resigns from Socialist Party.
1913: Joins Editorial Board of The New Review, a radical. socialst-oriented magazine published in New York City.
1917-1918: Supports U.S. entry into World War; fights maltreatment of Negro troops; leads in efforts to enroll Negro officers; leads massive Silent Protest Parade (1917) down Fifth Avenue, New York City, against lynching and jim-crow.
1919: Investigates, for NAACP, racist treatment of Negro troops in Europe; exposure creates international sensation. Chief organizer of Modern Pan-African Movement, with First Conference held in Paris.
1920: Leader in exposing role of U.S. in Haiti.
1920-1921: Founder and editor of The Brownies' Book, a magazine for children.
1921: Second Pan-African Congress, London, Brussels and Paris.
1923: Spingarn Medalist; Special Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary Representing the United States at Inauguration of President of Liberia; Third Pan-African Congress in London, Paris and Lisbon.
1926: First and extensive visit to the Soviet Union.
1927: Leader in so-called "Negro Renaissance" Movement; founds the Negro Theatre in Harlem called the "Krigwa Players"; Fourth Pan-African Congress in New York.
1933: Leading force in undertaking to produce an Encyclopedia of the Negro.
1934: Resigns from The Crisis and Board of NAACP.
1934-1944: Chairman, Department of Sociology, Atlanta University.
1936: Trip around the world.
1940: Founder and editor (to 1944) of Phylon Magazine, Atlanta.
1943: Organizer, First Conference of Negro Land-Grant Colleges.
1944: Extended visits to Haiti and Cuba.
1944: Returns to NAACP as Director of Special Research; holds this position to 1948.
1945: With Walter White, accredited from the NAACP as Consultant to Founding Convention of United Nations; seeks firm anti-colonial commitment on part of the United States; presides at 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England.
1947: Edits, on behalf of NAACP, and presents to the UN, "An Appeal to the World," protesting jim crow in the United States.
1948: Co-Chairman, Council on African Affairs.
1949: Helps organize, Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, New York City; attends Paris Peace Congress; attends Moscow Peace Congress.
1950: Chairman, Peace Information Center; candidate in New York for U.S. Senator, Progressive Party.
1950-1951: Indictment, trial and acquittal on charge of "unregistered foreign agent" in connection with leadership of Peace Information Center.
1958-1959: Extensive journeys, especially to USSR and China.
1961: Joins the Communist Party of the United States.
1961: At invitation of President Nkrumah, takes up residence in Ghana as Director of Encyclopaedia Africana project.
1963: Becomes a citizen of Ghana.
1963: Dies (August 27); given a State funeral; lies buried in Accra.
Calendar arrangement necessarily omits whole areas of Dr. Du Bois' public life. Thus, he performed economic and sociological studies for the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; he wrote weekly columns for many years in various newspapers including the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Amsterdam News and the San Francisco Chronicle.. Dr. Du Bois delivered thousands of lectures in colleges, churches, halls, schools in every State in the United States and in many countries of the world, as Great Britain, France, China, Japan, Cuba, Haiti, Hungary, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, etc. He wrote poetry that is in many anthologies; his dramatic pageants were performed before thousands in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles. He helped inspire hundreds of novelists, poets, playwrights, sculptors, musicians and scientists not only by his work and example, but by direct assistance. And always he was a fighter and organizer against racism, colonialism, imperialism, illiteracy, poverty and war. One of his earliest significant essays written while an undergraduate at Fisk in 1887--was entitled "An Open Letter to the Southern People," and was an appeal for civilized conduct and an attack upon jim-crow; among his last acts was to inspire a protest march upon the U.S. Embassy in Accra, in August, 1963 (the month of his death), in solidarity with the historic "March for Jobs and Freedom" to Washington that month.
Du Bois' honors were many: Fellow and Life Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Member, National Institute of Arts and Letters; Knight Commander of the Liberian Order of African Redemption; International Peace Prize; Lenin Peace Prize; and Honorary Degrees from: Fisk University, Howard University, Atlanta University, Wilberforce University, Morgan State College, University of Berlin, Charles University (Prague).
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 438-440.
The Niagra Movement
In 1905 I was still a teacher at Atlanta University and was in my imagination a scientist, and neither a leader nor an agitator; I had much admiration for Mr. Washington and Tuskegee, and I had in 1894 applied at both Tuskegee and Hampton for work. If Mr. Washington's telegram had reached me before the Wilberforce bid, I should have doubtless gone to Tuskegee. Certainly I knew no less about mathematics than I did about Latin and Greek.
Since the controversy between me and Washington has become historic, it deserves more careful statement than it has had hitherto, both as to the matters and the motives involved. There was first of all the ideological controversy. I believed in the higher education of a Talented Tenth who through their knowledge of modern culture could guide the American Negro into a higher civilization. I knew that without this the Negro would have to accept white leadership, and that such leadership could not always be trusted to guide this group into self-realization and to its highest cultural possibilities. Mr. Washington, on the other hand, believed that the Negro as an efficient worker could gain wealth and that eventually through his ownership of capital he would be able to achieve a recognized place in American culture and could then educate his children as he might wish and develop their possibilities. For this reason he proposed to put the emphasis at present upon training in the skilled trades and encouragement in industry and common labor.
These two theories of Negro progress were not absolutely contradictory. Neither I nor Booker Washington understood the nature of capitalistic exploitation of labor, and the necessity of a direct attack on the principle of exploitation as the beginning of labor uplift. I recognized the importance of the Negro gaining a foothold in trades and his encouragement in industry and common labor. Mr. Washington was not absolutely opposed to college training and sent his own children to college. But he did minimize its importance, and discouraged the philanthropic support of higher education. He thought employers "gave" laborers work, thus opening the door to acquiring wealth. I openly and repeatedly criticized what seemed to me the poor work and small accomplishment of the Negro industrial school, but did not attack the fundamental wrong of giving the laborer less than he earned. It was characteristic of the Washington statesmanship that whatever he or anybody believed or wanted must be subordinated to dominant public opinion and that opinion deferred to and cajoled until it allowed a deviation toward better ways. It was my theory to guide and force public opinion by leadership. While my leadership was a matter of writing and teaching, the Washington leadership became a matter of organization and money. It was what I may call the Tuskegee Machine.
The years from 1899 to 1905 marked the culmination of the career of Booker T. Washington. In 1899 Mr. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and myself spoke on the same platform at the Hollis Street Theater, Boston, before a distinguished audience. Mr. Washington was not at his best and friends immediately raised a fund which sent him to Europe for a three months' rest. He was received with extraordinary honors: he had tea with the aged Queen Victoria, but two years before her death; he was entertained by two dukes and members of the aristocracy; he met James Bryce and Henry M. Stanley; he was received at the Peace Conference at The Hague and was greeted by many distinguished Americans, like ex-President Harrison, Archbishop Ireland and two justices of the Supreme Court. Only a few years before he had received an honorary A.M. from Harvard; in 1901, he received a LL.D. from Dartmouth; and that same year he dined with President Roosevelt to the consternation of the white South.
Returning to America he became during the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, from 1901 to 1912, the political referee in all Federal appointments or action taken with reference to the Negro and in many regarding the white South. In 1903 Andrew Carnegie made the future of Tuskegee certain by a gift of $600,000. There was no question of Booker T. Washington's undisputed leadership of the ten million Negroes in America, a leadership recognized gladly by the whites and conceded by most of the Negroes.
But there were discrepancies and paradoxes in this leadership. It did not seem fair, for instance, that on the one hand Mr. Washington should decry political activities among Negroes, and on the other hand dictate Negro political objectives from Tuskegee. At a time when Negro civil rights called for organized and aggressive defense, he broke down that defense by advising acquiescence or at least no open agitation. During the period when laws disfranchising the Negro were being passed in all the Southern states, between 1890 and 1909, and when these were being supplemented by "jim-crow" travel laws and other enactments making color caste legal, his public speeches, while they did not entirely ignore this development, tended continually to excuse it, to emphasize the shortcomings of the Negro, and were interpreted widely as putting the chief onus for his condition upon the Negro himself.
All this naturally aroused increasing opposition among Negroes and especially among the younger class of educated Negroes, who were beginning to emerge here and there, particularly from Northern institutions. This opposition began to become vocal in 1901 when two men, Monroe Trotter, Harvard 1895, and George Forbes, Amherst 1895, began the publication of the Boston Guardian. The Guardian, a weekly periodical, was bitter, satirical, and personal; but it was well edited, it was earnest, and it published facts. It attracted wide attention among colored people; it circulated among them all over the country; it was quoted and discussed. I did not wholly agree with the Guardian, and indeed only a few Negroes did, but nearly all read it or were influenced by it.
This beginning of organized opposition, together with other events, led to the growth at Tuskegee of what I have called the Tuskegee Machine. It arose first quite naturally. Not only did presidents of the United States consult Booker T. Washington, but governors and congressmen; philanthropists conferred with him, scholars wrote to him. Tuskegee became a vast information bureau and center of advice. It was not merely passive in these matters but, guided by Emmett Scott, a young secretary who was intelligent, suave and far-seeing, active efforts were made to concentrate influence at Tuskegee. After a time almost no Negro institution could collect funds without the recommendation or acquiescence of Mr. Washington. Few political appointments of Negroes were made anywhere in the United States without his consent. Even the careers of rising young colored men were very often determined by his advice and certainly his opposition was fatal. How much Mr. Washington knew of this work of the Tuskegee Machine and was directly responsible, one cannot say, but of its general activity and scope he must have been aware.
Moreover, it must not be forgotten that this Tuskegee Machine was not solely the idea and activity of black folk at Tuskegee. It was largely encouraged and given financial aid through certain white groups and individuals in the North. This Northern group had clear objectives. They were capitalists and employers of labor and yet in most cases sons, relatives, or friends of the Abolitionists who had sent teachers into the new Negro South after the war. These younger men believed that the Negro problem could not remain a matter of philanthropy. It must be a matter of business. These Negroes were not to be encouraged as voters in the new democracy, nor were they to be left at the mercy of the reactionary South. They were good laborers and they could be made of tremendous profit to the North. They could become a strong labor force and properly guided they would restrain the unbridled demands of white labor, born of the Northern labor unions and now spreading to the South and encouraged by European socialism.
One danger must be avoided and that was to allow the silly idealism of Negroes, half-trained in missionary "colleges," to mislead the mass of laborers and keep them stirred-up by ambitions incapable of realization. To this school of thought, the philosophy of Booker T. Washington came as a godsend and it proposed by building up his prestige and power, to control the Negro group. The control was to be drastic. The Negro intelligentsia was to be suppressed and hammered into conformity. The process involved some cruelty and disappointment, but that was inevitable. This was the real force back of the Tuskegee Machine. It had money and it had opportunity, and it found in Tuskegee tools to do its bidding.
There were some rather pitiful results in thwarted ambition and curtailed opportunity. I remember one case which always stands in my memory as typical. There was a young colored man, one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever seen, with smooth brown skin, velvet eyes of intelligence, and raven hair. He was educated and well-to-do. He proposed to use his father's Alabama farm and fortune to build a Negro town as an independent economic unit in the South. He furnished a part of the capital but soon needed more and he came North to get it. He struggled for more than a decade; philanthropists and capitalists were fascinated by his personality and story; and when, according to current custom, they appealed to Tuskegee for confirmation, there was silence. Mr. Washington would not say a word in favor of the project. He simply kept still. Will Benson struggled on with ups and downs, but always balked by a whispering galley of suspicion, because his plan was never endorsed by Tuskegee. In the midst of what seemed to us who looked on the beginnings of certain success, Benson died of overwork, worry, and a broken heart.
From facts like this, one may gauge the bitterness of the fight of young Negroes against Mr. Washington and Tuskegee. The controversy as it developed was not entirely against Mr. Washington's ideas, but became the insistence upon the right of other Negroes to have and express their ideas. Things came to such a pass that when any Negro complained or advocated a course of action, he was silenced with the remark that Mr. Washington did not agree with this. Naturally the bumptious, irritated, young black intelligentsia of the day declared: "I don't care a damn what Booker Washington thinks. This is what I think, and I have a right to think."
It was this point, and not merely disagreement with Mr. Washington's plans, that brought eventually violent outbreak. It was more than opposition to a program of education. It was opposition to a system and that system was part of the economic development of the United States at that time. The fight cut deep: it went into social relations, it divided friends; it made bitter enemies. I can remember that years later, when I went to live in New York and was once invited to a social gathering among Brooklyn colored people, one of the most prominent Negroes of the city refused to be present because of my attitude toward Mr. Washington.
When the Guardian began to increase in influence, determined effort was made to build up a Negro press for Tuskegee. Already Tuskegee filled the horizon so far as national magazines and the great newspapers were concerned. In 1901 the Outlook, then the leading weekly, chose two distinguished Americans for autobiographies. Mr. Washington's Up From Slavery was so popular that it was soon published and circulated all over the earth. Thereafter, every magazine editor sought articles with Washington's signature and publishing houses continued to ask for books. A number of talented "ghost writers," black and white, took service under Tuskegee, and books and articles poured out of the institution. An annual letter "To My People" went out from Tuskegee to the press. Tuskegee became the capital of the Negro nation. Negro newspapers were influenced and finally the oldest and largest was bought by white friends of Tuskegee. Most of the other papers found it to their advantage certainly not to oppose Mr. Washington, even if they did not wholly agree with him.
I was greatly disturbed at this time, not because I was in absolute opposition to the things that Mr. Washington was advocating, but because I was strongly in favor of more open agitation against wrongs and above all I resented the practical buying up of the Negro press and choking off even mild and reasonable opposition to Mr. Washington in both the Negro press and the white.
Then, too, during these years there came a series of influences that were brought to bear upon me personally, which increased my discomfort and resentment. I had tried to keep in touch with Hampton and Tuskegee, for I regarded them as great institutions. I attended the conferences which for a long time were held at Hampton, and at one of them I was approached by a committee. It consisted of Walter Hines Page, editor of the Atlantic Monthly; William McVickar, Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island; and Dr. H. B. Frissell, principal of Hampton and brother of a leading New York banker. They asked me about the possibilities of my editing a periodical to be published at Hampton. I told them of my dreams and plans, and afterwards wrote them in detail. But one query came by mail: that was concerning the editorial direction. I replied firmly that editorial decisions were to be in my hands, if I edited the magazine. This was undiplomatic and too dogmatic; and yet, it brought to head the one real matter in controversy: would such a magazine be dominated by and subservient to the Tuskegee philosophy, or would it have freedom of thought and discussion? Perhaps if I had been more experienced, the question could have been discussed and some reasonable outcome obtained; but I doubt it. I think any such magazine launched at the time would have been seriously curtailed in its freedom of speech. At any rate, the project was dropped.
Beginning in 1902 pressure was put upon me to give up my work at Atlanta University and go to Tuskegee. There again I was not at first adverse in principle to Tuskegee, except that I wanted to continue the studies which I had begun and if my work was worth support, it was worth support at Atlanta University. I was unable to obtain assurance that my studies would be continued at Tuskegee, and that I would not sink to the level of a "ghost writer." I remember a letter came from Wallace Buttrick late in 1902, asking that I attend a private conference in New York with Felix Adler, William H. Baldwin, Jr., George Foster Peabody, and Robert Ogden. The object of the conference was ostensibly the condition of the Negro in New York City. I went to the conference and did not like it. Most of the more distinguished persons named were not present. The conference itself amounted to little, but after adjournment I was whisked over to William H. Baldwin's beautiful Long Island home and there what seemed to me to be the real object of my coming was disclosed. Mr. Baldwin was at that time president of the Long Island Railroad and slated to be president of the Southern. He was a rising industrial leader of America; also he was a prime mover on the Tuskegee board of trustees. Both he and his wife insisted that my place was at Tuskegee; that Tuskegee was not yet a good school, and needed the kind of development that I had been trained to promote.
This was followed by two interviews with Mr. Washington himself. I was elated at the opportunity and we met twice in New York City. The results to me were disappointing. Booker T. Washington was not an easy person to know. He was wary and silent. He never expressed himself frankly or clearly until he knew exactly to whom he was talking and just what their wishes and desires were. He did not know me, and I think he was suspicious. On the other hand, I was quick, fast-speaking and voluble. I had nothing to conceal. I found at the end of the first interview that I had done practically all the talking and that no clear and definite offer or explanation of my proposed work at Tuskegee had been made. In fact, Mr. Washington had said about as near nothing as was possible.
The next interview did not go so well because I myself said little. Finally, we resorted to correspondence. Even then I could get no clear understanding of just what I was going to do at Tuskegee if I went. I was given to understand that the salary and accommodations would be satisfactory. In fact, I was invited to name my price. Later in the year I went to Bar Harbor for a series of speeches in behalf of Atlanta University, and while there met Jacob Schiff, the [William J.] Schieffelins and Merriam of Webster's dictionary. I had dinner with the Schieffelins and their mother-in-law, whose father [Melville W. Fuller] was once Chief Justice of the United States. Again I was urged to go to Tuskegee.
Early in the next year I received an invitation to join Mr. Washington and certain prominent white and colored friends in a conference to be held in New York. The conference was designed to talk over a common program for the American Negro and evidently it was hoped that the growing division of opinion and opposition to Mr. Washington within the ranks of Negroes would thus be overcome. I was enthusiastic over the idea. It seemed to me just what was needed to clear the air.
There was difficulty, however, in deciding what persons ought to be invited to the conference; how far it should include Mr. Washington's extreme opponents, or how far it should be composed principally of his friends. There ensued a long delay and during this time it seemed to me that I ought to make my own position clearer than I had hitherto. I was increasingly uncomfortable under the statements of Mr. Washington's position: his depreciation of the value of the vote; his evident dislike of Negro colleges; and his general attitude which seemed to place the onus of blame for the status of Negroes upon the Negroes themselves rather than upon the whites. And above all I resented the Tuskegee Machine.
I had been asked sometime before by A. C. McClurg & Co. of Chicago if I did not have some material for a book; I planned a social study which should be perhaps a summing up of the work of the Atlanta Conference, or at any rate, a scientific investigation. They asked, however, if I did not have some essays that they might put together and issue immediately, mentioning my articles in the Atlantic Monthly and other places. I demurred because books of essays almost always fall so flat. Nevertheless, I got together a number of my fugitive pieces. I then added a chapter, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others," in which I sought to make a frank evaluation of Booker T. Washington. I left out the more controversial matter: the bitter resentment which young Negroes felt at the continued and increasing activity of the Tuskegee Machine. I concentrated my thought and argument on Mr. Washington's general philosophy. As I read that statement now, I am satisfied with it. I see no word that I would change. I said:
"The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern and delicate--a forward movement to oppose a part of the work of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honors and glorying in the strength of this Joshua called of God and of man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds--so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this--we must unceasingly and firmly oppose him. By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"
Pressure came from white Northern friends, who I believed appreciated my work and on the whole wished me and my race well. But they were apprehensive; fearful because as perhaps the most conspicuously trained young Negro of my day, and, quite apart from any question of ability, my reaction toward the new understanding between North and South, and especially my attitude toward Mr. Washington, were bound to influence Negroes. As a matter of fact, at that time I was not over-critical of Booker Washington. I regarded his Atlanta speech as a statesmanlike effort to reach understanding with the white South; I hoped the South would respond with equal generosity and thus the nation could come to understanding for both races. When, however, the South responded with "jim-crow" legislation, I became uneasy. Still I believed that my program of investigation and study was just what was needed to bring understanding in the long run, based on truth. I tried to make this clear. I attended the conferences at Hampton for several years, and became increasingly critical of those Hampton opinions. In all the deliberations to which I listened, and resolutions, which were passed at Hampton, never once was the work of Atlanta University nor college work anywhere for Negroes, commended or approved. I ceased regular attendance at the conferences; but when later I was invited back I delivered a defense of higher training for Negroes and a scathing criticism of the "Hampton Idea." I was not asked to return to Hampton for 25 years.
My book settled pretty definitely any further question of my going to Tuskegee as an employee. But it also drew pretty hard and fast lines about my future career. Meantime. the matter of the conference in New York dragged on until finally in October 1903, a circular letter was sent out setting January 1904 as the date of meeting. The conference took place accordingly in Carnegie Hall, New York. About 50 persons were present, most of them colored and including many well-known persons. There was considerable plain speaking but the whole purpose of the conference seemed revealed by the invited white guests and the tone of their message. Several persons of high distinction came to speak to us, including Andrew Carnegie and Lyman Abbott. Their words were lyric, almost fulsome in praise of Mr. Washington and his work, and in support of his ideas. Even if all they said had been true, it was a wrong note to strike in a conference of conciliation. The conference ended with two speeches by Mr. Washington and myself, and the appointment of a Committee of Twelve in which we were also included
The Committee of Twelve which was thus instituted was unable to do any effective work as a steering committee for the Negro race in America. First of all, it was financed, through Mr. Washington, probably by Mr. Carnegie. This put effective control of the committee in Mr. Washington's hands. It was organized during my absence and laid down a plan of work which seemed to me of some value but of no lasting importance and having little to do with the larger questions and issues. I therefore soon resigned so as not to be responsible for work and pronouncements over which I would have little influence. My friends and others accused me of refusing to play the game after I had assented to a program of cooperation. I still think, however, that my action was wise.
By this time I was pretty throughly disillusioned. It did not seem possible for me to occupy middle ground and try to appease the Guardian on the one hand and the Hampton-Tuskegee idea on the other. I began to feel the strength and implacability of the Tuskegee Machine; the Negro newspapers definitely showing their reaction and publishing jibes and innuendoes at my expense. Filled with increasing indignation, I published in the Guardian a statement concerning the venality of certain Negro papers which I charged had sold out to Mr. Washington. It was a charge difficult of factual proof without an expenditure of time and funds not at my disposal. I was really at last openly tilting against the Tuskegee Machine and its methods. These methods have become common enough in our day for all sorts of purposes: the distribution of advertising and favors, the sending out of special correspondence, veiled and open attacks upon recalcitrants, the narrowing of opportunities for employment and promotion. All this is a common method of procedure today, but in 1904 it seemed to me monstrous and dishonest, and I resented it. On the other hand, the public expression of this resentment greatly exercised and annoyed Mr. Washington's friends. Some knew little about these activities at Tuskegee; others knew and approved. The New York Evening Post challenged me to present proof of my statements and refused to regard my answer as sufficient, which was of course true.
Then came a new and surprising turn to the whole situation which in the end quite changed my life. In the early summer of 1905, Mr. Washington went to Boston and arranged to speak in a colored church to colored people--a thing which he did not often do in the North. Trotter and Forbes, editors of the Guardian, determined to heckle him and make him answer publicly certain questions with regard to his attitude toward voting and education. William H. Lewis, a colored lawyer whom I myself had introduced to Mr. Washington, had charge of the meeting, and the result was a disturbance magnified by the newspapers into a "riot," which resulted in the arrest of Mr. Trotter. Finally he served a term in jail.
With this incident I had no direct connection whatsoever. I did not know beforehand of the meeting in Boston, nor of the projected plan to heckle Mr. Washington. But when Trotter went to jail, my indignation overflowed. I did not always agree with Trotter then or later. But he was an honest, brilliant, unselfish man, and to treat as a crime that which was at worst mistaken judgment was an outrage. I sent out from Atlanta in June 1905 a call to a few selected persons "for organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth." I proposed a conference during the summer "to oppose firmly present methods of strangling honest criticism; to organize intelligent and honest Negroes; and to support organs of news and public opinion."
Fifty-nine colored men from 17 different states eventually signed a call for a meeting near Buffalo, New York, during the week of July 9, 1905. I went to Buffalo and hired a little hotel on the Canadian side of the river at Fort Erie, and waited for the men to attend the meeting. If sufficient men had not come to pay for the hotel, I should certainly have been in bankruptcy and perhaps in jail; but as a matter of fact, 29 men, representing 14 states, came. The "Niagara Movement" was incorporated January 31, 1906, in the District of Columbia.
Its particular business and objects were to advocate and promote the following principles:
1. Freedom of speech and criticism.
2. An unfettered and unsubsidized press.
3. Manhood suffrage.
4. The abolition of all caste distinctions based simply on race and color.
5. The recognition of the principle of human brotherhood as a practical present creed.
6. The recognition of the highest and best human training as the monopoly of no class or race.
7. A belief in the dignity of labor.
8. United effort to realize these ideals under wise and courageous leadership.
The Niagara Movement raised a furor of the most disconcerting criticism. I was accused of acting from motives of envy of a great leader and being ashamed of the fact that I was a member of the Negro race. The leading weekly of the land, the New York Outlook, pilloried me with scathing articles. But the movement went on. The next year, 1906, instead of meeting in secret, we met openly at Harper's Ferry, the scene of John Brown's raid, and had in significance if not in numbers one of the greatest meetings that American Negroes ever held. We made pilgrimage at dawn bare-footed to the scene of Brown's martyrdom and we talked some of the plainest English that had been given voice to by black men in America. The resolutions which I wrote expressed with tumult of emotion my creed of 1906:
The men of the Niagara Movement, coming from the toil of the year's hard work, and pausing a moment from the earning of their daily bread, turn toward the nation and again ask in the name of ten million the privilege of a hearing. In the past year the work of the Negro hater has flourished in the land. Step by step the defenders of the rights of American citizens have retreated. The work of stealing the black man's ballot has progressed and fifty and more representatives of stolen votes still sit in the nation's capital. Discrimination in travel and public accommodation has so spread that some of our weaker brethren are actually afraid to thunder against color discrimination as such and are simply whispering for ordinary decencies.
Against this the Niagara Movement eternally protests. We will not be satisfied to take one jot or tittle less than our full manhood rights. We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil, and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone, but for all true Americans. It is a fight for ideals, lest this, our common fatherland, false to its founding, become in truth the land of the Thief and the home of the Slave --a byword and a hissing among the nations for its sounding pretentions and pitiful accomplishment.
Never before in the modern age has a great and civilized folk threatened to adopt so cowardly a creed in the treatment of its fellow-citizens, born and bred on its soil. Stripped of verbiage and subterfuge and in its naked nastiness, the new American creed says: fear to let black men even try to rise lest they become the equals of the white. And this in the land that professes to follow Jesus Christ. The blasphemy of such a course is only matched by its cowardice.
In detail our demands are clear and unequivocal. First, we would vote; with the right to vote goes everything: freedom, manhood, the honor of our wives, the chastity of our daughters, the right to work, and the chance to rise, and let no man listen to those who deny this.
We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now, henceforth and forever.
Second. We want discrimination in public accommodation to cease. Separation in railway and street cars, based simply on race and color, is un-American, undemocratic and silly. We protest against all such discrimination.
Third. We claim the right of freemen to walk, talk and be with them who wish to be with us. No man has a right to choose another man's friends, and to attempt to do so is an impudent interference with the most fundamental human privilege.
Fourth. We want the laws enforced against rich as well as poor; against Capitalist as well as Laborer; against white as well as black. We are not more lawless than the white race, we are more often arrested, convicted and mobbed. We want justice even for criminals and outlaws. We want the Constitution of the country enforced. We want Congress to take charge of the Congressional elections. We want the Fourteenth Amendment carried out to the letter and every State disfranchised in Congress which attempts to disfranchise its rightful voters. We want the Fifteenth Amendment enforced and no State allowed to base its franchise simply on color
The failure of the Republican Party in Congress at the session just closed to redeem its pledge of 1904 with reference to suffrage conditions in the South seems a plain, deliberate, and premeditated breach of promise, and stamps that party as guilty of obtaining votes under false pretense.
Fifth. We want our children educated. The school system in the country districts of the South is a disgrace and in few towns and cities are the Negro schools what they ought to be. We want the national government to step in and wipe out illiteracy in the South. Either the United States will destroy ignorance, or ignorance will destroy the United States.
And when we call for education, we mean real education. We believe in work. We ourselves are workers, but work is not necessarily education. Education is the development of power and ideal. We want our children trained as intelligent human beings should be and we will fight for all time against any proposal to educate black boys and girls simply as servants and underlings, or simply for the use of other people. They have a right to know, to think, to aspire.
These are some of the chief things which we want. How shall we get them? By voting where we may vote; by persistent, unceasing agitation; by hammering at the truth; by sacrifice and work.
We do not believe in violence, neither in the despised violence of the raid nor the lauded violence of the soldier, nor the barbarous violence of the mob; but we do believe in John Brown, in that incarnate spirit of justice, that hatred of a lie, that willingness to sacrifice money, reputation, and life itself on the altar of right. And here on the scene of John Brown's martyrdom, we reconsecrate ourselves, our honor, our property to the final emancipation of the race which John Brown died to make free.
Here at last I approached in my thinking the fundamental matter of the exploitation of the worker, regardless of race and color. The thought was not yet clear and the philosophy of socialism was not yet applied. But the philosophy hovered in the background.
Meantime, I refused to give up the idea that a critical periodical for the American Negro might be founded. I had started in Memphis with the help of two graduates of Atlanta University the little printing shop that I have already mentioned, and from this was published weekly a paper called The Moon beginning in 1906. The Moon was in some sort precursor of The Crisis. It was published for a year in Memphis and then the printing office given up and in 1907 in conjunction with two friends in Washington there was issued a miniature monthly called Horizon. Horizon was published from 1907 to 1910, and in the fall of 1910 The Crisis was born.
Gradually I began to realize that the difficulty about support for my work in Atlanta University was largely personal; that on account of my attitude toward Mr. Washington I had become persona non grata to powerful interests, and that Atlanta University would not be able to get support for its general work or for its study of the Negro problem so long as I remained at the institution. No one ever said this to me openly, but I sensed it in the worries which encompassed the new young President Edmund Ware who had succeeded Dr. Horace Bumstead. I began to realize that I would better look out for work elsewhere.
About this time an offer came from the city of Washington. The merging of the white and colored school systems into one had thrown colored folk into uproar lest their control of their own schools be eliminated and colored children not admitted to white schools. The new and rather eccentric superintendent of schools, W. C. Chancellor, wanted an assistant superintendent to put in charge of the Negro schools. To my great surprise he offered the position to me, while I was on a chance visit to the city. I asked for time to consider it. My reaction was to refuse even though the salary was twice what I was getting; for I doubted my fitness for such a job; but when I thought the matter over further and my position at Atlanta University, I began to wonder if I should not accept.
I was not called upon to decide, for forces started moving in Washington. The Tuskegee Machine backed by white capital was definitely against me and they involved the local interests of the Negro group. A prominent colored member of the School Board took the matter straight to President Theodore Roosevelt and emphasized the "danger" of my appointment. He never forgot the "danger" of my personality as later events proved. The offer was never actually withdrawn, but it was not pressed, and I finally realized that it probably would not have gone through even if I had indicated my acceptance.
Still my eventual withdrawal from Atlanta University seemed wise. Young President Ware had received almost categorical promises that under certain circumstances increased contributions from the General Education Board and other sources might be expected, which would make the university secure, and perhaps even permit the continuance of the conference. I was sure that I was at least one of these "circumstances," and so my work in Atlanta and my dream of the settlement of the Negro problem by science faded. I began to be acutely conscious of the difficulty which my attitudes and beliefs were making for Atlanta University.
My career as a scientist was to be swallowed up in my role as master of propaganda. This was not wholly to my liking. I was no natural leader of men. I could not slap people on the back and make friends of strangers. I could not easily break down an inherited reserve; or at all times curb a biting, critical tongue. Nevertheless, having put my hand to the plow, I had to go on. The Niagara Movement with less momentum met in Boston in 1907 and in Oberlin in 1908. It began to suffer internal strain from the dynamic personality of Trotter and my own inexperience with organizations. Finally, it practically became merged with a new and enveloping organization of which I became a leading official --the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 236-253.
The NAACP started with a lynching 100 years after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and in the city, Springfield, Illinois, which was his long time residence. William English Walling, a white Southerner, dramatized the gruesome happening and a group of liberals formed a committee in New York, which I was invited to join. A conference was held in 1909.
This conference contained four groups: scientists who knew the race problem; philanthropists willing to help worthy causes; social workers ready to take up a new task of Abolition; and Negroes ready to join a new crusade for their emancipation. An impressive number of scientists and social workers attended; friends of wealthy philanthropists were present and many Negroes but few followers of Booker Washington. In the end Trotter, the most radical Negro leader, and Mrs. Ida Wells Barnett who was leading an anti-lynching crusade, refused to join the new organization, being distrustful of white leadership. I myself and most of the Niagara Movement group were willing to join. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed, which without formal merger absorbed practically the whole membership of the Niagara Movement. With some hesitation I was asked to join the organization as Director of Publications and Research. My research work was to go on but my activities would be so held in check that the Association would not develop as a center of attack upon Tuskegee.
Here was an opportunity to enter the lists in a desperate fight aimed straight at the real difficulty: the question as to how far educated Negro opinion in the United States was going to have the right and opportunity to guide the Negro group. Back of this lay an unasked question as to the relation of the American Negro group to the whole labor movement. This was not yet raised but several of the group were Socialists, including myself.
One may consider the personal equations and clash of ideologies possible here as a matter of the actions and thoughts of certain men, or as a development of larger social forces beyond personal control. I suppose the latter aspect is the truer. My thoughts, the thoughts of Washington, Trotter and Oswald Garrison Villard were the expression of social forces more than of our own minds. These forces or ideologies embraced more than reasoned acts. They included physical, biological and psychological habits, conventions and enactments. Opposed to these came natural reaction; the physical recoil of the victims, the unconscious and irrational urges, as well as reasoned complaints and acts. The total result was the history of our day. That history may be epitomized in one word--Empire; the domination of white Europe over black Africa and yellow Asia, through political power built on the economic control of labor, income and ideas. The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the expulsion of black men from American democracy, their subjection to caste control and wage slavery. This ideology was triumphant in 1910.
I accepted the offer of the NAACP in 1910 to join their new organization in New York as Director of Publications and Research.
My new title showed that I had modified my program of research, but by no means abandoned it. First, I directed and edited my Atlanta study of 1912, in absentia with the help of my colleague, Augustus Dill, my student and successor as teacher in Atlanta. Then in our study of 1913, I secured the promise of Dr. J. H. Dillard, of the Slater Board, to join Atlanta University in keeping up the work of the conferences. The work of research was to be carried on in New York, with a conference and annual publication at Atlanta. I was jubilant at the projected survival of my work. But on advice of President Ware himself, this arrangement was not accepted by the trustees of Atlanta University. Ware was probably warned that his tie with a radical movement would hamper the university.
In August 1910, I reported at my new office and new work at 20 Vesey Street, New York. As I have said elsewhere, the NAACP "proved between 1910 and the first World War, one of the most effective organizations of the liberal spirit and the fight for social progress which America has known." It fought frankly to make Negroes "politically free from disfranchisement, legally free from caste and socially free from insult."
This new field of endeavor represented a distinct break from my previous purely scientific program. While "research" was still among my duties, there were in fact no funds for such work. My chief efforts were devoted to editing and publishing The Crisis, which I founded on my own responsibility, and over the protest of many of my associates. With The Crisis, I essayed a new role of interpreting to the world the hindrances and aspirations of American Negroes. My older program appeared only as I supported my contentions with facts from current reports and observation or historic reference. My writing was reinforced by lecturing, and my knowledge increased by travel; my thought was broadened by study of socialism.
We had on our board of directors many incongruous elements as was to be expected: philanthropists like Oswald Villard; social workers like Florence Kelley; liberal Christians like John Haynes Holmes and liberal Jews like the Spingarns; spiritual descendants of the Abolitionists like Mary Ovington and radical Negroes. Clashes now and then were inevitable.
To a white philanthropist like Villard, a Negro was quite naturally expected to be humble and thankful or certainly not assertive and aggressive; this Villard resented. I knew Villard's mother, who was Garrison's favorite child, and I liked her very much. His uncles were cordial and sympathetic. There was much that I liked in Villard himself, but one thing despite all my effort kept us far apart. He had married a wife from Georgia, a former slave State, and consequently I could never step foot in his house as a guest, nor could any other of his colored associates. Indeed I doubt if any of his Jewish co-workers were ever invited. I knew the reasons for this discrimination, but I could hardly be expected to be happy over them or to be his close friend.
My first rather bitter falling out with Villard was at a meeting of the Board of Directors. Villard presumed to tell me how to edit The Crisis, and suggested that with my monthly record of lynchings, I also publish a list of Negro crimes. I resented this, not only because it was logically silly, but because it was interfering with my business. It was for this reason and from similar clashes that he finally resigned the chairmanship of the board and was replaced by Joel Spingarn. Villard, however, kept his membership on the board and his interest in our work. Social workers like Florence Kelley criticized my status: I held the rather anomalous position of being both a member of the board and, as executive officer, the board's employee. This was not from any demand which I made, but was due to the inescapable fact that I knew the Negro problem better than any of the white members of the board, and at the same time I was the one colored man whom they could put their hands on to carry out the objects of the organization. My double capacity was repeatedly a matter of discussion, and sometimes dispute; but no answer was forthcoming for 24 years.
Few of us realized what an organization of this sort had to be and what changes of form it had to go through. In early years it was a conference of men and women seeking agreement for common action, and finally carrying out the work decided upon by means of a committee of one or more. It was this form that the NAACP had in mind when it was organized in 1909. It needed money, and that Villard and some of the other members of the committee proposed to raise from their wealthy friends, or from well-known philanthropists. It became increasingly necessary for the organization to have a paid executive whose chief business was to raise money.
When I was called to join the group it was expected that I would become that executive, but that was just what I refused to do, because I knew that raising money was not a job for which I was fitted. It called for a friendliness of approach and knowledge of human nature, and an adaptability which I did not have. What I had was knowledge of the Negro problem, an ability to express my thoughts clearly, and a logical method of thought. I wanted then to write and lecture; and this become my job. We needed, however, an executive secretary, and after relying a few years on untrained services, we hired a white trained social worker at $5,000 a year. It seemed to many of us a huge sum and an impossible effort, but it worked out under three secretaries; the first white, the other two colored. 
It was carried on in accordance with growing experiences among philanthropic organizations. The secretaries trained to raise money used approved and tried methods and expected and received cooperation from a Board of Directors whom they helped to select because of their money and their advertising value. This meant that the secretary had to have power put in his hands and the more money he raised for the objects of the organization, the more power he got. If he knew his job and had a broad conception of the purposes of his organization, things would go well. If he became more interested in money and power, and less clear as to ideal, the organization might not go as well. Changes due to these facts have occurred in the NAACP during its long and successful career.
The span of my life from 1910 to 1934 is chiefly the story of The Crisis under my editorship, but it had also an astonishing variety of subsidiary interests and activities.
Beginning a little before this period I continued my visits to Europe. I went in 1900 to the Paris Exposition and again by the grace of an English friend in 1906. I helped organize and took part in the great Races Congress in 1911 and went to France in December 1918, just after the Armistice. This close touch with Europe and European developments had much to do with my understanding of social problems and trends of the world. I followed the development of English imperialism and the forces in England, France, Italy and Germany which resulted in the Balkan War, the World War and eventually the Russian Revolution. In the United States I studied the political development from the free silver controversy led by Bryan through the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Taft, and especially the "Bull Moose" campaign and the election of Wilson.
I kept on writing and publishing not with as much concentration of effort as I ought to have had, but with some effectiveness. In 1907 appeared The Negro in the South--- from lectures, two by myself and two by Mr. Washington. In 1909 I published John Brown, one of the best written of my books, but one which aroused the unfortunate jealousy of Villard who was also writing a biography of Brown. In 1915 I published my volume on The Negro. To this must be added part of a bulletin in the Twelfth Census of the United States and several magazine articles.
I still clung to my idea of investigation in lines which would temper and guide my exposition of a racial philosophy; and for that reason I determined from the beginning to make my work with the Association not that of executive secretary but editor of its official organ. There was opposition to this organ from the first. First of all, organs of this sort were known to be usually costly and this organization had no money. Secondly, organs were of doubtful efficiency. My good friend, Albert E. Pillsbury, Attorney-General of Massachusetts, wrote feelingly: "If you have not decided upon a periodical, for heaven's sake don't. They are as numerous as flies"--and he meant to conclude about as useful. I came to New York to occupy a bare office; associated with a treasurer, Villard (who said frankly, "I don't know who is going to pay your salary. I have no money"), and with a generally critical if not hostile public which expected the NAACP to launch a bitter attack upon Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee.
My first job was to get The Crisis going; and arriving in August, I got the first copy off the press in November 1910. It came at the psychological moment and its success was phenomenal. From the 1,000 which I first ventured to publish, it went up a thousand a month until by 1918 (due, of course, to special circumstances), we published and sold over 100,000 copies.
With this organ of propaganda and defense we were able to organize one of the most effective assaults of liberalism upon reaction that the modern world has seen. The NAACP secured extraordinary helpers; great lawyers like Moorfield Storey and Louis Marshall; earnest liberals like Villard, John Milholland, John Haynes Holmes, Jane Addams, and the Spingarns; Socialists like Mary W. Ovington, Charles Edward Russell and William English Walling.
We gained a series of court victories before the highest courts of the land which perhaps never have been equaled, beginning with the recognition of the validity of the 15th Amendment and the overthrow of the vicious Grandfather Clauses in 1915; and the breaking of the legal backbone of housing segregation in 1917. Above all, we could, through The Crisis and our officers, our secretaries and friends, place consistently and continuously before the country a clear-cut statement of the legitimate aims of the American Negro and the facts concerning his condition. We tried to organize his political power and make it felt, and we started a campaign against lynching and mob law which was the most effective ever organized, and at long last seemed to bring the end of the evil in sight.
With these efforts came other activities. I lectured widely in nearly every state in the Union. I furnished information to people everywhere on all sorts of subjects closely and remotely connected with race problems, and carried on from time to time studies and investigations. I was held more responsible for the success of the NAACP than I cared to confess to myself, than most other people wanted to admit. I had to spread myself over a whole field of activities when I would have done great deal better work if I could have confined myself to writing and study.
The development of The Crisis, where most of my writing was done, was interesting and difficult. It was impaired first and last by lack of trained business management. For the most part I was my own business manager which meant the loss of much time in details. Then there was the delicate matter of policy; of how far I should express my own ideas and reactions in The Crisis or the studied judgment of the organization. From first to last I thought strongly, and as I still think rightly, to make the opinion expressed in The Crisis a personal opinion; because as I argued, no organization can express definite and clear-cut opinions; so far as this organization comes to conclusions it states them in its annual resolutions; but The Crisis states openly the opinion of its editor so long as that opinion is in general agreement with that of the organization.
This of course was a dangerous and delicate matter bound eventually to break down in case there was any considerable divergence of opinion between the organization and the editor. It was perhaps rather unusual that for two decades the two lines of thinking ran so largely together. If on the other hand The Crisis had not been in a sense a personal organ and the expression of myself, it could not possibly have attained its popularity and effectiveness. It would have been the dry kind of organ that so many societies support for purposes of reference and not for reading. It took on the part of the organization, a great deal of patience and faith to allow me the latitude that they did for so many years; and on the other hand I was enabled to lay down for the NAACP a clear, strong and distinct body of doctrine that could not have been stated by majority vote. It was probably inevitable that in the end a distinct and clear-cut difference of opinion on majority policies should lead to the dissolution of this interesting partnership.
One of the first difficulties that the Association met was the case of its attitude toward Mr. Washington. I carefully tried to avoid any exaggeration of our differences of thought; but to discuss the Negro question in 1910 was to discuss Booker T. Washington and almost before we were conscious of the inevitable trends we were challenged from Europe. Mr. Washington was in Europe in 1910 and made some speeches in England in his usual conciliatory lines. John Milholland, who had been so influential in the organization of the Association with paid employees and an office, wrote me that American Negroes must combat the idea that they were satisfied with conditions. I therefore wrote an appeal to England and Europe.
"If Mr. Booker T. Washington, or any other person, is giving the impression abroad that the Negro problem in America is in process of satisfactory solution, he is giving an impression which is not true. We say this without personal bitterness toward Mr. Washington. He is a distinguished American and has a perfect right to his opinions. But we are compelled to point out that Mr. Washington's large financial responsibilities have made him dependent on the rich charitable public and that, for this reason, he has for years been compelled to tell, not the whole truth, but that part of it which certain powerful interests in America wish to appear as the whole truth. In flat contradiction, however, to the pleasant pictures thus pointed out, let us not forget that the consensus of opinion among eminent European scholars who know the race problem in America from De Tocqueville down to Von Halle, De Laveleys, Archer and Johnston, is that it forms the gravest of American problems. We black men who live and suffer under present conditions, and who have no reason, and refuse to accept reasons, for silence, can substantiate this unanimous testimony."
In furtherance of this statement and in anticipation of the meeting of the Races Congress in 1911, Mr. Milholland arranged that I should go early to the conference and make some addresses. The plan simmered down to a proposed address before the Lyceum Club, the leading woman's group of London. There it ran against the opposition of an American woman who wrote: "I think there is serious objection to entertaining Dr. Du Bois at the Lyceum." The result was a rather acrimonious controversy, from which I tried gently to withdraw but was unable to; and finally, led by Her Highness the Ranee of Sarawak and Dr. Etta Sayre, a luncheon was held at the Lyceum Club with a bishop and two countesses, several knights and ladies and with Maurice Hewlett and Sir Harry Johnston.
The Races Congress in 1911 would have marked an epoch in the racial history of the world if it had not been for the World War. Felix Adler and I were made secretaries of the American section of the Congress in London. It was a great and inspiring occasion bringing together representatives of numerous ethnic and cultural groups and bringing new and frank conceptions of scientific bases of racial and social relations of people. I had a chance twice to address the Congress in the great hall of the University of London and to write one of the two poems which greeted the assembly.
Returning to the United States I was plunged into the "Bull Moose" campaign. I thought I saw a splendid chance for a third party movement on a broad platform of votes for Negroes and industrial democracy. Sitting in the office of The Crisis I wrote out a proposed plank for the Progressives to adopt at their Chicago meeting: "The Progressive party recognizes that distinctions of race or class in political life have no place in a democracy. Especially does the party realize that a group of 10,000,000 people who have in a generation changed from a slave to a free labor system, reestablished family life, accumulated $1,000,000,000 of real property, including 20,000,000 acres of land, and reduced their illiteracy from 80 to 30 percent, deserve and must have justice, opportunity and a voice in their own government. The party, therefore, demands for the American of Negro descent the repeal of unfair discriminatory laws and the right to vote on the same terms on which other citizens vote."
This was taken to Chicago by Joel V. Spingarn and advocated by two other directors of the Association, Dr. Henry Moskowitz and Jane Addams. They worked in vain for its adoption. Theodore Roosevelt would have none of it. He told Mr. Spingarn frankly that he should be "careful of that man Du Bois," who was in Roosevelt's opinion a "dangerous" person. The "Bull Moose" convention refused to seat most of the colored delegates and finally succeeded in making Woodrow Wilson President of the United States.
Bishop Alexander Walters and myself conceived the idea that Mr. Wilson might be approachable. I proposed to throw the weight of The Crisis against Roosevelt and Taft and for Wilson, and Bishop Walters went to see him. He secured from Woodrow Wilson a categorical expression over his signature "of his earnest wish to see justice done the colored people in every matter; and not mere grudging justice, but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling. I want to assure them that should I become President of the United States they may count upon me for absolute fair dealing, for everything by which I could assist in advancing the interests of their race in the United States."
In this effort to divide the Negro vote which was successful to an unusual degree, we were cruelly disappointed when the Democratic party won and the next Congress met. There was the greatest flood of discriminatory bills both in Congress and among the States that has probably ever been introduced since the Civil War. Only united and determined effort defeated bills against intermarriage and for other discriminations in eight States; and while most of the proposed legislation in Congress was kept from the statute books, the administration carried out a segregation by color in the various departments which we had to fight for years and vestiges of which remain even today.
In other respects our lines were cast in difficult places. The Socialists began to consider the color line and to discriminate against the membership of colored people in the South, lest whites should not be attracted. Mr. Villard tried to get the President to appoint a National Race Commission to be privately financed to the extent of $50,000, but nothing was done. Suddenly war and revolution struck the world: the Chinese Revolution in 1912; the Balkan War in 1912-13; and finally, in 1914, the World War.
In that very year the National Council of Social Agencies met in Memphis without daring to discuss the color question, but Spingarn and I went down and held open meetings advertising for all who dared hear the truth." We had an interesting time. This success and the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915 led to the first Amenia conference later that year which tried to unite the American Negro in one program of advance.
Finally the World War touched America; with it and in anticipation of it, came a sudden increase of lynching, including the horrible burning alive of a Negro at Dyersburg; there came renewed efforts at segregation; the whole extraordinary difficulties of the draft and the question of Negro officers. We offered our service to fight. What happened? Most Americans have forgotten the extraordinary series of events which worked the feelings of black America to fever heat.
First was the refusal to accept Negro volunteers for the army except in the four black regiments already established. While the nation was combing the country for volunteers for the regular army it would not let the American Negro furnish even his proportionate quota of regular soldiers. This led to some grim bantering among Negroes:
"Why do you want to volunteer?" asked many. "Why should you fight for this country?"
Before we had a chance to reply to this there came the army draft bill and the proposal by Senator Vardaman and his ilk to exempt Negroes. We protested to Washington in various ways and while we were insisting that colored men should be drafted just as other citizens, the bill went through with two little "jokers."
First, it provided that Negroes should be drafted but trained in "separate" units and, secondly, it somewhat ambiguously permitted men to be drafted for "labor."
A wave of fear and unrest spread among Negroes, and while we were looking askance at both these provisions suddenly we received the draft registration blank. It directed persons "of African descent" to "tear off the corner!" Probably never before in the history of the United States has a portion of the citizens been so openly and crassly discriminated against by action of the general government. It was disheartening and on top of it came the celebrated "German plots." It was alleged in various parts of the country with singular unanimity that Germans were working among the Negroes and it was further intimated that this would make the Negroes too dangerous an element to trust with guns. To us, of course, it looked as though the discovery and the proposition came from the same thinly veiled sources.
Considering carefully these series of happenings the American Negro sensed an approaching crisis and faced a puzzling dilemma. Here was evidently being prepared fertile ground for the spread of disloyalty and resentment among the black masses as they were forced to choose apparently between forced labor or a "jim-crow" draft. Manifestly when a minority group is thus segregated and forced out of the nation they can in reason do but one thing--take advantage of the disadvantage. In this case we asked for colored officers for the colored troops.
General Wood was early approached and asked to admit suitable candidates to the Plattsburg Officers Camp. He refused. We thereupon pressed the government for a "separate" camp for the training of Negro officers. Not only did the War Department hesitate at this request but strong opposition arose among the colored people themselves. They said this really was going too far. "We will obey the law but to ask for voluntary segregation is to insult ourselves." But strong, sober second thought came to rescue. We said to our protesting brothers: "We face a condition, not a theory. There is not the slightest chance of our being admitted to white camps, therefore, it is either a case of a 'jim-crow' officers training camp or no colored officers. Of the two thing no colored officers would be the greatest calamity."
Thus we gradually made up our minds. But the War Department still hesitated. It was besieged and when it presented its final argument, "We have no place for such a camp," the trustees of Howard University said: "Take our campus." Eventually 1,200 colored cadets were assembled at Fort Des Moines for training.
The city of Des Moines promptly protested but it finally changed its mind. The city never before had seen such a class of colored men. They rapidly became popular with many classes and encomiums were passed upon their conduct. Especially was the money they spent popular with merchants. Their commanding colonel pronounced their work first class and declared that they presented excellent material for officers.
Meantime, with one accord, the thought of the colored people turned toward Colonel Young, their highest officer in the regular army. Charles Young was an heroic figure. He was the typical soldier--silent, uncomplaining, brave and efficient. From his days at West Point throughout his 28 years of service he had taken whatever task was assigned him and performed it efficiently, and there is no doubt but that the army had been almost merciless in the requirements which it had put upon this splendid officer. He had been segregated, discriminated against and insulted. He came through everything with flying colors. In Haiti, Liberia, in Western camps, in the Sequoia forests of California, and finally with Pershing in Mexico--in every case he triumphed. Just at the time we were looking to the government to call him to head the colored officers training at Des Moines, he was retired from the army because of "high blood pressure!" There is no disputing army surgeons and their judgment in this case may have been justified, but coming at the time it did, every Negro in the United States believed that the "high blood pressure" that retired Colonel Young was in the prejudiced heads of the southern army oligarchy who were determined that no Negro should ever wear the star of a general.
To say that Negroes of the United States were disheartened at the retirement of Colonel Young is to put it mildly; but there was more trouble. The provision that Negro troops must be trained separately looked simple and was simple in places where there were large Negro contingents; but in the North with solitary Negroes drafted here and there we had some extraordinary developments. Regiments appeared with one Negro and he had to be separated like a pest and put in a house or even a village by himself, while the commander frantically telegraphed to Washington. Small wonder that one poor black fellow in Ohio solved the problem by cutting his throat. The whole process of drafting Negroes had to be held up until the government could find methods and places for assembling them.
On the top of this came Houston. In a moment the nation forgot the whole record of one of the most celebrated regiments in the U.S. Army and their splendid service in the Indian Wars and in the Philippines. It was the first regiment mobilized in the Spanish American War and it was the regiment that volunteered to a man to clean up the yellow fever camps when others hesitated. It was one of the regiments to which Pershing said:
"Men, I am authorized by Congress to tell you all that our people back in the States are mighty glad and proud at the way the soldiers have conducted themselves while in Mexico, and I, General Pershing, can say with pride that a finer body of men never stood under the flag of our nation than we find here tonight."
The nation also forgot the deep resentment mixed with the pale ghost of fear which Negro soldiers call up in the breasts of the white South. It is not so much that they fear the Negro will strike if he gets a chance, but rather that they assume with curious unanimity that he has reason to strike; that any other person in his circumstances or treated as he is would rebel. Instead of seeking to relieve the cause of such a possible feeling, most of them strain every effort to bottle up the black man's resentment. Is it inconceivable that now and then it bursts all bounds?
So, in the midst of this mental turmoil came Houston and East St. Louis, in 1917. At Houston, black soldiers, goaded and insulted, suddenly went wild and "shot up" the town. At East St. Louis, white strikers on war work killed and mobbed Negro workingmen. And this is the result:
|HOUSTON||EAST ST. LOUIS|
|17 white persons killed||125 Negroes killed|
|19 colored soldiers hanged||9 white men imprisoned 5-15 years|
|51 colored soldiers imprisoned for life||11 white men imprisoned 1 year|
|40 colored soldiers imprisoned||18 white men fined|
|10 colored men imprisoned 14 years|
My career had at this time a certain sense of drama. I had never before seen Theodore Roosevelt but in November 1918 I presided at a meeting in Carnegie Hall where he made his last public speech, appearing together with Irwin Cobb and a representative of the French High Commission. I remember my introduction: "I have the honor to present Theodore Roosevelt." Then on my 50th birthday there was a public celebration and many kindly messages. The Crisis had reached a monthly circulation of 68,000 and during the year I had a little dinner with Glendowen Evans, Margaret DeLand and William James; and Albert Bushnell Hart wrote the words: "Out of his fifty years of life I have followed a good thirty--and have counted him always among the ablest and keenest of our teacher-scholars, an American who viewed his country broadly."
The most important work of the decade as I now look back upon it was my travel. Before 1918 I had made three trips to Europe; but now between 1918 and 1928 I made four trips of extraordinary meaning: to France directly after the close of the war and during the Congress of Versailles; to England, Belgium, France and Geneva in the earliest days of the League of Nations; to Spain, Portugal and Africa in 1923 and 1924; and to Germany, Russia, and Constantinople in 1926. I could scarcely have encompassed a more vital part of the modern world picture than in those stirring journeys. They gave me a depth of knowledge and a breadth of view which was of incalculable value for realizing and judging modern conditions, and above all the problem of race in America.
But this was only part of my work. In the United States I was still fighting the battle of liberalism against race prejudice; trying to adjust war and postwar problems to the questions of racial justice; trying to show from the injustices of war time what the new vision must encompass; fighting mobs and lynchings; encouraging Negro migration; helping woman suffrage; encouraging the new rush of young blacks to college; watching and explaining the political situation and traveling and lecturing over thousands of miles and in hundreds of centers.
In addition to this I was encouraging the writing of others and trying to help develop Negro art and literature. Besides editing The Crisis continuously, I published Darkwater in 1920; The Gift of Black Folk in 1924; and the essay on Georgia in These United States in 1924. This Georgia fought bitterly to keep from appearing. Ernest Gruening, now senator from Alaska, who edited the series, accepted it. I also wrote the concluding chapter in The New Negro edited by Alain Locke in 1925, besides a number of magazine articles. Most of the young writers who began what was called the renaissance of Negro literature in the 20's saw their first publication in The Crisis magazine.
Above all in these days I made two efforts toward which I look back with infinite satisfaction: the two-year attempt in the Brownie's Book to furnish a little magazine for Negro children in which my efforts were ably seconded by Augustus Dill and Jessie Fauset; and most especially my single-handed production of the pageant "The Star of Ethiopia." The pageant was an attempt to put into dramatic form for the benefit of large masses of people, a history of the Negro race. It was first attempted in the New York celebration of Emancipation in 1913; it was repeated with magnificent and breath-taking success in Washington with 1,200 participants; it was given again in Philadelphia in 1916; and in Los Angeles in 1924. Finally I attempted a little theatre movement which went far enough to secure for our little group second prize in an international competition in New York.
When President Wilson was planning to attend the Congress of Versailles, I wrote him a letter, saying:
"The International Peace Congress that is to decide whether or not peoples shall have the right to dispose of themselves will find in its midst delegates from a nation which champions the principle of the 'consent of the governed' and 'government by representation.' That nation is our own, and includes in itself more than twelve million souls whose consent to be governed is never asked. They have no members in the legislatures of states where they are in the majority, and not a single representative in the national Congress."
In 1918 I was asked rather suddenly by the NAACP to go to Europe right after the Armistice, to investigate the treatment of Negro soldiers and keep the record straight; and then at the behest of a group of American Negroes I considered that the interests of Africa ought to be represented during the peace efforts following the war. With infinite difficulty and through the cooperation of Blaise Diagne, the French Deputy from Senegal, I succeeded in gathering in February 1919, at the Grand Hotel in Paris, a Pan-African Congress of 57 delegates including 16 American Negroes, 20 West Indians and 12 Africans. France, Belgium and Portugal were represented by officials. This was to my mind but a beginning and in 1921 I returned and held a Second Pan-African Congress in London, Brussels and Paris from August 28 to September 6. There were 113 accredited delegates from 26 different groups, including 35 from the United States, 39 from Africa and the rest from the West Indies and Europe. Among the speakers were Sir Sidney, afterward Lord Olivier; Florence Kelley, Bishop Hurst, Paul Otlet, often called the father of the League of Nations; Senator La Fontaine of Belgium, Dr. Vitellian, former physician to Menelik of Abyssinia; General Sorelas, Blaise Diagne, Norman Laya, and others.
The attention which the congress evoked all over Europe was astonishing. It was discussed in the London Times, Observer and Daily Graphic; in the Paris Petit Parisian, Matin and Tempe; in the Manchester Guardian and in practically all the daily papers of Belgium. It led to heated debate in Brussels touching the rights of these delegates to discuss the relation of colonies, and it emphasized in the minds of all of us the consequent importance of such discussions.
Two of us visited the League of Nations and the International Labor Office with petitions and suggestions. In 1923 a Third Pan-African Congress, less broadly representative than the second, but nevertheless of some importance, was held in London, Paris and Lisbon; and thence I went to Africa and for the first time saw the homeland of the black race.
It was the time when the United States had disappointed Liberia by not granting her a promised loan, and a gesture of goodwill was in order. At the suggestion of William H. Lewis, Assistant Attorney-General in Washington, I was therefore designated by cable as special minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary to represent President Coolidge at the inauguration of President King. In the presence of the diplomatic and consular representatives of England, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Panama of whom I was Dean, I had the honor to tell the President of Liberia: "Your Excellency: . . . I am sure that in this special mark of the President's favor, he has had in mind the wishes and hopes of Negro Americans. He knows how proud they are of the hundred years of independence which you have maintained by force of arms and brawn and brain upon the edge of this mighty continent; he knows that in the great battle against color caste in America the ability of Negroes to rule in Africa has been and ever will be a great and encouraging reinforcement."
At the London meeting of the Third Pan-African Congress, Harold Laski, H. G. Wells, and Sir Sidney Olivier spoke. Ramsay MacDonald had promised to speak to us but was hindered by the sudden opening of the campaign which eventually made him prime minister of England. Among other efforts, at this time we held conferences with members of the Labour Party of England at which Mrs. Sidney Webb, Mr. John Robert Clynes and others were present. We emphasized the importance of labor solidarity between white and black labor in England, America and elsewhere. They were not particularly impressed. In Portugal our meeting was attended by cabinet ministers and deputies and though small was of great interest.
To return again to the fight in the United States, there arose early in this decade the case of Marcus Garvey. I heard of him first when I was in Jamaica in 1915 when he sent a letter "presenting his compliments" and giving me "a hearty welcome to Jamaica, on the part of the United Improvement and Conservation Association." Later he came to the United States. In his case, as in the case of others, I have repeatedly been accused of enmity and jealousy, which have been so far from my thought that the accusations have been a rather bitter experience.
In 1920 when his movement was beginning to grow in America I said in The Crisis that he was "an extraordinary leader of men" and declared that he had "with singular success capitalized and made vocal the great and long suffering grievances and spirit of protest among the West Indian peasantry." On the other hand, I noted his difficulties of temperament and training, inability to get on with his fellow workers, and denied categorically that I had ever interfered in any way with his work. Later when he began to collect money for his steamship line I characterized him as a sincere and hard-working idealist but called his methods bombastic, wasteful, illogical and almost illegal and begged his friends not to allow him foolishly to overwhelm with bankruptcy and disaster one of the most interesting spiritual movements of the modern world.
But he went ahead, wasted his money, got into trouble with the authorities and was deported. As I said at the time: When Garvey was sent to Atlanta, no word or action of ours accomplished the result. His release and deportation were a matter of law which no deed or wish of ours influenced in the slightest degree. We have today, no enmity against Marcus Garvey. He has a great and worthy dream. We wish him well. He is free; he has a following; he still has a chance to carry on his work in his own home and among his own people and to accomplish some of his ideas. Let him do it. We will be the first to applaud any success that he may have."
I felt for a moment as the war progressed that I could be without reservation a patriotic American. The government was making sincere efforts to meet our demands. It had commissioned over 700 Negro officers; I had had a personal interview with Newton Baker, Secretary of War, and he had made categorical promises; Wilson had spoken out against lynching; and I myself had been offered a captaincy in the Intelligence Service, afterwards, to be sure, rather incontinently withdrawn as the higher command realized just who I was. Nevertheless, I tried to stand by the country and wrote the widely discussed editorial "Close Ranks" in which I said to the Negroes: "Forget your grievances for the moment and stand by your country."
I am not sure that I was right but certainly my intentions were. I did not believe in war, but I thought that in a fight with America against militarism and for democracy we would be fighting for the emancipation of the Negro race. With the Armistice came disillusion. I saw the mud and dirt of the trenches; I heard from the mouths of soldiers the kind of treatment that black men got in the American army; I was convinced and said that American white officers fought more valiantly against Negroes within our ranks than they did against the Germans. I still believe this was largely true. I collected some astonishing documents of systematic slander and attack upon Negroes and demands upon the French for insulting attitudes toward them, and when I published these documents in America the government started to interfere by refusing The Crisis mailing facilities; then, realizing that this was an admission of guilt, they quickly withdrew their prohibition.
I was especially upset by the mobs and lynchings during this time: by that extraordinary upheaval wherein for several hours black men fighting against a mob practically held the city of Washington in their hands; then the riot and murder in Chicago.  We fought back through the NAACP, the columns of The Crisis, through lectures and articles, with every force at hand. Mary Talbert started the Anti-Lynching Crusaders and with her help and that of our secretary, James Weldon Johnson, we raised a defense fund of $70,000 and put the Dyer Lynch Bill through the House of Representatives and on to the floor of the Senate. It was not until years after that I knew what killed that anti-lynching bill. It was a bargain between the South and the West by which lynching was permitted on condition that the Japanese were excluded.
Court cases kept pressing upon us: there were the Elaine riots and the Arkansas cases; there was the Sweet case in Detroit;  and equally significant to my mind but to few other Negroes the Sacco-Vanzetti case in Massachusetts. We continued winning court victories and yet somehow, despite them, we did not seem to be getting very far. We added to the Grandfather Case of 1915 and the Segregation Case of 1917, the victories in the Arkansas cases, the white primary case and another segregation case in the high courts, in addition to the eventual freeing of Dr. Sweet and his family. Still injustice prevailed. In the case of the Mississippi flood, the Red Cross allowed the Negroes to be treated as slaves and peons, and in Oklahoma, the Episcopal church refused to prosecute a white murderer on its own school grounds. Above all there came disquieting situations among Negro students: a strike at Hampton, disturbed conditions at Wilberforce, turmoil at Howard, and an uprising at Fisk.
It was thus a decade of infinite effort and discouraging turmoil. I suppose it had to be. I suppose that with the best will, it would have been impossible for me to concentrate on a few great lines of creative effort. I had to be a part of the revolution through which the world was going and to feel in my own soul the scars of its battles. Two events made a sort of finale to the decade: the Fourth Pan-African Congress held in New York in 1927 with Dantes Bellegarde, George Vylvain and other speakers; and the Congress of British West Africa which began its meetings in 1920 and forced the British government to the greatest step toward democratic method ever taken up to that time in black colonies.
Finally, to my surprise and quite against my best judgment, there was given for me upon my return from Africa at the Cafe Savarin in New York, a dinner. Among the speakers were Heywood Broun, Walter Hampden and Mrs. Mary McCleod Bethune, and tributes were sent by Witter Bynner, Zona Gale and Eugene O'Neil. It was a very beautiful and touching tribute.
12. The Secretaries of the NAACP were as follows: Frances Blascoe (1910-1911); Mary White Ovington (1911-1912); May Childs Nerney (1912-1916); Mary White Ovington (January 1916 to February 1916); Royal Freeman Nash (1916-1917); James Weldon Johnson (1917 to January 1, 1918); John R. Shillady (1918-1920); James Weldon Johnson (1920- January, 1931); thereafter Walter White (until his death in 1955) and presently Roy Wilkins.
13. In the summer of 1919 white mobs, with large contingents of soldiers and sailors, attacked the Negro communities in Washington and in Chicago. Dozens were killed and scores seriously injured; in both cases, after the original assault, Negroes formed self-defense units and fought back with great effectiveness. Many other pogroms occurred in what became known as the "Red Summer" of 1919; one of these is discussed in the note that follows.
14. Negro farmers and sharecroppers in and around Elaine, Arkansas, in 1919 formed an organization for the purpose of bargaining collectively with the plantation owners; they intended to obtain wages and improvements approaching conditions suitable for human beings and also a termination of peonage. A sheriffís posse attacked their meeting; in the resistance, one deputy was shot and killed. Terror followed for three days throughout Phillips County and about 250 Negroes were killed. In a ìtrialî--it lasted about 45 minutes--12 Negroes were sentenced to die and 67 were given long prison sentences. In Moore v. Dempsey (1923), brought by the NAACP, these convictions were reversed. Du Bois wrote of this case several times; notably in The Crisis, February, 1920, XIX, 169ff.
The Sweet case refers to the attack by a mob in Detroit in 1925 upon the home of a Negro physician, Dr. O.H. Sweet, recently purchased in a ìwhiteî neighborhood. Armed resistance from the house resulted in the killing of one of the attacking mob. Dr. Sweet, his brother and some of his friends were brought to trial. The NAACP led the defense; their attorneys were Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hayes, and all were finally acquitted. Du Boisí comments on the event and the trial are in The Crisis, January and July, 1926, XXX, 60f., XXXI, 114.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 254-276.
Work for Peace
I am not sure just when I began to feel an interest in Africa. Some folks seem to assume that just as Irish Americans have a sentimental regard for Ireland, and German Americans and Americans of Scandinavian descent look back to their mother countries, either through their own experience or that of their parents, so in similar ways Negro Americans should regard Africa.
This was true in the 17th and early 18th centuries, when there actually were, in the United States, Negroes who either remembered Africa or inherited memories from their fathers or grandfathers. Among Negroes of my generation there was not only little direct acquaintance or consciously inherited knowledge of Africa, but much distaste and recoil because of what the white world taught them about the Dark Continent. There arose resentment that a group like ours, born and bred in the United States for centuries, should be regarded as Africans at all. They were, as most of them began gradually to assert, Americans. My father's father was particularly bitter about this. He would not accept an invitation to a "Negro" picnic. He would not segregate himself in any way.
Notwithstanding all this, I became interested in Africa by a sort of logical deduction. I was tired of finding in newspapers, textbooks and history, fulsome lauding of white folk, and either no mention of dark peoples, or mention in disparaging and apologetic phrase. I made up my mind that it must be true that Africa had a history and destiny, and that one of my jobs was to disinter this unknown past, and help make certain a splendid future. Along this line I did, over a stretch of years, a great deal of reading, writing, research, and planning.
When I returned to New York from Atlanta in 1944 to become Director of Special Research for the NAACP, it was in my mind specifically for the purpose of concentrating on study of colonial peoples and people of Negro descent throughout the world, and to revive the Pan-African Congresses. From this plan came the Fifth Pan-African Congress in England, 1945; and my book, The World and Africa, in 1947. I should have liked to join the Council on African Affairs, and expected to be invited, but the secretary, Max Yergan, did not seem to want my cooperation.
Nothing illustrates more clearly the hysteria of our times than the career of the Council on African Affairs. It had been the dream of idealists in earlier days that the stain of American slavery would eventually be wiped out by the service which American descendants of African slaves would render Africa. Most of those American Negroes who gained their freedom in the 18th century looked forward to a return to Africa as their logical end. They often named their clubs and churches, their chief social institutions, "African." But the Cotton Kingdom and colonial imperialism gradually drove this dream entirely from their minds until the Negroes of the post-Civil War era regarded Africa as renewal of color caste and slavery. They regarded the colonization and "back to Africa" movements of Lincoln and Bishop Turner with lackluster eye; and when in 1918 I tried to found a social and spiritual Pan-African movement, my American Negro following was small.
The Council on African Affairs was planned in London in 1939, when Max Yergan, a colored YMCA secretary, returning from long and trying service in South Africa, met Paul Robeson returning from a visit to West Africa. They set up an organization in New York. In 1943 they were joined by Alphaeus Hunton, son of the greatest Negro secretary the American YMCA ever had; himself a doctor of philosophy in English, and a professor for 17 years at Howard University.
With the cooperation of Frederick V. Field, a fine African library and collection of African art, along with offices for the new organization, were secured. A monthly fact sheet devoted to developments in new Africa was issued. Money was raised for starving people in South Africa and striking miners in West Africa. African visitors were welcomed, and lectures delivered.
Then came the witch-hunting scare, and the Council was put on the Attorney-General's list of "subversive" organizations. Immediately, without consulting his board, Yergan as secretary, issued a newspaper release attacking "Communists." Robeson protested. His position was that the Council was not a Communist organization even if some of the supporters were Communists. It was doing a specific and needed work; that the political or religious opinions of its members or officials were their own business, so long as the actions of the organization as such were legal.
A division immediately arose within the ranks of the Council and many of the members of the board resigned. At this time, on invitation of Robeson, I was asked to join the Council, which I did. I joined on account of my faith in his sincerity, and my belief in the necessary function of the Council on African Affairs. Since Yergan now was at odds with the board, he was dismissed from his office. Legal complications followed, due to Yergan's claims to property which the Council and Mr. Field considered theirs. When settlement was finally made, the Council resumed work, hampered by its proscription by the Attorney-General.
When I was dismissed by the NAACP as Director of Special Research in 1948, I was offered the honorary position of Vice-Chairman of the Council on African Affairs without salary but with an office rent-free, and the services of a secretary to be furnished by the Council. I accepted for two reasons: first, because of my belief in the work which the Council should do for Africa; and secondly, because of my belief that no man or organization should be denied the right to a career because of political or religious beliefs.
The Council was, however, on shaky foundations so far as funds were concerned. Membership fell, and money-raising efforts were not very successful. One promising effort presented itself in May 1950. We had received from South Africa a moving appeal for assistance from a native musician, Michael Moerane. We turned to the brilliant, black orchestra leader, Dean Dixon, and asked him to arrange a concert of symphonic music by Negro composers of all lands, including Moerane. The concert was successful. We gave it at Town Hall. A thousand persons paid to listen. Critics applauded.
But alas for our dream! The concert cost $4,617, and our receipts were $3,236, leaving a loss of $1,381. This was not bad in itself; but since we had very limited funds and a dwindling income this result made any plans for repeating the concert annually, as Dixon so ardently desired, impossible. Yet the Voice of America broadcast news of this concert as proof of the encouragement of Negro culture by the United States! It failed to add that this was done by an organization listed by the United States as "subversive."
The ability of the Council to finance even my rent and clerical help decreased, and by 1950 it seemed my duty to relieve them of this obligation. However, the officers came to me and asked me earnestly not to do this, and disclosed a plan which they had considered; and that was that I would consent to a celebration of my 83rd birthday in February 1951, for the declared purpose of raising a publication fund; that this fund would go to maintaining my office and my connection with the Council on African Affairs, and also for re-publication of some of my works long out of print, and for new publications of certain unprinted manuscripts. They were sure that such a proposition would be welcomed by a large number of people, and would mean not only forwarding my work, but the renewed activity of the Council on African Affairs, at a time when its services were greatly needed.
It was a particularly difficult situation because the increased costs called for a high charge a plate, and other expenses meant a great outlay of money. Yet I did not feel free to refuse. I consented. A committee was organized, and the dinner planned. Publicity sent out by Dr. E. Franklin Frazier of Howard University, past president of the American Sociological Association and chairman of the sponsoring group, said:
"More than 200 prominent individuals from all sections of the United States, among them Dr. Albert Einstein, Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, Dr. Kirtley F. Mather, Langston Hughes, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Hon. J. Finley Wilson, have joined in sponsoring a testimonial dinner honoring W. E. B. Du Bois on the occasion of his eighty-third birthday this month.
"Honorary chairmen of the sponsoring group for the dinner include Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson, President of Howard University; Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland; Thomas Mann, noted author; Mrs. Mary Church Terrell of Washington; Miss Mary White Ovington, a founder of the NAACP; Dr. Alain Locke; Dr. William H. Jernagin; Carey McWilliams; and Bishop William J. Walls.
"At the peak of his unparalleled experience, learning, and skill, we have the rare opportunity of paying tribute to him in a tangible way by assuring continuing facilities for his research, writings, and publications. His priceless library must be kept intact and preserved. His unique collection of scores of thousands of letters and manuscripts must be edited and published. Most important of all, his basic works now out of print must be made available through the publishing of The Collected Works of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois."
Then suddenly came news of my indictment. I was indicted as a criminal by a grand jury in Washington, on February 9, 1951, for not registering as an agent of a foreign power in the peace movement!
My connection with the peace movement had been long. Even in my college days I had vowed never to take up arms. I wrote in The Crisis in 1913 concerning the meeting of the peace societies at St. Louis: 
"Peace today, if it means anything, means the stopping of the slaughter of the weaker by the stronger in the name of Christianity and culture. The modern lust for land and slaves in Africa, Asia, and the South Seas is the greatest and almost the only cause of war between the so-called civilized peoples. For such 'colonial' aggression and 'imperial' expansion, England, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria are straining every nerve to arm themselves; against such policies Japan and China are arming desperately. And yet the American peace movement thinks it bad policy to take up this problem of machine guns, natives, and rubber, and wants 'constructive' work in 'arbitration treaties and international law.' For our part we think that a little less dignity and dollars and a little more humanity would make the peace movement in America a great democratic philanthropy instead of an aristocratic refuge."
At the Congress of Versailles in 1919, my contribution was the Pan-African Congresses, and appeals to the Mandate Commission and the International Labor Organization. In 1945, as consultant to the American delegation to the UNO in San Francisco, I tried to stress the colonial question. I wrote May 16, 1945:
"The attempt to write an International Bill of Rights into the San Francisco Conference without any specific mention of the people living in colonies seems to me a most unfortunate procedure. If it were clearly understood that freedom of speech, freedom from want and freedom from fear, which the nations are asked to guarantee, would without question be extended to the 750 million people who live in colonial areas, this would be a great and fateful step. But the very fact that these people, forming the most depressed peoples in the world, with 90 per cent illiteracy, extreme poverty and a prey to disease, who hitherto for the most part have been considered as sources of profit and not included in the democratic development of the world; and whose exploitation for three centuries has been a prime cause of war, turmoil, and suffering--the omission of specific reference to these peoples is almost advertisement of their tacit exclusion as not citizens of free states, and that their welfare and freedom would be considered only at the will of the countries owning them and not at the demand of enlightened world public opinion."
On February 5, 1949, O. John Rogge, formerly U.S. Assistant Attorney-General, wrote me:
"The recent development in American-Soviet relations places a new emphasis on the need for a meeting such as our Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace. Certainly intellectuals today are faced with no greater challenge than to give the best of their talent, skills, and special knowledge to the problem of how we achieve a real peace.
"We are most eager to make this Conference a real contribution to the solution of the problems that now block the way to peace. For that reason we are asking you and a small group of key individuals among our sponsors to meet with us to help in the preparation of the subject matter and program as well as speakers for this Conference. . . ."
The conference took place in March 1949, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, and marked an era in the cultural history of the United States. It was sponsored by 550 of the outstanding leaders of American cultural and liberal thought. It succeeded in bringing together an extraordinary representation of the leaders of modern culture, and especially cultural leaders of the Soviet Union.
So rabid was its reception by the American press, that a concerted and directed movement against peace and in favor of war against the Soviet Union was made clear. Distinguished cultural figures like Picasso were refused visas to attend. The meeting became a matter of bitter recrimination; the sessions were picketed, and the distortion of the whole enterprise in the press was unprecedented.
Thus a conference called by persons of the highest standing in science, literature and art, and conceived with the best motives, became as the New York Times said, one of "the most controversial meetings in recent New York history"; and a signal expression of the witch-hunting and calumny in this nation which drove free speech and the right to inquire and reason into almost total eclipse.
At the final meeting in Madison Square Garden I said in introducing the Chairman, Harlow Shapley:
"We know and the saner nations know that we are not traitors nor conspirators; and far from plotting force and violence it is precisely force and violence that we bitterly oppose. This conference was not called to defend communism nor socialism nor the American way of life. It was called to promote peace! It was called to say and say again that no matter how right or wrong differing systems of beliefs in religion, industry, or government may be, war is not the method by which their differences can successfully be settled for the good of mankind."
The next month I was urged by O. John Rogge, Albert E. Kahn, and others to attend a world peace meeting in Paris. The American committee offered to pay a part of my expense, and I paid the rest. I went to what seems to me to have been the greatest demonstration for peace in modern times. For four days witnesses from nearly every country in the world set forth the horrors of war and the necessity of peace if civilization was to survive. On the concluding Sunday, 500,000 pilgrims from all parts of France, coming on foot, by automobiles, by train and plane, filed through the vast Buffalo Stadium crying, "Peace, no more war!" At this Conference I emphasized colonialism and said:
"Let us not be misled. The real cause of the differences which threaten world war is not the spread of socialism or even of the complete socialism which communism envisages. Socialism is spreading all over the world and even in the United States. . . . Against this spread of socialism, one modern institution is working desperately and that is colonialism, and colonialism has been and is and ever will be one of the chief causes of war. . . . Leading this new colonial imperialism comes my own native land, built by my father's toil and blood, the United States. The United States is a great nation; rich by grace of God and prosperous by the hard work of its humblest citizens. . . . Drunk with power we are leading the world to hell in a new colonialism with the same old human slavery which once ruined us; and to a Third World War which will ruin the world."
On Monday, April 25th, during the last session of the Congress, a Peace Manifesto was adopted. This historic document whose preamble declared it was drawn up by representatives of the people of 72 countries, "men and women of every creed, philosophy, color, and type of civilization," solemnly proclaimed that "the defense of Peace is henceforth the concern of all peoples." In the name of the 600 million represented, the Congress sent out this message: "We are ready and resolved to win the battle for Peace, which means to win the battle for Life."
The Congress adjourned and the delegates returned to their 72 countries.
In July 1949, I joined with Linus Pauling, John Clark, Uta Hagen and O. John Rogge to call an "American Continental Congress for World Peace" to be held in Mexico City in September.
Again in August 1949, 25 prominent Americans were asked to attend an all-Soviet peace conference in Moscow. For reasons which arose directly from the violent reception given the peace congress in March, I was the only one who accepted the invitation. I addressed the 1,000 persons present:
I represent millions of citizens of the United States who are just as opposed to war as you are. But it is not easy for American citizens either to know the truth about the world or to express it. This is true despite the intelligence and wealth and energy of the United States. Perhaps I can best perform my duty to my country and to the cause of world peace by taking a short time to explain the historic reasons for the part which the United States is playing in the world today. I can do this the more appropriately because I represent that large group of 15 million Americans, one tenth of the nation, who in a sense explain America's pressing problems.
The two great advantages of the United States have been vast natural resources and effective labor force. The first effective labor force were slaves, at first both white and black; but increasingly as time went on black Africans brought in by an intense effort made by the English especially in the 18th century. That succeeded in landing 15 million black laborers in all the Americas from 1500 to 1800, at a cost of 100 million souls to Africa, disrupting its culture and ruining its economy. This labor gave the world tobacco, cotton, sugar, and numbers of other crops and opened America to the world. There followed an increasing migration of millions of workers chiefly from Europe who became energetic laborers with initiative and skill encouraged by the large and immediate returns from their efforts. With free land, favorable climate and freedom of trade, the individual laborer could make a living and often become rich without the necessity of any wide social control for the common good. Plenty for most workers, without socialism, marked America from 1800 to 1900.
But this was possible not only because of vast resources but also because of the slavery of the blacks. So long as a depressed class of slaves with no political nor social rights supplied a rich mass of basic materials and a whole area of personal service the share of white capital and white labor was abnormally large. Even when the expanding mass of white labor tried to build a democratic form of government, inspired by the thinkers of the late 18th century, they faced the uncomfortable fact of slavery in the land of liberty. Some wanted to abolish Negro slavery forthwith; but slaves represented too much invested property and income for this to be easy. In 1787, the United States, beginning work on the drafting of a Constitution, and having previously declared that "All men are created equal" faced the problem of slavery and the slave trade. The phrase "All men are created equal" was not complete hypocrisy. Most persons believed that Negro slavery could not continue without a slave trade so they arranged to suppress this African slave trade in 20 years and thus gradually they hoped the slave labor would disappear.
This did not happen, because slave labor in the United States even with a curtailed slave trade began to raise so valuable a cotton crop that this crop by use of newly invented machinery became one of the most profitable investments of the modern world. The spindles for spinning cotton cloth in Europe increased from five million in 1800 to 150 million in 1900 and black labor furnished the raw material. This was the Cotton Kingdom and it represented vast capital and the income of millions of people. Slavery therefore in the United States by 1820, had so firm an economic foundation that emancipation became impossible without cataclysm.
This pressure for social upheaval naturally did not come from the organizers of industry, nor from property owners, nor even at first from white workers, who had been taught that their high wages depended on the slavery of Negroes. The pressure came primarily from the Negroes; first by their sheer physical expansion from 750,000 in 1790 to 3 million in 1840, of whom nearly 400,000 had gained their freedom by purchase, escape, or philanthropy. They organized systematic escapes from the territory where the slave system prevailed; they joined with white men in an abolition movement; and their kin in Haiti and other West Indian Islands shook the world with bloody revolt.
But the struggle of the black slave for freedom did not gain the sympathy of the majority of citizens of the United States. This was because a persistent propaganda campaign had been spread as slave labor began to increase in value, to prove by science and religion that black men were not real men; that they were a sub-species fit only for slavery. Consequently the fight for democracy and especially the struggle for a broader social control of wealth and of individual effort was hindered and turned aside by widespread contempt for the lowest class of labor and the consequent undue emphasis put on unhampered freedom of individual effort, even at the cost of social loss and degradation. Therefore at the time when socialism and broad social control for the common good should have spread in the United States as it was spreading in Europe, there grew on the contrary exaltation of industrial anarchy, tightening of the slave system and belief in individual or group success even at the expense of national welfare.
The catastrophe was precipitated as the workers gradually discovered that slavery of their black fellows was not to their advantage if slave labor spread to the free soil of the West. The nation went to Civil War therefore not to abolish slavery, but to limit it to the cotton states. The South was determined to spread slavery in the North and if not there, into the Caribbean and South America. This would cut Northern capital off from its most valuable market, and the North fought to preserve this market. But the North could not win without the cooperation of the slaves themselves, since the slaves were raising food for the Southern armies. Gradually by a general strike the Negroes began to desert to the Northern armies as laborers, servants, and spies, until at last 200,000 of them became armed soldiers while a million more stood ready to fight. Thus American Negroes gained their freedom.
Now came the problem as to what to do with them. They were ignorant, poverty-stricken, sick. The Northerners wanted to let them drift. The freedmen desperately wanted land and education. A plan of socialistic control with schools and land distribution was worked out by philanthropists, but industry rejected it as too costly and as alien to American individualism. Then came a hitch; unless the slaves were given the right to vote, their numerical voting strength would go to their white former masters, who would vote to lower the tariff on which war industry flourished and to scale the war debt owned by Northern banks. Suddenly industry gave the black freedmen the vote, expecting them to fail but meantime to break the power of the planters. The Negroes did not fail; they enfranchised their fellow workers, establishing public schools for all and began a modern socialistic legislation for hospitals, prisons, and land distribution. Immediately the former slave owners made a deal with Northern industrial leaders for the disfranchisement of the freedmen. The South would support the tariff and the debt. The freedmen lost the right to vote but retained their schools, poorly supported as they were by their own meager wages and Northern philanthropy.
The history of the United States in the last 75 years has been one of the great series of events in human history. With marvellous technique based on scientific knowledge, with organized expert management, vast natural resources, and world wide commerce, this country has built the greatest industrial machine in history--still capable of wide expansion. This organization is socialistic in its planning and coordination and methods but it is not under democratic control, nor are its objects those of the welfare state.
Our industry is today controlled, as George Seldes tells us, by 1,000 individuals and is conducted primarily for their profit and power. This does not exclude a great deal which is for the progress of America and the world, but human progress is not its main object nor its sole result. The American philosophy brought over from pioneer days was that individual success was necessarily social uplift, and today large numbers of Americans firmly believe that the success of monopolized industry controlled by an oligarchy is the success of this nation. It is not; and the high standard of living in the United States and its productive capacity is not due to monopoly and private profit, but has come in spite of this and indicates clearly how much higher standards of living might have been reached not only in America but throughout the world, if the bounty of the United States and its industrial planning had been administered for the progress of the masses instead of the power and luxury of the few.
The power of private corporate wealth in the United States has throttled democracy and this was made possible by the color caste which followed Reconstruction after the Civil War. When the Negro was disfranchised in the South, the white South was and is owned increasingly by the industrial North. Thus, caste which deprived the mass of Negroes of political and civil rights and compelled them to accept the lowest wage, lay underneath the vast industrial profit of the years 1890 to 1900 when the greatest combinations of capital took place.
The fight of Negroes for democracy in these years was the main movement of the kind in the United States. They began to gain the sympathy and cooperation of those liberal whites who succeeded the Abolitionists and who now realized that physical emancipation of a working class must be followed by political and economic emancipation or means nothing. For more than half a century this battle of a group of black and white Americans for the abolition of color caste has gone on and made striking progress: The American Negro is beginning to vote, to be admitted to labor unions and to be granted many civil rights. But the mischief and long neglect of democracy has already spread throughout the nation. A large percentage of eligible voters do not get to the polls. Democracy has no part in industry, save through the violence or threatened violence of the strike. No great American industry admits that it could or should be controlled by those who do its work. But unless democratic methods enter industry, democracy fails to function in other parts of life. Our political life is admittedly under the control of organized wealth and while the socialized organization of all our work proceeds, its management remains under oligarchical control and its objects are what that oligarchy decide. They may be beneficial decisions, they may be detrimental, but in no case are they arrived at by democratic methods.
The claim of the United States that it represents democracy in contrast to fascism or communism is patently false. Fascism is oligarchy in control of a socialized state which is run for the benefit of the oligarchs and their friends. Communism is a socialized state conducted by a group of workers for the benefit of the mass of the people. There may be little difference in the nature of the controls exercised in the United States, Fascist Germany, and the Soviet republics. There is a world of difference in the objects of that control. In the United States today the object is to center and increase the power of those who control organized wealth and they seek to prove to Americans that no other system is so successful in human progress. But instead of leaving proof of this to the free investigation of science, the reports of a free press, and the discussion of the public platform, today in the United States, organized wealth owns the press and chief news gathering organs and is exercising increased control over the schools and making public discussion and even free thinking difficult and often impossible.
The cure for this and the way to change the socially planned United States into a welfare state is for the American people to take over the control of the nation in industry as well as government. This is proceeding gradually. Many Americans are not aware of this, but it is true: we conduct the post office; we are in the express and banking business; we have built the great Tennessee Valley river control system; we exercise control in varying degrees over railroads, radio, city planning, air and water traffic; in a thousand other ways, social control for general welfare is growing and must grow in our country. But knowledge of this, of its success and of its prevalence in other lands, does not reach the mass of people. They are being carried away by almost hysterical propaganda that the freedoms which they have and such individual initiative as remains are being threatened and that a third world war is the only remedy.
Not all America has succumbed to this indefensible belief. The Progressive Party . . . has challenged this program, the voters in 1948 declared wide agreement but were induced by fear to vote for a man who has not carried out his promises; the Council of Arts, Sciences and Professions assembled a vast protest against war last year and the religious sect of Quakers have just issued a fine balanced statement in the same line. There are millions of other Americans who agree with these leaders of the peace movement. I bring you their greetings.
My trip to the Soviet Union made it impossible for me to get to the Congress in Mexico City, but I watched with interest other peace conferences: in Cuba in August; in Australia in April 1950; the delegations to the Parliaments of the world, projected by the Defenders of Peace in Paris in February 1950. I joined a group to welcome persons selected to come here, including the Dean of Canterbury, and the great painter, Picasso. They were refused visas. A Mid-Century Conference for Peace was called by the Committee for Peaceful Alternatives in May 1950, in which I was asked to conduct a panel; but a previous engagement kept me away. I was asked to attend the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Paris Defenders of Peace in Prague in August 1951, and accepted. This meeting was to call a Second World Congress and make a new plea for disarmament.
But before this meeting, we had succeeded in forming in the United States an organization to work for peace. This was the Peace Information Center. There were about 60 Americans who attended the World Congress of the Defenders of Peace in Paris in April 1950. We were all tremendously impressed and discussed many times the question as to what we could do when we returned to America. We did nothing for nearly a year, because in the state of hysteria and war-mongering which we found in the United States, it was not at all clear as to what could be done legally.
Finally I received this telegram from O. John Rogge:
"Strongly urge your participation meeting my house 400 East 52 Street at 8 o'clock Wednesday evening March 1st. Purpose is to discuss certain vital problems relating to current activities for promotion of world peace."
I went to the meeting and found that the 30 or 40 persons attending had already in previous meetings been exploring methods of organizing for peace in the United States. The first idea seemed to have been a federation of the various peace movements in the United States already in existence. That had fallen through. Then a committee to welcome the prominent advocates of peace who proposed to visit the United States proved useless when they were refused visas. We appointed a committee to explore possibilities.
A number of the participants in this initial meeting went to Europe to attend a meeting of the Bureau of the Defenders of Peace in Stockholm, and also to visit Russia under the plan of approaching Parliaments in the interests of peace. Our committee adopted a plan which seemed to us all unusually apt and legal, and that was, as we decided at a later meeting in a private home, to form a Peace Information Center, the object of which should be simply to tell the people of the United States what other nations were doing and thinking about war.
Johannes Steele suggested that we publish what he called a "Peacegram" at intervals, and in that way we could collect information and send it over the United States. The proposal to organize was made by the chairman of the committee, Elizabeth Moos, and we proceeded to locate offices and start organized work. In July, Mrs. Moos, on account of ill health, resigned with regret after having put the organization on its feet.
Abbott Simon, a young veteran interested in work among youth, was her obvious successor and became our executive secretary from July to our dissolution. Kyrle Elkin was a young businessman, educated at Harvard, and engaged in small manufacturing. He had never been especially active in social work, but was attracted by our program, and in his quiet way helped us by accepting the duties of treasurer.
We all worked together smoothly and effectively. We issued the "Peacegrams," and then reprinted and circulated the "Stockholm Appeal" to abolish the atom bomb. We distributed this over the nation, and collected in all 2,500,000 signatures. We printed and distributed other demands and arguments for peace, like the Red Cross Appeal, the statement of the Friends, and many others.
The half-billion persons in the world who signed the Stockholm Appeal and the billion who would have signed if given the chance, were moved not by the thought of defending the Soviet Union so much as by the desire to prevent modern culture from relapsing into primitive barbarism.
The first direct public attack on the Peace Information Center came in a broadside from the United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, released July 12 (New York Times, July 13, 1950):
"I am sure that the American people will not be fooled by the so-called 'world peace appeal' or 'Stockholm resolution' now being circulated in this country for signatures. It should be recognized for what it is--a propaganda trick in the spurious 'peace offensive' of the Soviet Union. . . ."
I replied immediately on July 14, saying in a release to the press:
"The main burden of your opposition to this Appeal and to our efforts lies in the charge that we are part of a 'spurious peace offensive' of the Soviet Union. Is it our strategy that when the Soviet Union asks for peace, we insist on war? Must any proposals for averting atomic catastrophe be sanctified by Soviet opposition? Have we come to the tragic pass where, by declaration of our own Secretary of State, there is no possibility of mediating our differences with the Soviet Union? Does it not occur to you, Sir, that there are honest Americans who, regardless of their differences on other questions, hate and fear war and are determined to do something to avert it? . . . .
"We have got to live in the world with Russia and China. If we worked together with the Soviet Union against the menace of Hitler, can we not work with them again at a time when only faith can save us from utter atomic disaster? Certainly hundreds of millions of colonial peoples in Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, conscious of our support of Chiang Kai-shek, Bao Dai and the colonial system, and mindful of the oppressive discrimination against the Negro people in the United States, would feel that our intentions also must be accepted on faith.
"Today in this country it is becoming standard reaction to call anything 'communist' and therefore subversive and unpatriotic, which anybody for any reason dislikes. We feel strongly that this tactic has already gone too far; that it is not sufficient today to trace a proposal to a communist source in order to dismiss it with contempt.
"We are a group of Americans, who upon reading this Peace Appeal, regard it as a true, fair statement of what we ourselves and many countless other Americans believed. Regardless of our other beliefs and affiliations, we united in this organization for the one and only purpose of informing the American people on the issues of peace."
The Peace Information Center continued its work. The evidence of the desire for peace came in from all parts of the United States, and especially from those regions where the newspapers were suppressing information. Surprising interest and support came to us especially from the West and South.
In August, I had a cablegram from Paris inviting me to attend as a guest the meeting of the Bureau of the World Congress of the Defenders of Peace in Prague. They were meeting for two main purposes: to broaden the Stockholm Appeal by asking for disarmament; and to arrange a Second World Peace Congress. I regarded this as important and applied for extension of my passport.
It took ten days of deliberation in Washington and two telephone calls before permission came. Even then it was carefully limited to 60 days in Czechoslovakia and "necessary lands" en route, and "was not to be validated for additional countries without the express authorization of the Department of State." I felt like a prisoner on parole.
When asked at Prague to speak, I said:
"For 50 years I have been in touch with social currents in the United States. Never before has organized reaction wielded the power it does today: by ownership of press and radio, by curtailment of free speech, by imprisonment of liberal thinkers and writers. It has become almost impossible today in my country even to hold a public rally for peace. This has been accomplished by inducing Americans to believe that America is in imminent danger of aggression from communism, socialism and liberalism, and that the peace movement cloaks this threat . . . .
"Manifestly, to meet this hysteria, it is not so much a question of the concept of war under any circumstances, as the far deeper problem of getting the truth to the masses of the citizens of the United States who still in overwhelming majority hate murder, crippling destruction and insanity, as a means of progress. By personal contact, by honest appeal, by knowing the truth ourselves, we can yet win the peace in America. But it is going to take guts and the willingness to jeopardize jobs and respectability...."
After this meeting in Prague where the Bureau of the Defenders of Peace finally voted to broaden the "Stockholm Appeal" so as to ask disarmament and condemn aggression and armed intervention, I started home; but on my way I received two messages in Paris, which led to a political campaign and a criminal indictment.
16. The 4th Annual Meeting of the American Peace Congress met in St. Louis in May, 1923; it was a "correct" and respectable society and as such drew criticism at the time from Du Bois--see The Crisis, May, 1913, Vol. VI, p. 26; republished in his ABC of Color, pp. 59-60. Booker T. Washington addressed this Peace Congress; his speech may be found in, E. Davidson Washington, ed., Selected Speeches of Booker T. Washington (Garden City, Doubleday, Doran, 1932), pp. 213-217.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 343-360.
Returning to America in 1959 after my great journey, I was welcomed home; not simply by my friends but by my government. In Sweden it was feared I might not as a member of the World Peace Council be allowed to land in England. But Pritt and Belfrage took hold and I received every courtesy. I had tea on the terrace of the House of Lords with a viscount, an earl, and two ladies; also on the terrace of the House of Commons, I had tea where I had last been entertained by Kier Hardie. I met several members of Parliament, and spent many Sunday afternoons with Donald Ogden Stewart and Ella Winter. There I met James Aldrich and Katherine Hepburn. I saw Paul Robeson and his splendid production of Othello. Lawrence Bradshaw, sculptor of the great head of Karl Marx, did my head.
The cabin on the Liberte' as we returned was large and airy, and the voyage smooth and pleasant. But how would the United States receive us? We had openly spent ten weeks in China, and spoken widely and broadcast. There was some hasty last minute telephoning from the boat, I am sure, but all went well. Our passports were not seized, and the chief inspector of Customs passed our bags quickly and welcomed us home. Our relatives and friends swarmed to greet us. I was unable to understand why Scott Nearing and Waldo Frank should be forbidden to do what as yet I have been unrebuked for doing openly and proudly. However, three months later when the Supreme Court agreed to consider the cases of Waldo Frank and William Worthy,  the State Department demanded our passports. We asked delay until the Supreme Court made its verdict. This was granted.
I am a little puzzled now about the ordering of my life. Several times in the past I find that I have prepared for death and death has not come. Always on my desk lies a calendar of my own devising with daily and hourly tasks; with plans for the week and next week, the month and months ahead and the sentinel of my main task for the year. This year-part is now getting uncertain. Even months are no longer absolutely mine, yet I am reasonably content and although my strength warns me not to try to work as man hours as once I did, yet I work and work regularly and with some efficiency, from day to day.
As I recall, I have long faced the inevitability of death and not tried to dodge the thought. In early manhood I wrote:
"I saw a mother, black and seared and iron-haired, who had watched her boy through college, for men to jeer at and discourage and tempt until he sought women and whiskey and died. She crept on a winter's Sunday into a Cathedral of St. John The Divine and crouched there where a comfortable red and yellow angel sat sunning her ample limbs 'To Keep the Memory of Obadiah James Green'--a stock-gambler. And there she rested while the organ warbled the overture to Der Feischutz, and the choir asserted 'My Jesus! As Thou wilt.' The priest intoned: 'Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest! For my yoke is easy and my burden light.' And the window-angel moved a fat wing and murmured: 'except niggers!'
"In that dark day when all friends gathered round shall sigh: as he goes to that full dreadful home where earth shall move away and these dim eyes shall strain to scenes all glorious, shall they see on that morning round the wide, white throne a glorified Negro Problem? If so, Father of Mercies, send me to Hell."
At 50, after a serious operation I wrote:
"Last year I looked death in the face and found its lineaments not unkind. But it was not my time. Yet in nature some time soon and in the fullness of days I shall die, quietly, I trust, with my face turned South and eastward; and, dreaming or dreamless I shall, I am sure, enjoy death as I have enjoyed life."
At 60 years of age I wrote again:
"For long years we of the world gone wild, have looked into the face of death and smiled. Through all our bitter tears we knew how beautiful it was to die for that which our souls called sufficient. Like all true beauty this thing of dying was so simple, so matter-of-fact. The boy clothed in his splendid youth stood before us and laughed in his own jolly way--went and was gone. Suddenly the world was full of the fragrance of sacrifice. We left our digging and burden-bearing; we turned from our scraping and twisting of things and words; we paused from our hurrying hither and thither and walking up and down, and asked in half whisper: 'Death--is this life? And is its beauty real or false?'
"Here, then, is beauty and ugliness, a wide vision of world-sacrifice, a fierce gleam of world-hate. Which is life and what is death and how shall we face so tantalizing a contradiction? Any explanation must necessarily be subtle and involved. No pert and easy word of encouragement, no merely dark despair, can lay hold of the roots of these things. And first and before all, we cannot forget that this world is beautiful. Grant all its ugliness and sin--the petty, horrible snarl of its putrid threads, which few have seen more near or more often than I--notwithstanding all this, the beauty of the world is not to be denied.
"And then--the Veil, the Veil of color. It drops as drops the night on southern seas--vast, sudden, unanswering. There is Hate behind it, and Cruelty and Tears. As one peers through its intricate, unfathomable pattern of ancient, old, old design, one sees blood and guilt and misunderstanding. And yet it hangs there, this Veil, between then and now, between Pale and Colored and Black and White--between You and Me. Surely it is but a thought-thing, tenuous, intangible; yet just as surely is it true and terrible and not in our little day may you and I lift it. We may feverishly unravel its edges and even climb slow with giant shears to where its ringed and gilded top nestles close to the throne of Eternity. But as we work and climb we shall see through streaming eyes and hear with aching ears, lynching and murder, cheating and despising, degrading and lying, so flashed and flashed through this vast hanging darkness that the Doer never sees the Deed and the Victim knows no the Victor and Each hate All in wild and bitter ignorance. Listen, O Isles, to those voices from within the Veil, for they portray the most human hurt of the Twentieth Cycle of that poor Jesus who was called the Christ!
"At last to us all comes happiness, there in the Court of Peace, where the dead lie so still and calm and good. If we were not dead we would lie and listen to the flowers grow. We would hear the birds sing and see how the rain rises and blushes and burns and pales and dies in beauty. We would see spring, summer, and the red riot of autumn, and then in winter, beneath the soft white snow, sleep and dream of dreams. But we know that being dead, our Happiness is a fine and finished thing and that ten, a hundred, and a thousand years, we shall lie at rest, unhurt in the Court of Peace."
From then until now the wraith of Death has followed me, slept with me and awakened me and accompanied my day. Only now it is more commonplace and reasonable. It is the end and without ends there can be no beginnings. Its finality we must not falsify. It is our great debt to the Soviet Union that it alone of nations dared stop that lying to children which so long disgraced our schools. We filled little minds with fairy tales of religious dogma which we ourselves never believed. We filled their thoughts with pictures of barbarous revenge called God which contradicted all their inner sense of decency. We repeated folk tales of children without fathers, of death which was life, of sacrifice which was shrewd investment and ridiculous pictures of an endless future. The Soviets have stopped this. They allow a child to grow up without religious lies and with mature mind make his own decision about the world without scaring him into Hell or rewarding him with a silly Heaven.
We know that Death is the End of Life. Even when we profess to deny this we know that this hope is mere wishful thinking, pretense broidered with abject and cowardly Fear. Our endless egotism cannot conceive a world without Us and yet we know that this will happen and the world be happier for it.
I have lived a good and full life. I have finished my course. I do not want to live this life again. I have tasted its delights and pleasures; I have known its pain, suffering and despair. I am tired, I am through. For the souls who follow me; for that little boy born Christmas day before last, my great grandson and his compeers, I bequeath all that waits to be done, and Holy Time what a task, forever!
I have seen miracles in my life. As a boy we did not have the possibility of miracles emphasized in our schools. In the weekly Sunday School, we studied the bible with its tales of the impossible but I remember distinctly that I questioned the validity of some of them, like that story of Jonah. In other words I was brought up in the shadow of modern science where all that happens had a cause and there were many things unlikely to happen. For instance, then flying by man was not to be thought of and we talked of flying as impossible and joked at man's attempts. Yet I read of the first successful flights; and myself in 1921 flew from Paris to London. I have flown tens of thousands of miles since, over land and sea. I visited the Paris World's Fair in 1900, and was astonished to see automobiles on the streets; not many but perhaps a dozen in a day. I lived to see the jokes about the possibility of these motors displacing the horse fade away and automobiles fill the streets and cover the nations.
I remember when first, in an American city, seeing the streets lighted by electricity; the lights blinked and sputtered but in a few years electric bulbs supplanted the gas lights of my boyhood. Then came the gas-filled balloons rising in the sky and men crossed the Atlantic in Zeppelins. Soon came the horror of Hiroshima and I began to feel the vast possibilities of man's brain and his coming conquest of the air. But the most startling miracle of my time before the year 1958, was Sputnik. This went beyond the internal combustion engine, the airplane and balloon; beyond the electric light and the bursting atom. This was beyond mere utility into the realm of Knowledge and the triumph of Reason. It taught the United States the superiority of Communist thought and calculation. It stopped our sneers at Soviet education.
Then this year came the climax; the triumph of thought over power and space that was the greatest miracle of which I ever dreamed. Not yet have I been able to comprehend its meaning, or to realize that it is today actually possible to send a human being to the stars. A Frenchman once said: "I know but two beautiful things on earth: the stars above us and the feeling of duty within us." Now that we have pierced the heavens, we are more sure of making Mankind willing and eager to do right.
I have lived to an age of life which is increasingly distasteful to this nation. Unless by 60 a man has gained possession of enough of money to support himself, he faces the distinct possibility of starvation. He is liable to lose his job and to refusal if he seeks another. At 70 he is frowned upon by the church and if he is foolish enough to survive until 90, he is often regarded as a freak. This is because in the face of human experience the United States has discovered that Youth knows more than Age. When a man of 35 becomes president of a great institution of learning or United States Senator or head of a multi-million dollar corporation, a cry of triumph rings in the land. Why? To pretend that 15 years bring of themselves more wisdom and understanding than 50 is a contradiction in terms. Given a born fool, a hundred years will not make him wise; but given an idiot, he will not be wise at 20. Youth is more courageous than age because it knows less. Age is wiser than youth because it knows more. This all mankind has affirmed from Egypt and China five thousand years ago, to Britain and Germany today. Only the United States knows better. I would have been hailed with approval if I had died at 50. At 75 my death was practically requested. If living does not give value, wisdom and meaning to life, then there is no sense in living at all. If immature and inexperienced men rule the earth, then the earth deserves what it gets: the repetition of age-old mistakes, and wild welcome for what men knew a thousand years ago was disaster.
I do not apologize for living long. High on the ramparts of this blistering hell of life, as it must appear to most men, I sit and see the Truth. I look it full in the face, and I will not lie about it, neither to myself nor to the world. I see my country as what Cedric Belfrage aptly characterizes as a "Frightened Giant" afraid of the Truth, afraid of Peace. I see a land which is degenerating and faces decadence unless it has sense enough to turn about and start back. It is no sin to fail. It is the habit of men. It is disaster to go on when you know you are going wrong. I judge this land not merely by statistics or reading lies agreed upon by historians. I judge by what I have seen, heard, and lived through for near a century.
There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war only in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible. Today we are lying, stealing, and killing. We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense. But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane, men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done. No nation threatens us. We threaten the world.
Our President says that Foster Dulles was the wisest man he knew. If Dulles was wise, God help our fools--the fools who rule us and are today running wild in order to shoot a football into the sky where Sputnik rolls in peace around the earth. And they know why we fail, these military masters of men: we haven't taught our children thematics and physics. No, it is because we have not taught our children to read and write or to behave like human beings and not like hoodlums. Every child on my street is whooping it up with toy guns and big boys with real pistols. When Elvis Presley goes through the motions of copulation on the public stage it takes the city police force to hold back teen-age children from hysteria. The highest ambition of an American boy today is to be a millionaire. The highest ambition of an American girl is to be a movie star. Of the ethical actions which lie back of these ideals, little is said or learned. What are we doing about it? Half the Christian churches of New York are trying to ruin the free public schools in order to install religious dogma in them; and the other half are too interested in Venezuelan oil to prevent the best center in Brooklyn from fighting youthful delinquency, or prevent a bishop from kicking William Howard Melish into the street and closing his church. Which of the hundreds of churches sitting half empty protests about this? They hire Billy Graham to replace the circus in Madison Square Garden.
Howard Melish is one of the few Christian clergymen for whom I have the highest respect. Honest and conscientious, believing sincerely in much of the Christian dogma, which I reject, but working honestly and without hypocrisy, for the guidance of the young, for the uplift of the poor and ignorant, and for the betterment of his city and his country, he has been driven from his work and his career ruined by a vindictive bishop of his church, with no effective protest from most of the Christian ministry and membership or of the people of the United States. The Melish case is perhaps at once the most typical and frightening illustration of present American religion and my reaction. Here is a young man of ideal character, of impeccable morals; a hard worker, especially among the poor and unfortunate, with fine family relations. His father had helped build one of the most popular Episcopal churches in the better part of Brooklyn. He himself had married a well-educated woman, and had three sons in school. The community about it was changing from well-to-do people of English and Dutch descent, to white-collar and laboring folk of Italian, Negro and Puerto Rican extraction. Trinity church, under the Melishes, adapted itself to changing needs, and invited neighborhood membership. It was not a large church, but it was doing the best work among the young and foreign-born of any institution in Brooklyn.
The young rector took one step for which the bishop, most of his fellow clergymen and the well-to-do community, with its business interests, pilloried him. He joined and became an official of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship. He was accused immediately of favoring communism, and to appease criticism he gave up his official position in this organization, but refused to resign his membership. Allegedly for this reason the bishop, most of the clergy and the well-to-do community proceeded to force him out of the church. The real reason behind their fight was anger because a rich, white, "respectable" church was being surrendered to workers and Negroes. It became a renewed battle between Episcopal authority and democratic rule. That his parish wanted to retain Melish as rector was unquestionable. Through the use of technicalities in the canon law and in accord with the decision of Catholic judges who believed in Episcopal power, Howard Melish lost his church, had his life work ruined, the church itself closed, and its local influence ended. There was vigorous protest against this by a few devoted colleagues, many of them Jews and liberals. But the great mass of the Episcopal church membership was silent and did nothing.
All this must not be mentioned even if you know it and see it. America must never be criticized even by honest and sincere men. America must always be praised and extravagently praised, or you lose your job or are ostracized or land in jail. Criticism is treason, and treason or the hint of treason testified to by hired liars may be punished by shameful death. I saw Ethel Rosenberg lying beautiful in her coffin beside her mate. I tried to stammer futile words above her grave. But not over graves should we shout this failure of justice, but from the housetops of the world.
Honest men may and must criticize America. Describe how she has ruined her democracy, sold out her jury system, and led her seats of justice astray. The only question that may arise is whether this criticism is based on truth, not whether it has been openly expressed
What is truth? What can it be when the President of the United States, guiding the nation, stands up in public and says: "The world also thinks of us as a land which has never enslaved anyone." Everyone who heard this knew it was not true. Yet here stands the successor of George Washington who bought, owned, and sold slaves; the successor of Abraham Lincoln who freed four million slaves after they had helped him win victory over the slaveholding South. And so far as I have seen, not a single periodical, not even a Negro weekly, has dared challenge or even criticize that falsehood.
Perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of current America is the attempt to reduce life to buying and selling. Life is not love unless love is sex and bought and sold. Life is not knowledge save knowledge of technique, of science for destruction. Life is not beauty except beauty for sale. Life is not art unless its price is high and it is sold for profit. All life is production for profit, and for what is profit but for buying and selling again?
Even today the contradictions of American civilization are tremendous. Freedom of political discussion is difficult; elections are not free and fair. Democracy is for us to a large extent unworkable. In business there is a tremendous amount of cheating and stealing; gambling in card games, on television and on the stock exchange is widely practiced. It is common custom for distinguished persons to sign books, articles, and speeches that they did not write; for men of brains to compose and sell opinions which they do not believe. Ghost writing is a profession. The greatest power in the land is not thought or ethics, but wealth, and the persons who exercise the power of wealth are not necessarily its owners, but those who direct its use, and the truth about this direction is so far as possible kept a secret. We do not know who owns our vast property and resources, so that most of our argument concerning wealth and its use must be based on guess work. Those responsible for the misuse of wealth escape responsibility, and even the owners of capital often do not know for what it is being used and how. The criterion of industry and trade is the profit that it accrues, not the good which it does either its owners or the public. Present profit is valued higher than future need. We waste materials. We refuse to make repairs. We cheat and deceive in manufacturing goods. We have succumbed to an increased use of lying and misrepresentation. In the last ten years at least a thousand books have been published to prove that the fight to preserve Negro slavery in America was a great and noble cause, led by worthy men of eminence.
I know the United States. It is my country and the land of my fathers. It is still a land of magnificent possibilities. It is still the home of noble souls and generous people. But it is selling its birthright. It is betraying its mighty destiny. I was born on its soil and educated in its schools. I have served my country to the best of my ability. I have never knowingly broken its laws or unjustly attacked its reputation. At the same time I have pointed out its injustices and crimes and blamed it, rightly as I believe, for its mistakes. It has given me education and some of its honors, for which I am thankful.
Today the United States is the leading nation in the world, which apparently believes that war is the only way to settle present disputes and difficulties. For this reason it is spending fantastic sums of money, and wasting wealth and energy on the preparation for war, which is nothing less than criminal. Yet the United States dare not stop spending money for war. If she did her whole economy, which is today based on preparation for war, might collapse. Therefore, we prepare for a Third World War; we spread our soldiers and arms over the earth and we bribe every nation we can to become our allies. We are taxing our citizens into poverty, crime and unemployment, and systematically distorting the truth about socialism. We have used the horror of germ warfare. Some of our leaders are ready to use it again.
The use of history for distortion and not for education has led to another of our greatest present evils; and that is to make fear of socialism and communism so great that we have withdrawn our efforts toward the education of children, the war on disease, and the raising of the standards of living. We encourage the increase of debt to finance present enjoyment; and above all we use news gathering and opinion, radio and television, magazines and books, to make most Americans believe that the threat of war especially on the part of the Soviet Union against the United States, justifies heavy taxation and tremendous expenditure for war preparation.
This propaganda began when our tremendous profits from the First World War encouraged American business to believe that the United States was about to replace Great Britain as ruler of most of mankind. The rise and spread of socialism contradicted this ambition, and made the projected American century quail in fright before the century of communism. We determined therefore to overthrow communism by brute force. Gradually we discovered the impossibility of this, unless we risked suicide. We saw communism increasing education, science and productivity. We now face the possibility of co-existence with the communist world, and competition between the methods of capitalism and the methods of socialism. It is at this crisis that I had the opportunity to live seven months in a world of socialism, which is striving toward communism as an ideal.
This is what I call decadence. It could not have happened 50 years ago. In the day of our fiercest controversy we have not dared thus publicly to silence opinion. I have lived through disagreement, vilification, and war and war again. But in all that time, I have never seen the right of human beings to think so challenged and denied as today.
The day after I was born, Andrew Johnson was impeached. He deserved punishment as a traitor to the poor Southern whites and poorer freedmen. Yet during his life, no one denied him the right to defend himself. A quarter of a century ago, I tried to state and carry into realization unpopular ideas against a powerful opposition--in the white South, in the reactionary North, and even among my own people. I found my thought being misconstrued and I planned an organ of propaganda, The Crisis, where I would be free to say what I believed. This was no easy sailing. My magazine reached but a fraction of the nation. It was bitterly attacked and once the government suppressed it. But in the end I maintained a platform of radical thinking on the Negro question which influenced many minds. War and depression ended my independence of thought and forced me to return to teaching, but with the certainty that I had at least started a new line of belief and action. Then they stopped my teaching.
As a result of my work and that of others, the Supreme Court began to restore democracy in the South and finally outlawed discrimination in public services based on color. This caused rebellion in the South which the nation is afraid to meet. The Negro stands bewildered and attempt is made by appointments to unimportant offices and trips abroad to bribe him into silence. His art and literature cease to function. Only the children like those at Little Rock stand and fight.
The Yale sophomore who replaced a periodical of brains by a book of pictures concealed in advertisements, proposed that America rule the world. This failed because we could not rule ourselves. But Texas to the rescue, as Johnson proposes that America take over outer space. Somewhere beyond the Moon there must be sentient creatures rolling in inextinguishable laughter at the antics of our Earth.
We tax ourselves into poverty and crime so as to make the rich richer and the poor poorer and more evil. We know the cause of this: it is to permit our rich business interests to stop socialism and to prevent the ideals of communism from ever triumphing on earth. The aim is impossible. Socialism progresses and will progress. All we can do is to silence and jail its promoters and make world war on communism. I believe in socialism. I seek a world where the ideals of communism will triumph--to each according to his need, from each according to his ability. For this will work as long as I live. And I still live.
I just live. I plan my work, but plan less for shorter periods. I live from year to year and day to day. I expect snatches of pain and discomfort to come and go. And then reaching back to my archives, I whisper to the great Majority: To the Almighty Dead, into whose pale approaching faces, I stand and stare; you whose thoughts, deeds and dreams have made men wise with all wisdom and stupid with utter evil. In every name of God, bend out and down, you who are the infinite majority of all mankind and with your thoughts, deeds, dreams and memories, overwhelm outvote, and coerce this remnant of human life which lingers on, imagining themselves wisest of all who have lived just because they still survive. Wither with wide revelation will they go with their stinking pride and empty boasting, whose ever recurring lies only you the Dead have known all too well? Teach living man to jeer at this last civilization which seeks to build heaven on Want and Ill of most men and vainly builds on color and hair rather than on decency of hand and heart. Let your memories teach these wilful fools all which you have forgotten and ruined and done to death.
You are not and yet you are: your thoughts, your deeds, above all your dreams still live. So too, your deeds and what you forgot--these lived as your bodies died. With these we also live and die, realize and kill. Our dreams seek Heaven, our deeds plumb Hell. Hell lies about us in our Age: blithely we push into its stench and flame. Suffer us not, Eternal Dead to stew in this Evil--the Evil of South Africa, the Evil of Mississippi; the Evil of Evils which is what we hope to hold in Asia and Africa, in the southern Americas and islands of the Seven Seas. Reveal, Ancient of Days, the Present in the Past and prophesy the End in the Beginning. For this is a beautiful world; this is a wonderful America, which the founding fathers dreamed until their sons drowned it in the blood of slavery and devoured it in greed. Our children must rebuild it. Let then the Dreams of the Dead rebuke the Blind who think that what is will be forever and teach them that what was worth living for must live again and that which merited death must stay dead. Teach us, Forever Dead, there is no Dream but Deed, there is no Deed but Memory.
17. Late in 1958 Waldo Frank sued the State Department for validation of his passport for travel to China, where he had been invited, by the University of Peking, to deliver lectures on Walt Whitman. At about the same time, William Worthy, Jr., a correspondent for the Afro-American newspaper chain, also sued demanding the right to visit China in his capacity as a newspaperman. Both cases went to the U.S. Supreme Court; that Court, in December 1959, ruled against Frank and Worthy and in effect upheld the State Departmentís right in applying the ban.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 409-423.
Monteiro, A. (1995). The science of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois. Retrieved October 17, 2002, from http://members.tripod.com/~DuBois/tony.html
The Science of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois
By Dr. Anthony Monteiro
W.E.B. DuBois was one of the twentieth century's great scientifi minds. His intellect was impressive for its scope, discipline, rigor, creative and heroic imagination . His accomplishments in the battles to end racism and colonialism, and to bring peace and socialism to the world's peoples, are as impressive. Ultimately his scientific discoveries and predictions concerning race, civilization, world and African history have significantly altered world ideological relationships. Extending, as it were, scientific foundations for working class and peoples unity and enhancing the ideological conditions for socialism. Moreover, the modern civil rights and African liberation movements owe more to him than any other single person. As the leader of the Pan African Movement between 1919 and 1945 his impact upon African leaders like Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Namdi Azikwe, Almicar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane and Sekou Toure, to name a few, was considerable. He was a founder of the World Peace Council and fighter against the Cold War. He fought in th early part of this century for the rights of women, including the vote for Black and white women.
DuBois was born three years after the end of the Civil War, at the beginning of
Reconstruction, on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington Massachusetts, to Alfred
and Mary Burghardt DuBois. He passed away gently in the West African nation of
Ghana on August 27, 1963 where he had gone at the invitation of President
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah to start work on an Encyclopedia Africana. Nkrumah
speaking over Ghanaian radio summed up DuBois's life with simplicity and
eloquence. "Dr. DuBois", he said, "is a phenomenon. May he rest in peace." The
world's democratic and revolutionary forces over the next days would bid farewell
to DuBois as a comrade in arms. Gus Hall, General Secretary of the CPUSA, Chief
Awolo, leader of Nigeria's independence movement, Cheddi Jagan of British
Guiana, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria's National Liberation Front, President Kim Il
Sung of The People's Democratic Republic of Korea, and Walter Ulbricht of the
German Democratic Republic paid the highest tribute to his life and work. Ulbricht
wished that "the memory of Dr. DuBois--an outstanding fighter for the liberation
and prosperity of Africans--continue to live in our hearts." Chou En-lai, head of
state of China, insisted that DuBois's life was "one devoted to struggles and truth
seeking for which he finally took the road of thorough revolution." Nikita Kruschev,
General Secretary of the CPSU wrote to DuBois's wife Shirley Graham DuBois
that her husband's "shining memory" would remain forever "in the hearts of the
Paul Robeson said of him, "His is a rich life of complete dedication to the
advancement of his own people and all the oppressed and injured." He continued,
"... let us not forget that he is one of the greatest masters of our language: the
language of Shakespeare and of Milton on the one hand; and on the other, of the
strange beauty of the folk speech-- the people's speech-- of the American Negro...
"For Dr. DuBois gives us proof that the great art of the Negro has come
from the inner life of the Afro-American people themselves....and that
the roots stretch back to the African land whence they came."
DuBois, however, wrote his own last will and testament some years earlier. In his
posthumously published Autobiography, subtitled "A Soliloquy on Viewing My
Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century" he wrote, "I have studied
communism long and carefully in lands where they are practiced and in
conversation with their adherents, and with wide reading. I now state my
conclusion frankly and clearly: I believe in communism." He declared, "I shall
therefore hereafter help the triumph of communism in every honest way that I
can...I know well that the triumph of communism will be a slow and difficult task,
involving mistakes of every sort. It will call for progressive change in human nature
and a better type of manhood than is common today. I believe this possible, or
otherwise we will continue to lie, steal and kill as we are doing today." The path he
traveled to arrive at this conclusion was complex, often contradictory, yet filled with
DuBois's scientific and scholarly work were organically intertwined with his life and
revolutionary activity. The profound importance of his scientific achievements were
that they laid the materialist foundation for the study of race and racial oppression.
He established that racism and colonialism were central organizing mechanisms of
the modern world. That they stood along side and were in dialectical relationship to
the system of capitalist exploitation. In the end, the world could not be understood
or changed without grasping this central dynamic.
THE PATHS OF HIS SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT
The ultimate form of DuBois's scientific work is inseparable from his humble and
working class beginnings. His family was one of an estimated thirty five African
Americans families living in the Berkshires at the time of his birth. While race
prejudice was not unknown to whites or Blacks in Great Barrington, it in no way
took on the violence and brutality of the South's Jim Crow segregation. As he
reached his teenage years he knew he was racially different than most of his
classmates, however, he overcame the affects of prejudice through becoming an
academic overachiever. And he could in this racially ambiguous environment fall
back upon the fact that while the blood of Africa flooded his veins, there was as he
said a "strain of French, a bit of Dutch". His racial identity, however, would only
achieve its permanent anchorage when he began college in Nashville Tennessee at
the historically African American Fisk University. Still, it was his humble roots and
his experience with racial prejudice, albeit considerably milder than the bulk of
African Americans were experiencing in the South, that shaped within him a
democratic sensibility early on. At the age of fourteen in his first published articles
appearing in The New York Globe, an African American newspaper published by
the radical T. Thomas Fortune, DuBois evidenced a moral rejection of racism. A
moral sensibility which would assert itself throughout his life, finding intellectual
expression in his greatest works.
At Fisk University his general democratic leanings were deepened. As he would put
it, it was during this period that he "learned to be a Negro." The summer after his
sophomore year was spent in the poverty ridden Black Belt of rural Tennessee. He
later wrote, he "touched the very shadow of slavery." DuBois biographer David
Levering Lewis writes of this period,
Wilson County, Tennessee, would remain in his memory bank for a
lifetime, influencing a prose to which he was beginning to give a mythic
spin, his conception of what he would later call the black proletariat, and
most profoundly, his gestating, romantic idea about African American
This early experience with the Black Belt proletariat would germinate throughout
his life finding theoretical and social scientific expression in among other works The
Souls of Black Folk(1903),"The African Roots of the War" (1914) and eventually
in his monumental Black Reconstruction (1935).
In the Fall of 1888 after graduating from Fisk he entered Harvard to pursue an
undergraduate degree in philosophy. He found his Harvard professors no more
qualified than those at Fisk, only better known. He would at Harvard come in
contact with the new liberal racism and philosophical pragmatism, US imperialism's
emerging philosophical and ideological paradigms.
The intellectual high point of DuBois' Harvard years was a fifty-two page
handwritten essay entitled "The Renaissance of Ethics: A Critical Comparison of
Scholastic and Modern Ethics", prepared for a course taught by the American
pragmatist William James. Pragmatism as articulated by James and later John
Dewey held that human knowledge was severely limited to immediate experience.
As such the possibilities for changing the world were restricted to the limitations of
human knowledge. Human beings had to, more or less, make due with minor
reforms in existing societies. Capitalism, racism and colonialism, in this rendering,
were, therefore, immutable and even expressions of human nature. This was the
reactionary essence of pragmatism. There were, as a consequence, no revolutionary
alternatives to poverty, exploitation and racism. Pragmatism's roots must be traced
to British empiricism and skepticism, and because of its subjective idealist
substance shares a similar philosophical zone with logical positivism. Both
positivism and pragmatism were viewed by their proponents as alternatives to
dialectical and historical materialism. For the young DuBois pragmatist's limitations
on knowledge and transforming the world were intellectually unacceptable, but
more rang untrue.
In his paper DuBois proposed an elemental materialist alternative to pragmatism. In
fact, he proposed answers to pragmatism, which in their larger significance, were
not unlike the alternatives to idealist philosophy posited by Marx in Capital and
Engels in Anti-Duhring and The Dialectics of Nature. What DuBois essentially
argued was that the ethical and moral imperative was determined on the basis of
what actions they led to. While it cannot be said that DuBois at this stage of his
intellectual development had discovered a consistent philosophical position, his
instincts were certainly in the right direction. In this regard, his term paper for
William James was a harbinger of his future intellectual and ideological materialism.
At the root of his argument was the idea that morality and ethics rather than being
issues of pure reflection, as Kant and following him much of Western philosophy,
were to the contrary matters decided in life and through practice.
After receiving his undergraduate degree and being accepted to Harvard's graduate
program in the social sciences he expressed the view that he would apply the
principles of the social sciences "to the social and economic rise of the Negro
At the very moment when DuBois was deciding upon his life's vocation the US
ruling class was facing the specter of a rising working class which was challenging
the citadels of capital. The Haymarket repression and the wave of railroad strikes in
1886 was the beginning, followed by the Pinkerton carnage at the Homestead
Steelworks outside Pittsburgh and the massacre of copper miners at Coeur d'Alene,
Colorado in 1892. The assault upon the rights of labor in the late 1880's and
throughout the 1890's coincided with the wave of lynchings and KKK terrorism
against Blacks in the South and the Supreme Court's legalization of racism in its
Plessey v Ferguson decision in 1896.
As a graduate student DuBois was confronted by the new economic doctrine which
claimed to answer the Marxian formulation that capitalist profits flow from the
exploitation of labor. In a 158 page critique and analysis of this new economics
entitled "A Constructive Critique of Wage Theory" he argued, in social democratic
fashion, for restrictions upon the unfettered maximization of profit. While this paper
fails as a theoretical reformulation, it proposed that from a ethical standpoint society
was obligated to moderate profits in the interests of a fair distribution of incomes
and wealth. The significance of the paper in terms of DuBois's later intellectual
development is a two page examination of Marx's labor theory of value. For the
first time we have evidence of DuBois' interest in Marxian economics.
Upon the completion of the course work for his Harvard doctorate DuBois applied
for and received a fellowship to do graduate studies at the University of Berlin. His
intention was to study philosophy and economics. He studied German philosophy,
especially Hegel's Science of Logic and The Phenomenology of Mind, as well as
Marxian social theory. He also studied the innovative historical research methods
than in vogue in the German academy. He, as well, attended meetings in working
class Pankow district of Berlin of the German Social Democratic Party. He later
said that his interest in socialism at this time was exploratory and that he did not
grasp the differences between Marxism and the revisionism of Lasalle, Bebel and
Karl Kautsky. These issues, he said, were "too complicated for a student like
myself to understand." He blamed his student status for inhibiting "close personal
acquaintanceship with workers, which in his Autobiography he felt he needed for
a full understanding of socialism.
As at Harvard, while in Berlin DuBois spent much of his time alone, reflecting upon
the world and his possible contribution to changing it. Many of these reflections
were entered in his diary. One particularly significant entry made on his twenty fifth
birthday. A stream of conscious consideration upon his life tells us much about
mental processes, which combined imagination, poetic and courageous leaps and
intellectual rigor. he declared in his diary, "The hot dark blood of a black
forefather--born king of men-- is beating at my heart, and I know that I am either a
genius or a fool. O I wonder what I am-- I wonder what the world is-- I wonder if
live is worth striving...I do know: be the truth what it may, I will seek it on the pure
assumption that it is worth seeking--and Heaven nor Hell, God nor Devil shall turn
me from my purpose till I die... there is a grandeur in the very hopelessness of such
a life--? and is life all?" He then conclude, "These are my plans: to make a name in
science, to make a name in literature and thus to raise my race. " And then, "I
wonder what will be the outcome? Who knows?... and if I perish--I PERISH."
The historical methodology of both Marx and Hegel, and contemporary German
academicians, along with deepening studies of the race question, helped to convince
him that racial oppression must be understood as part and parcel of the world
system of economic relations and thus its elimination would have world historic
meaning. He became further convinced that only the most advanced scientific and
philosophical methods could advance understanding of this system. In this regard he
sought to do for the issue of racial oppression what Marx had achieved for class
In respect to his intellectual development his work began to combine social
scientific data and analysis with historical studies. He began what he hoped would
be his doctoral dissertation at the University of Berlin (which if successful would
have become the first of two Ph.D.'s), a study of the land tenure system in the US
south. We glimpse what that dissertation might have looked like from a term paper
entitled "The Large and Small Scale System of Agriculture in the Southern United
States 1840--1890". It presented his research, using the materialist methods than
popular among German historians from the bottom up. That is form the standpoint
of the peasantry and agricultural workers. This was a further development of his
philosophical materialism and its application to historical, economic and sociological
inquiry. However, the world would never see that dissertation, because the
semester before he was to complete his courses his fellowship was cut. David
Levering Lewis who looked into this situation suggests DuBois' failure to win a
German doctorate resulted from a combination of circumstance and the sinister.
DuBois' German professors were effusive in their support of his academic work.
They were prepared to trim off a semester of work so as to allow him to get started
on writing his thesis. Johns Hopkins President Daniel Gilman a trustee of the Slater
Fund, from which DuBois was receiving his scholarship, however, expressed the
view that `Negro education' should be more practical and that DuBois' program of
study had become too rarefied for a Negro. This was an expression in DuBois' life
of white liberal racism which was now throwing its support to Booker T.
Washington and the gospel that Blacks should "put your buckets down where you
are." Blacks with doctorates from prestigious German universities were not a
priority in the new racist atmosphere.
Returning to Harvard he completed his dissertation in 1896, entitled, "The
Suppression of the Slave trade to the United States of america 1638--1870", which
a few years later was published as the first volume in the prestigious Harvard
Historical Series. In spite of the achievement in the Suppression six decades later
when a new edition was being prepared for publication DuBois included an
"Apologia". He criticized the book, asserting that what was needed was "to add to
my terribly conscientious search into the facts...the clear concept of Marx on the
class struggle for income and power..."
After receiving his Ph.D. DuBois was offered a teaching position at Wilberforce
College a small African american college in Ohio. After a year of teaching at
Wilberforce he was contacted by a group of upper class Philadelphia Quakers to
conduct a study of the African American community in Philadelphia. They felt that
such a study could embarrass the corrupt city administration. DuBois was offered
an ‘assistantship' at the University of Pennsylvania, which meant the University
would pay his salary, but he was neither allowed to live on its racially segregated
campus or to teach in its all white classrooms. For two years DuBois his and wife
Nina Gomer Du Bois lived in the 7th Ward in the heart of the Black ghetto at the
corner of 7th and Lombard (across from Mother Bethel African Methodist
Episcopal Church founded by the anti-racist radical Richard Allen) where he
worked on what became the Philadelphia Negro . While his sponsors had no idea
that such a major study would be produced, DuBois wrote a book that initiated the
field of urban sociology and advanced empirical sociology itself.
What the Philadelphia Negro achieved, in spite of an overdose of stern Victorian
moralizing and a preaching to poor African Americans to conduct themselves in
acceptable ways, was to empirically verify the social and class origins of poverty
and inequality. He substantially showed that the Black ghetto was a creation of
poverty and racism, rather than the so-called innate inferiority and supposed
criminal tendencies of African Americans.
Upon the completion of his research in Philadelphia he took a teaching position at
Atlanta University, an historically African American institution. For ten years he
would not only teach, but became the prime mover of annual conferences which
drew scholars from around the world to examine the social, economic, historical
and cultural roots of Black inequality. He led researchers who produced a series of
monographs and papers known as the Atlanta Studies, one of the most significant
bodies of scientific research on Black folk at the beginning of the twentieth century.
AFRICA ROOTS OF WAR AND BLACK RECONSTRUCTION
Landmarks of DuBois's scientific development are found in his Atlantic Monthly
article "The African Roots of the War" and the Black Reconstruction. Together
they demonstrate DuBois' full intellectual powers and his development of Marxism.
"The African Roots of the War" parallels Lenin's Imperialism The Highest Stage
of Capitalism and in several formulations anticipates it by two years. Like Lenin
he viewed world economic relationships as being now dominated by finance
capital--a new situation where banks controlled industrial and merchant capital. The
merger of industrial and bank capital under the hegemony of big bank capital Lenin
called finance capital. The nation itself, as Lenin and DuBois saw it, was now under
the heal of the financier, who through the export of capital were carving out
economic spheres throughout the world. DuBois makes his argument from the
standpoint that a new epoch in world history had arrived. What Lenin would define
as the imperialist stage of capitalism, which made capitalism overripe for revolution.
But DuBois saw Africa as the weakest link in the imperialist chain. It is worth
commenting at this point upon DuBois' alleged support of the US participation in
WWI. To understand what was a tactical maneuver on his part was the attempt to
play US against German imperialism in the interest of gaining time for and
strengthening the position of the anti-colonial forces in Africa and the anti-racists in
the US. Furthermore, DuBois' stance after the war at the Versailles Peace
Conference is significant. Again his stance was a consistently anti-colonial position,
geared to use the contradictions between European colonial powers and their
weakened position after the war to advance the cause of African freedom. At this
stage he indeed harbored illusions about the possible role of the US as an ally of the
African struggle. And it should be remembered in evaluating DuBois' position that
right at the moment of the Versailles Conference he called the First Pan African
Congress, dedicated to the joint struggle and liberation of Africans and their
descendants in the Americas and the Caribbean.
David Levering Lewis evaluates DuBois' "African Roots" as "one of the analytical
triumphs of the early twentieth century." He goes on to contextualize the work in
the following manner:
DuBois poured into it his mature ideas about capitalism, class and
race...The essay opened with a novel proposition--that, 'in a very real
sense' Africa was the prime cause of the World War. Using a quotation
from Pliny as his text--'Semper novi quid ex Africa' ('Africa is always
producing something new')--DuBois passed in kaleidoscopic review the
ravages of African history from earliest times to the European
Renaissance, Stanely's two-year charge from the source of the Congo
River to its mouth in 1879, the partition five years later of the continent
at the Berlin Conference, and the miasma of Christianity and commerce
suffocating indigenous cultures and kingdoms. European hegemony
based on technological superiority had produced the 'color line', which
became 'in the world's thought synonymous with inferiority...Africa was
another name for bestiality and barbarism.' The color line paid huge
dividends, and DuBois described the 'lying treaties , rivers of rum,
murder, assassination, rape and torture' excused in the name of racial
superiority with his staple power and imagery.
DuBois posited that finance capital had produced mutually exclusive and competing
economic spheres controlled by differing imperialist nations for the sake of
exploiting peoples and natural resources. A situation which would inevitably cause
DuBois makes a crucial discovery concerning the nation, big bourgeois nationalism
and white chauvinism. He argued that bourgeois democracy, big power nationalism
and imperialism went hand in glove. And that the democracy of the imperialist
bourgeoisie was but a mechanism for its expansion and a cover for its barbarity.
Bourgeois rhetoric about democracy and the so-called common interests of workers
and capitalists was but a ploy DuBois argued, to win labor to the so-called national
interest as defined by imperialism. DuBois put it bluntly, "it is the nation, a new
democratic nation composed of united capital and labor," where "[t]he white
workingman has been asked to share the spoils of exploiting 'chinks and niggers'."
Even though labor's percentage of the gross was minimal, its 'equity is recognized.'
What Lenin proposed, however, and which was not present in DuBois's analysis,
was the concept of the labor aristocracy, a bought off section of labor leaders who
actually did share in the spoils, at the expense of the interests of the labor
movement as a whole. But more, the nation, its political, economic and cultural
resources were transformed into a mechanism of imperialist expansion and war.
However, as a result the nation itself is spoiled, corrupted and destroyed as
monopolies become transnational corporation. The working class is for the
imperialist bourgeoisie nothing by fodder for its wars to control the world. In this
sense Lenin's concept of capitalist social relations being overripe for revolution
carries with it Marx's warning made with respect to the class struggle in France, that
when a revolutionary situation is in place and neither of the major classes is able to
win a circumstance leading to the `destruction of all classes' is possible. It is this
ruing of nations and classes by imperialism that DuBois saw. World Wars are but
its most horrific expression.
The lasting strength of DuBois's analysis , however, was how he understood the
`scramble for Africa' as the central cause of World War I. And how the `scramble
for Africa' imparted an irreversible and overriding racist nature to the colonial
system and imperialism in general. Therefore, World War I had a racist imprint.
DuBois' understanding of the historical evolution of European bourgeois nationalism
and his recognition that it in substance had become a racist nationalism is of lasting
significance. This feature would take on its most extreme forms with the rise of
Nazism in Germany.
Black Reconstruction which appeared almost twenty years after "The African
Roots of the War" in essence is an extension of the DuBoisian development of the
class-race dialectic, and thus a fundamental contribution to the development of
Marxism. It was conceived not only as a scholarly study, but as a theoretical
justification of the inevitability of socialism. The study is an examination of the
period after the Civil War when the forces of democracy were hegemonic in the
former states of the Confederacy. DuBois suggests this was the most democratic
period not only in the history of the South, but of the nation. He suggests that under
the right conditions the democratic remaking of the South could have possibly gone
over to the dictatorship of the proletariat, if not throughout the South, at least in
several states. He felt that this could have sparked a socialist revolution throughout
the nation. He, thus, saw the Civil War, the overturning of slavery and the period of
Reconstruction as a single revolutionary period, with Reconstruction constituting a
revolutionary democratic situation pregnant with deeper revolutionary possibilities.
A crucial feature of his thesis was the centrality of the African American question to
democracy and the class struggle. While Black Reconstruction focused upon the
pre-imperialist stage of capitalist development in the US, when combined with the
earlier "The African Roots of the War" a single logic is apparent. That logic is based
upon DuBois's notion of the fundamental nature of the unity of the class struggle
and the struggles against racial oppression and colonialism.
The central conclusions that can be made from an examination of these two basic
works are the following: First, the unity of the class struggle and the struggles
against racism and colonialism are central to the struggles for democracy and
socialism; secondly, the imperialist stage of capitalist development ushers in a new
epoch where the anti-colonial struggle assumes a larger role in the fight for peace
and socialism; and thirdly, that Great Power nationalism leads to the ruin of nations
and peoples and to war. These ideas would be further developed in Color And
Democracy: Colonies and Peace (1945) and The World and Africa (1947).
DuBois' scientific work, presents essentially a single line of
philosophical-theoretical-ideological development, albeit with zig-zags and certain
inconsistencies. Nonetheless, DuBois's radicalism is congealed by the end of the
second decade of this century in a strong Marxist theoretical-ideological stance.
DuBois's Marxism, like his radicalism, was creative, taking into account the specific
conditions of US capitalism. Perhaps more than any thinker of this century he fully
saw the profound significance of racism and colonial oppression in the development
of capitalism and how the struggles against racism and colonialism are central to the
fight for democracy and revolution.
THE NIAGARA MOVEMENT
DuBois was an initiator and leader of many mass movements. The Niagara
Movement, the NAACP, Pan Africanism, and the Council on African Affairs are
high points of his organizational activity. Besides which he founded, published and
edited any number of journals and magazines, The Moon, The Horizon, Phylon,
and the high point of his publishing and editing careers The Crisis, the magazine of
the NAACP, which he founded and edited for over twenty five years.
What is crucial in understanding DuBois as a leader of mass movements is how his
ideological positions animated and interacted with his organizational activity. From
this standpoint the major debates and polemics he waged with leaders within the
African American struggle, such as the ones with Booker T. Washington and
Marcus Garvey, are central.
The DuBois-Booker T. Washington debate which begins at the start of the century
and rages until Washington's death in 1915 defined the terms of the African
American struggle. Washington assumed the mantle of "leader of the race" after the
death of Frederick Douglass in 1895. Washington became known as the `Great
Accommodator', because of his willingness to accommodate the aspirations of
Black folk to the reemergence of racism. The terms of the great compromise to
racism as understood by Washington was expressed in the equation "Duty without
Rights". Rather than fight for the right to vote and other civil rights, the obligation
of Blacks was to serve whites and subordinate themselves to the white ruling class.
and that eventually whites would reward our service by granting us rights. In the
meantime, Washington urged Blacks to `put your buckets down where you are'.
Washington's deal was a Faustian Bargain--an agreement with the devil. DuBois's
Souls of Black Folk answered the liberal and conservative racists and Booker T.
Washington's accommodation to them.. It is here that DuBois proclaimed that `The
Problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line'.
To grasp the meaning of this statement in its historical context those to whom it was
addressed must be understood. The two main targets were neo-racism, the
so-called liberal racism of monopoly capitalism, and Booker T. Washington
accomodationist line. The two were political ideological bedfellows; each cross
fertilized the other.
The Souls of Black Folk was for the struggle of the African American people what
the Communist Manifesto was for the class struggle in Europe in the mid 19th
century and the Declaration of Independence was for the American revolutionaries.
It, however, suffered from a failure to address the class question. A problem
addressed head on by DuBois a year after its publication. At a public speech on Des
Moines Iowa he insisted that the color line "was but the sign of growing class
privilege and caste distinction in America, and not, as some fondly imagine, the
cause of it. (quote taken from Lewis: 313)" Having said this the overriding question
for DuBois remained the color line and Booker T. Washington's accommodation to
The Souls of Black Folk and the color line as the problem of the twentieth century
can be illuminated by also placing alongside them DuBois's John Brown. By the
turn of the century DuBois had certainly concluded that to overturn the new system
of segregation and racism would require a renewed revolutionary struggle and
certainly the loss of blood. In this respect DuBois saw himself continuing the line of
struggle of Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey, Harriet Tubman, Soujouner Truth and
Frederick Douglass. The Souls his then a call to arms, not a call to vote, even if
Black folk had the franchise. Its essence is revolutionary and democratic, not as
some contend cultural nationalism. As with the anti-slavery struggle DuBois
understood that Black people would need white allies. Hence the example of John
Brown. As he put it in the opening of the book:
John Brown worked not simply for Black Men-- he worked with them;
and he was a companion of their daily life, knew their faults and virtues
and felt, as few white Americans have felt, the bitter tragedy of their lot.
The story of John Brown , then , cannot be complete unless due
emphasis is given this. And then DuBois observed, "He came to them on
a plane of perfect equality.."
John Brown became an archetype of the white ally, the anti-racist, the white
revolutionary. It appears at the very time the NAACP was being formed and can be
considered a guidepost for what the Blacks in the Niagara Movement would expect
of their white allies in the NAACP.
By the summer of 1905 a cadre of radical African American democrats, many
college educated and professionals, arrived at the conclusion that it now rested upon
their shoulders to strike the first blow on behalf of the freedom of their people. A
Call for the convening of a conference to begin "organized determination and
aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth", to
open July 10 in Ontario Canada (on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls). The
conference began what became known as the Niagara Movement. Thirty nine men
made up the first conference. Monroe Trotter and DuBois drafted the Declaration
of Principles. It declared, "we refuse to allow the impression to remain that the
Negro American assents to inferiority...that he is submissive under oppression and
apologetic before insults. Through helplessness we may submit, but the voice of
protest of ten million Americans must never cease to assail the ears of their fellows,
so long as America is unjust." They called for an all-sided assault upon racism and
inequality where ever it was to be found, including the policies of the Samuel
Gompers led AFL for the practice of "proscribing and boycotting and oppressing
thousands of their fellow-toilers, simply because they are black." Proclaiming the
beginning of a new era of protest they spoke in words that have resonated
throughout the century.
The Negro race in America stolen, ravished and degraded, struggling up
through difficulties and oppression, needs sympathy and receives
criticism; needs help and is given hinderance, needs protection and is
given mob-violence, needs justice and is given charity, needs leadership
and is given cowardice and apology, needs bread and is given a stone.
this nation will never stand justified before God until these things are
Symbolic of the identification of the Niagara Movement with the nation's
revolutionary and abolitionist past was the holding of the second conference in
Harper's Ferry West Virginia to celebrate "the 100th anniversary of John Brown's
birth, and the 50th jubilee of the battle of Osawatomie."
The Niagara Movement and the sharpening repression against African Americans
which was dramatically demonstrated in the Atlanta riots of 1906, sharpened
DuBois's radicalism. In 1907 he assumed the editorship of a new magazine named
The Horizon: A Journal of the Color Line. In its second issue DuBois declared
his faith in socialism. He was, as he put it, a "socialist-of -the-path". The natural
allies of Black folk were, he declared, not "the rich, but the poor, not the great, but
the masses, not the employer, but the employees." He believed that America was
approaching a time when railroads, coal mines, and many factories can and ought
be run by the public for the public." And he asserted, "the one great hope of the
Negro American" is socialism. The Niagara movement would convene annually
until 1910, when it was superseded by the more broadly based civil rights
organization the NAACP. Most of those in the Niagara Movement joined the new
organization, with DuBois becoming a member of its executive board and editor of
it monthly journal The Crisis. The Niagara Movement is the predecessor to the
NAACP. The origins of the NAACP, therefore, are in the 1905 Niagara
Conference. Monroe Trotter and Ida Welles Barnett, radicals from the Niagara
Movement and socialist like DuBois and Mary White Ovington joined with liberal
anti-racist like Joel A. Spingarn and Oswald Villard to form a broader and larger
organization. Nevertheless the Niagara Movement left an indelible mark on future
struggles. Its most important achievement was that it gave an organized form to the
left and socialist forces within the African community, who were prepared to take
on Booker T. Washington and his backers. By so doing they laid the basis for a
new level of left-center unity against racism. By rekindling the fires of protest they
established that freedom would only be achieved through struggle; realizing in life
the dictum of the great Frederick Douglass, "Without struggle there is no progress,
there never has been and there never will be."
As the executive secretary of the Niagara Movement DuBois proved himself an
able organizer. Added to his proven skills as a scholar, journalist, propagandist,
editor and publisher, he stood as a potent force and invaluable resource in his
peoples struggle and a force which would have to be reckoned with by all sides.
As the first decade of the century moved to a close DuBois's concept of the alliance
between the African American people and labor , between racism and class
exploitation deepened. In the interest of advancing this strategic notion and while
keeping heat on Booker T. Washington he attacked the "color-blindness" of certain
left liberals and socialists. The philosopher John Dewey, for instance, that racism
deprived society of social capital. This instrumental explanation made no mention of
the denial of the vote and other civil rights to Blacks. Eugene V. Debs, the nation's
leading socialist, articulated the view that the Socialist Party could not "make
separate appeals to all races..." "There is," he stated, "no `Negro problem' apart
from the general labor problem." After the 1912 presidential election, where Debs
got over 1 million votes, DuBois would declare, `the magnificent Debs', as he called
him, wrong. "The Negro problem, then, is the great test of the American socialists."
As Booker Washington became more reactionary DuBois became more merciless in
his attack upon his program. Washington, he insisted, was the past, the Niagara
Movement the future. He tied the `Great Accommodator' to monopoly capital.
Accommodation DuBois argued was submission pure and simple. "The vested
interest", DuBois wrote in May 1910, "who so largely support Mr. Washington's
program are to a large extent men who wish to raise in the South a body of black
laboring men who can be used as clubs to keep white laborers from demanding too
With the founding of the NAACP DuBois for the first time became a full time
employee of an organization other than a college or university. As Levering Lewis
put it, "The problem of the twentieth century impelled him from mobilizing racial
data to becoming the prime mobilizer of a race.(408)" DuBois's imprint was
considerable upon the organization from its outset. The name itself bares the
imprint of DuBois's worldview. Rather than having Negro or black in its name the
new organization used the term colored, because as DuBois saw things the
Association should fight the color line on a world scale and thus fight for the rights
of all peoples of color and all victims of racism and colonialism. DuBois would
become the editor of the NAACP's journal, named (and once again reflecting his
ideological impact on the new organization) The Crisis: A Record of the Darker
Races. No one could have predicted the success and impact of the journal. It
eventually would reach over 150,000 African American households, become the
main instrument for forming Black opinion. It manifested DuBois's militant brand
of journalism. The Crisis, according to Levering Lewis, traced its roots from
Frederick Douglass's North Star, and William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator back to
North America's first newspaper published by person's of African descent, Samuel
Eli Cornish and John Russwurm's Freedom Journal.
However, while the terrain of struggle had shifted the essence had not. The decline
of Booker Washington had shifted the terms of the fight. On the horizon was World
War, President Woodrow Wilson's drive to make the world safe for imperialism
with a human face, the rise of the nationalist Marcus Garvey, whose aim was to
extend the program of Booker Washington to Africa and the Caribbean, the
appearance of the `New Negro'--a movement of militant intellectuals-- and
significantly for the development of DuBois' world view,the Russian Revolution
and the rise of the world communist and national liberation forces. In the face of
these events, pregnant with danger and enormous possibilities, DuBois' direction
was clear--everything to the front of struggle for African American freedom.
His greatest battles within the NAACP were with white and Black liberals who
preached caution and compromise. DuBois's militant anti-imperialism and support
for the Russian Revolution made the liberals uncomfortable. He became after 1919
the central figure in the rise of the Pan African Movement which linked the struggle
for equality to the struggle for African independence. This movement became
another way of fighting the `color line' on a world scale. He used the The Crisis to
assail lynchings, police brutality, the rise of the KKK and pogroms against African
Americans. In one editorial he excoriated Jim Crow mob`justice', where Black men
were regularly lynched in the North and South on trumped up charges of raping
white women. DuBois declared the crime of Black men was their blackness.
"Blackness" he said, "is the crime of crimes... It is therefore necessary, as every
white scoundrel in the nation knows, to let slip no opportunity of punishing this
crime of crimes." Reflecting the rising spirit of resistance, DuBois would editorially
declare in The Crisis, "But let every black American gird his loins. The great day is
coming. We have crawled and pleaded for justice and we have been cheerfully spit
upon and murdered and burned. We will not endure it forever." And than the words
that would inspire Claude McKay's revolutionary poem, DuBois demanded, "If we
must die, in God's name let us perish like men and not like bales of hay."
Going beyond what liberals, pro-capitalists and `respectable' civil rights leaders
could stomach, DuBois linked his calls for militant, even armed, resistance, to racist
violence to anti-imperialism and internationalism. His Pan Africanism was,
therefore, qualitatively different from Garvey's pro-imperialist big business oriented
version. Garvey was mainly interested in business contacts and relationships with
Africa and was at best only inconsistently anti-colonial. Yet, for millions of African
Americans who faced the rise of racism in the late teens, for whom the North,
rather than the promised land, was more of the same old Jim Crow, now occurring
in large city ghettos, Garvey's calls for self improvement and self uplift through
hard work were appealing. For DuBois after the rhetoric was swept aside Garvey
was proposing more submission and acceptance of oppression here in the US and in
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND IMPERIALIST WAR
The World War and the Russian Revolution were united as part of a single cloth in
DuBois's world view. The War represented the fact that the greed of the capitalist
class had plunged Europe into chaos, occasioning a profound European
civilizational crisis, with more long term meaning than the War itself or the
economic depression which followed it. As he put it, Western civilization had met
its Waterloo. He lectured the US ruling class concerning its racist double standard. "
The civilization by which America insists on measuring us and to which we must
conform our natural tastes and inclinations" he insisted, "is the daughter of that
European civilization which is now rushing furiously to its doom." And he
impatiently proclaimed that as soon as the stinking edifices of racism and class
exploitation crumble, the sooner the world would be bathed "in a golden hue that
harks back to the heritage of Africa and the tropics." Imperialism, he demanded,
had consumed European civilization transforming it into it opposite and
emasculating it of its humane qualities.
While Woodrow Wilson was proclaiming his `Fourteen Freedoms' which under US
tutelage was to make the `world safe for democracy', African Americans were
being lynched and massacred from the Black Belt South, to East St. Louis and the
South Side of Chicago. Once again DuBois warned the nation, and the ruling class
in particular, "We are perfectly well aware that the outlook for us is not
encouraging...We, the American Negroes, are the acid test for occidental
civilization. If we perish we perish." And in the most stern language he warned,
"But when we fall, we shall fall like Samson, dragging inevitably with us the pillars
of a nation's democracy." Racism, thus, could not, and he would not, view it as a
`Negro problem', if not solved it would destroy the nation.
DuBois increasingly viewed the Russian Revolution as the opposite of racism,
exploitation, war and the civilizational crisis they propelled. He viewed the Russian
Revolution as creating the material bases to create a global emancipatory alliance of
Russia and the darker races. A position not that far from the strategic thinking of
Lenin who urged the Communist to support the revolutions in the Third World
because here was imperialism's weak link. He especially called for special attention
to India and China and foresaw an alliance of Soviet Russia, India and China as
constituting the majority of the planet's population and thus main specific weight of
the world revolutionary process. DuBois would propose that a belief in humanity
"means a belief in colored men." and that "The future world will, in all reasonable
probability, be what colored make it."
His position on the civilizational dimensions of racism began to take form in an
article published in 1910 in an article entitled "The Souls of White Folk".He argued
that "Those in whose minds the paleness of their bodily skins is fraught with
tremendous and eternal significance" had foisted a unique racial perversion upon
humankind. He went on to insist, as he challenged the racist view of history, that in
the sweep of history the achievements of white folk were as recent as yesterday.
He condemned as tragicomic arrogance, a joke were its consequences not so
horrible, the presumption that "whiteness alone is candy to the world child." This
tragicomic view of world history undergird both liberal and conservative racists and
was part of the ideological arsenal of Presidents and KKKers.
The Russian Revolution for DuBois was contextualized within broad civilizational
terms. It embraced it from the outset. Upon his return from his first trip to the
Soviet Union in 1927 he declared, "If what I have seen is Bolshevism than I am a
Bolshevik." The fate of humankind rested with the success or failure of the
Communist in Russia to consolidate their revolution. In this endeavor they deserved
the support of all fighters against the color line. This stance he maintained until his
DUBOIS AND THE CPUSA
Gerald Horne indicates that DuBois's relationships with the CPUSA was of long
standing and thoroughly principled. DuBois was friendly with James W. Ford the
African American Communist who ran for Vice President in 1932 on the ticket with
party chairman William Z. Foster. He was also friendly with Foster whom he lent
books to, as Horne tells us, one on Haiti, for Foster's 'complex historical studies"
which DuBois praised highly. "But the comrade to whom DuBois probably had the
closest relationship was Foster's ideological compatriot, the Amherst and
Harvard-trained lawyer, Ben Davis. (306)" It was this close relationship that
naturally brought DuBois to the forefront in the struggle to defend Communist
during the Cold War. In fact, there are few who did more than DuBois to campaign
against the imprisonment of Eugene Dennis , Ben Davis, Gus Hall, Henry Winston,
George Meyer, William L. Patterson, James Jackson and others. The wife of
George Meyers, for example, was highly appreciative of how positively DuBois's
writings had affected her jailed husband (Horne:302).
Thus, according to Horne, "DuBois' formal casting of his lot with the Communist
was not an aberration(296). Neither was it an aberration or a radical departure from
logic of his ideological and political trajectories.
US imperialism's drive to turn the twentieth century into the `American Century'
did not cause DuBois to retreat, but "to deepen his study of
Marxism-Leninism"--even though he was than in his eighties. (Horne:289) And
while DuBois had done a thorough study of Marx in the 1930's and produced one
of the great Marxist classics by 1935, by 1954 he was "reading again Lenin's
Imperialism" and searching for the "best logical follow-up of his argument."
In his letter to Gus Hall requesting membership in the Communist Party of the
USA, "on this first day of October" 1961, he openly acknowledged past differences
with the Party on "tactics in the case of the Scottsboro boys and their advocacy of
a Negro state". That aside he declared:
Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to
self-destruction...Communism...this is the only way of human life. It is a
difficult and hard end to reach--it has and will make mistakes...On this
first day of October 1961, I am applying for admission to membership in
the Communist Party of the United States.
THE LEGACY AND MESSAGE
Dr. James E. Jackson, close friend of DuBois and former leader and theoretician of
the Communist Party, summarized the life of DuBois in the following words:
"W.E.B. DuBois, the scholar and scientist, was equally a man of action. He chose
to keep the banners and goals of full equal rights flying from the halyard of
principle, no matter the difficulties and hardships." Of DuBois' "lasting testament"
His last historic deed was to dramatize his firm conviction that `capitalist
society is altogether evil.' He concluded that to finally solve the problem
of racism, to really solve the problem of poverty, and to secure peace to
the world's peoples, humankind must, sooner or later, come to the
conclusion that this old structure is beyond effective reform...
W.E.B DuBois was a great fighter for the people, a true scientist, thinker
and humanist. He held aloft a bright torch of poetic inspiration that
lightens the way and illuminates the path of all who struggle for freedom.
The questions that DuBois posed and dealt with along the way of a long
and arduous life of unceasing service and dedication to the cause of
people's progress will find resolution on the path that he chose, the route
of the great humanists and social scientists,the Marxists. (Political
Affairs, July ,1989,5)
DuBois is our future. To understand his life and legacy is to
take hold of and understand our future. To be indifferent to it
is to considerably weaken our ability to fight for and realize
humanity's, and our nation's, democratic, peaceful and
socialist future. "History cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois,"
Martin Luther King insisted. In the end we are called on to
heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who in celebrating
the 100th anniversary of DuBois' birth declared,
We cannot talk of Dr. DuBois without recognizing
that he was a radical all of his life. Some people
would like to ignore the fact that he was a
Communist in his later years. It is worth noting
that Abraham Lincoln warmly welcomed the
support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and
corresponded with him freely. In contemporary
life the English-speaking world has no difficulty
with the fact that Sean O'Casey was a literary
giant of the twentieth century and a Communist or
that Pablo Neruda is generally considered the
greatest living poet though he also served in the
Chilean Senate as a Communist. It is time to cease
muting the fact that Dr. DuBois was a genius and
chose to be a Communist. Our obsessive
anti-communism has led us into too many
quagmires to be retained as it were a mode of