9780805032635 / 0805032630

W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader


Publisher:Henry Holt & Co



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About the book:

Even as the lunch counters were being liberated in the South, W.E.B. Du Bois predicted the "... deepening class conflict within black America and superficial economic improvement at best in the lot of the great majority of black people." Always an utterer of difficult and unpopular truths, Du Bois's writing still has the ring of prophecy come true. "The inflexible truth he embraced was that, just as Africans in the United States 'under the corporate rule of monopolized wealth ... will be confined to the lowest wage group,' so the peoples of the developing world faced subordination in the global scheme of things capitalist."

The long span of Du Bois's remarkable life (95 years) embodied the essence of African American dilemmas, from the early 1870s and post-Reconstruction to the early 1960s' civil rights revolution. Honored primarily for his enormous breakthroughs in black scholarship, urban sociology, and civil rights, Du Bois also paradoxically "... espoused racial and political beliefs of such variety and seeming contradiction as to bewilder and alienate as many Americans, black and white, as he inspired or converted." Marxism, in his old age, would supersede civil liberties as his ideological foundation.

The contradictions, the uncompromising brilliance, the allure, still has David L. Lewis asking, "Who is Du Bois, the man?" The more the details of his early life are probed, the more evident it becomes that Du Bois's "facts" differ from how he wrote about them. He crafted "a grand prose wherein the 'golden river' flowing near his birthplace is in fact the highly polluted Housatonic River; the 'mighty [Burghardt] clan' of his mother's people is in reality a hardscrabble band of peasant landholders clinging to postage-stamp-size holdings; the dashing cavalier father, Alfred Du Bois, is an army deserter and philanderer; and the 'gentle and decent poverty' of his childhood is more often sharp and deep." Are such discrepancies significant? In as much, claims Lewis, that they represent Du Bois's cultivation of his outsider vision--a stance articulated in his 1903 classic, The Soul of Black Folk, which describes the essential and necessary double-consciousness of the American black.

In his concentrated but vastly informative introduction, David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois, posits four career turning points that shaped this highly charged political life--from the disputes between Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey to the New York-NAACP years (1934) and the internal rift caused by Du Bois's fearless denunciations to the halls of academe to a run for the U.S. Senate at the age of 82. His directorship of the Peace Information Center (PIC), which advocated nuclear disarmament, would get him declared a foreign agent. Turning to communism, even as Khrushchev disclosed the Stalin-era crimes and Soviet atrocities, he exiled himself to West Africa. The timing seemed ironic. The American civil rights revolution was just gathering force.

This vast collection of the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois is organized under 15 headings to reflect the philosophical shifts and changes in a long and contradictory life. Each section is introduced by Lewis with commentary on where Du Bois stood historically in relation to issues of race and, where appropriate, elucidating on the issues. Lewis's selections from the Du Bois opus arise from a vast and confident knowledge. Students of race and the civil rights movement in American history will want to add this remarkable collection of Du Bois's essential writings to their library. -Hollis Giammatteo

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