Issue 10 • Volume 12
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is a renowned civil rights activist, educator, journalist, and poet during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he further shaped black culture by leading the Niagara Movement, establishing himself as the co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), developed in 1909, and by becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Du Bois acted as the founding editor of The Crisis, the official magazine for the NAACP. He was able to study with many renowned social thinkers of that time and led his life teaching with lifelong activism and liberation struggles. Du Bois' several Harlem Renaissance literary works such as The Souls of Black Folk, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, and Black Reconstruction have given a new understanding of black culture and prejudice.
Du Bois was brought up in a relatively tolerant community. While earning his bachelorâ€™s degree at Fisk University (1885-1888) in Nashville, Tennessee, he eventually encountered the racism of Jim Crow South. He witnessed the poverty of his people and the prejudices held against them. He was unaware that such conditions existed when growing up. Du Bois paid his expenses through summer jobs teaching, scholarships, and loans from friends. In order to learn more about the racial problems in America, he taught at a county school. He proceeded his education at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and took a bachelor of arts cum laude in 1890. A year later, Du Bois obtained his Masters of Arts. In 1895, he was recognized as the first African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. For thirteen years, Du Bois was a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897 to 1910. In this time he wrote about African American morality, education, and crime with backgrounds for social reform. In 1934, Du Bois became the chairman of the department of sociology. He remained as this for the next ten years. Receiving many honorary degrees, Du Bois was known as the remarkable African American of that period.
It is evident that Du Bois was an intellectual man who wanted to bring political and social change to the wrongful treatment of blacks. In 1905, Du Bois, along with other protesting black individuals, met in Niagara Falls, Canada with the motive of creating a national movement to develop a quicker path towards civil rights and racial equality. This movement denounced Booker T. Washington’s accommodation policies through his “Atlanta Compromise” with southern white leaders. The Niagara Movement “set forth a strident set of policies calling for immediate and full freedom of speech and press, full suffrage, the abolition of discrimination based on race or color, and belief in universal human brotherhood.” The movement also demanded “legal change, addressing the issues of crime, economics, religion, health, and education.” They desired an equal educational opportunity and voting rights for blacks. Their message to end segregation spread throughout the entire country. The noble whites and Washington supporters did not take this well, leading to the collapse of this movement in 1909. The Niagara Movement was the predecessor of the NAACP. The Springfield race riot was the breaking point for black Americans, leading to the creation of a more powerful, interracial organization
also known as the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. Similar to the objective of the Niagara Movement, the NAACP wanted to ensure the rights blacks have through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. They wanted to enforce equality and eliminate racial discrimination. Early on, their anti-lynching campaigns were the heart of its agenda. 10,000 people led a silent march to protest lynchings and other acts of horror against blacks. Their efforts, however, were futile, for they were unable to get an antilynching law passed. As a result of their hard work, they were able to raise public awareness and the lynchings were seen to gradually decline. The NAACP, having developed its office in New York City in 1910, created a board of officials. Du Bois was the only African American on this board and was offered the role as Director of Publicity and Research. The same year, he established the organization’s official journal, The Crisis. It is still known as an influential group advocating for African American rights and is known as America’s oldest civil rights organization. Containing over 2,200 branches and almost half a million members around the world, the influence of the NAACP can still be seen.
The Crisis gave Du Bois the opportunity to print stories of brutalities committed against blacks which were completely ignored by the mainstream white or black presses. This magazine was originally named “A Record of the Darker Races.” Not only did it incorporate stories of black struggle, but also of their artistic work. This magazine reflected constant disturbance towards white privilege while acting as the root of information and pride for African Americans. In the beginning, this magazine mainly highlighted stories of lynching and World War I.
The Crisis Volume 1, Number 1, Page 1
For a short period of time, Du Bois also published a children’s version of this magazine called The Brownie’s Book. A decade after its establishment, The Crisis was shipping over 100,000 copies per month, while the NAACP was growing influence over court victories “overturning grandfather clauses and residential segregation.” This grandfather clause allowed illiterate whites to opt out of the reading test, whereas illiterate blacks did not have this choice. The NAACP challenged this and won in the 1915 Supreme Court Case Guinn v. United States, ruling that grandfather clauses were unconstitutional. The Crisis soon became the voice of the Harlem Renaissance and incorporated writings of famous African American figures such as Langston Hughes. This magazine included several columns and or sections dedicated to different topics. Between 1910 and 1934, The Crisis incorporated an opinion section written by Du Bois. There was also a column recognizing the success of black individuals in various areas called “Men of the Month.” The positive accomplishments of African Americans were written in a “Horizon” column. Du Bois did not shy away from including publications he deemed incorrect or publishing controversial photographs. He addressed a corrective to the racial stereotypes published by the mainstream press. The magazine even contained racism in the military and political issues with Booker T. Washington’s perspective. Issues such as women’s suffrage, labor, children, and education were not forgotten. This magazine addressed every facet of life for blacks in America and remains in print today.
The Crisis Volume 10, Number 2, Page 69
The Crisis Volume 17, Number 5, Page 229
W.E.B. Du Bois’ literary work undoubtedly influenced several individuals. W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903) is known as a masterpiece of African American literature. This autobiography tells a story of W.E.B. Du Bois and a group of African Americans. His story is centralized around the idea of a color line dividing the world into two, referring to this color line as “the Veil.” Where one part consists of privileged white people, the other consists of exploited African Americans. This veil, acting as a two-way mirror, allows black people to observe white people, while the reflective side prevents these white people to return the stares of black spectators. He tries to show the idea that this gives blacks more power since they can see every little thing happening around white people, while white Americans don’t have the capability to do the same. One part of Du Bois’ consciousness belongs to human race while the other is hidden behind this veil. His readers can see both his pain and agony of enslavement behind the veil while seeing a celebration of “a world populated by heroes and by joy.” This work argues the false connotations white Americans exhibit towards black people due to ignorance. Being a factual yet heart-touching book, songs of sorrow are introduced in each chapter, further revealing the triumph of black culture. These songs portray both the suffering that black people faced and the constant hope that kept them going a the same time. The product can be seen as a story of both a man and a race.
Du Bois begins his book with the main problem that every African American must face, understanding two points of views, or how to be both American and black at the same time. "One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." This excerpt from the first chapter shows the idea of duality for the black American. This idea of double-consciousness further emphasizes the idea of being split as both an American and a Negro. The repetition of “two” into “warring ideals” emphasizes the idea of how oppositional forces are being torn apart. The double consciousness also refers to looking at yourself through the eyes of others or looking at one’s soul through the eyes of individuals that view it with contempt. The second chapter then begins with the well-known line “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” signifying slavery and the search for a better life. In this book, Du Bois tells his personal story entering Tennessee and experiencing the racism in the South. He teaches children limited to this struggle and continues to perform as a schoolteacher. Leaving this school, he takes the reader to Georgia, the central area as to where these African Americans live behind the color line. Jim Crow Laws can clearly be seen implemented everywhere through segregation on railroad carts and on plantations. “Churches, however, sustain the souls of black folk, who are isolated behind the Veil.” He continues to explain plantation farming and the idea of how segregation is enforced everywhere else, may it not be on land. Unwavering faith in God, family, and society helped these blacks to never lose hope. The lyrics of the songs introduced in each chapter reveal this feeling of faith and community, and how the past is being lived today. In this autobiography, Du Bois introduces multiple heroes. Alexander Crummell, a friend of Du Bois is seen as this, fighting off the hatred and helping others up until the end of his life. He also provides summaries on Booker T. Washington in which he condemns him for his low expectations of African Americans. These two black leaders were known as successful “Negros” and symbolized change the African American community was passing through. This book signifies the idea that hatred can be lessened by resisting and being hopeful.
This book, which was published in 1903, became extremely important in the 1960s as an inspiration to the civil rights struggle. Du Bois story isn’t just an autobiography of him, rather a story of a race also known as the souls of black folk. Through this book, he shows the readers his life intertwined in black culture. Du Bois was ignorant of the existence of a veil up until he faced discrimination himself. This book shows such passion and a myriad of emotions that reach out to the public. His book offers hope “for the triumph of the spirit and the possibility of social justice.” Known as one of the best-known works in his collection, his reflections on the race relations in Jim Crow South and critique on Booker T. Washington are known as some of the most powerful pages written in that time period. As long as there were blacks, the existence of the veil remained.
Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920) is another autobiography written by Du Bois incorporating several of his essays, spirituals, and poems. This autobiography follows the theme of The Souls of Black Folk and many of the stories revolve around racial prejudice and its horrifying consequences. One specific chapter, “The Souls of White Folk,” values the importance of the superiority through the veil, allowing black people to see white folk in their “nakedness.” Black people had many such opportunities to see the inside of the lives of white Americans, whether through their job as being house servants or caretakers, allowing the weak to gather knowledge on the people at the top of the social ladder. He states the idea that at the center of “whiteness” is “ownership of other things and people.” This is illustrated when he writes about World War I, explaining it as a war between white nations on who has the power to exploit the darker nations. “It is the duty of white Europe to divide up the darker world and administer it for Europe’s own good.” Du Bois states this as the theory in which Euro-whites operate. Du Bois also addresses significant issues such as the oppression of women and Eurocentric standards of beauty, and the lack of democracy among race, class, and gender lines. This book influenced many readers with its cry for better treatment of black Americans. "The Comet," published as the tenth chapter in Du Bois’ Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, is an example of early African American science fiction. This short fiction tells the story of Jim, a black male messenger, and Julia, a white woman, in the aftermath of a comet which passed dangerously close to Earth. The comet assumed to have killed every living being on the planet but them. Although this chapter supports many themes, the theme of race is most evident. When Jim and Julia first meet, “they started a moment in silence. She had not noticed before that he was a Negro. He had not thought of her as white…yesterday he thought with bitterness she would scarcely look at him twice.” Even though they are in the worst of any situation, the idea of race still arises in their minds. As other white survivors are found, this black man instantly goes back to being that black man, looked at with disgust and hatred. Du Bois tries to prove through this entire short story that the racial injustices are so deeply integrated into the minds of whites and blacks that not even the world ending could change it. African American fiction typically allows writers to address racial issues through fictionalized events.
Black Reconstruction in America (1935) re-established the way people viewed both the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Containing 746 pages, W.E.B. Du Bois’ aim in writing this was to show the influential role blacks played during this time period. He believed that blacks should no longer be overlooked by the white supremacists and deserve to be treated the same. The Civil War was seen as a tragic conflict in which slaves acted as a historical backdrop. The Reconstruction period following this was seen as disastrous, mainly because it was believed that African Americans received political and civil rights way too early. As Du Bois states in this book, the three common falsities about Reconstruction were: “All Negroes were ignorant; All Negroes were lazy, dishonest, and extravagant; Negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction.” This perception whites had of blacks is what caused Du Bois to write this book. This book is known to have made some groundbreaking arguments. When telling this story, Du Bois relies heavily on the experiences of the black man. He focuses on the economic progress of classes existing during the Reconstruction era. Post Reconstruction, segregation among lower class whites and blacks can clearly be seen, regardless of the fact that they did the same jobs. Competing for these same jobs post-war caused even more racial tensions. These lower-class blacks and whites failed to unite and revolt against the rich white landowners of the South, even though it would have been in both of their interests. Du Bois mentions Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” as an unsuccessful revolt. In this, Marx argues that the working class becomes alienated because they get consumed with work. This eventually leads to a revolt because this group realizes they are performing lowly tasks for more powerful people. Du Bois connects this idea that the failure of revolution leads to the failure of Reconstruction. Due to this, white Democrats had the ability to obtain control of “state governments, pass segregation laws, and take political power away” from the blacks and poor whites. While he does argue the idea that Reconstruction did not work, he also states that there were positive outcomes that came with it such as the creation of a public education system in Southern states. The last chapter, “The Propaganda of History,” highlights the problems in writing history. “School books were plagued by government propaganda” that listed the three falsities as stated previously. The government was more worried about showing their country to be heroic in the eyes of children and adults, and so they did this at the cost of black people. Du Bois ends the book with powerful statements about objectivity.
Although Black Reconstruction in America was looked down upon by several critics at the time it was published, it only grew in literary importance. Du Bois was successful in giving a critical analysis of the negative effects of democracy, which included multiple injustices such as the Jim Crow Laws, and through portraying the hateful treatment of blacks. By the 1960s, Black Reconstruction “joined the canon of the most influential revisionist historical works.” Clearly, Du Bois’ writing was a crusading voice for blacks during that period of American history. While his literary work clearly depicted the African American plight and his experience of discrimination, it also influenced several writers and artists. Langston Hughes even dedicated his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” to Du Bois, a poem linked to the Harlem Renaissance. Du Bois published numerous works, led several organizations, and continued to fight for African American rights until the end of his life. His contributions have changed society for the better and have brought courage and hope for black people. Du Bois is labeled a radical, for he wanted immediate racial equality. His literary work affected the lives of many by bringing awareness to the wrongdoings in this world. In fact, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, containing many of the reforms Du Bois fought for his entire life, was passed a year after his death. W.E.B. Du Bois is undoubtedly one of the most influential activists of the 19th and 20th century.
Work Citation Anders, Megan. “The Comet: A Brief Introduction to Black Speculative Fiction.” Medium, 11 Aug. 2016, medium.com/@megananders/the-comet-a-briefintroduction-to-black-speculative-fiction-1a34ae9e69e9. Accessed 11 Apr. 2018. Christensen, S. “Niagara Movement (1905-1909).” Virginia Commonwealth University, socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/niagaramovement-1905-1909/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2018. Erika. “Black Reconstruction.” Erika R. Rendón-Ramos Thoughts of a Grad Student, 5 Apr. 2015, rendonramos.blogs.rice.edu/2015/04/04/blackreconstruction/. Accessed 11 Apr. 2018. “Oldest and Boldest.” NAACP, www.naacp.org/oldest-and-boldest/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2018. “The Souls of Black Folk Summary.” eNotes, www.enotes.com/topics/soulsblack-folk. “W.E.B. Du Bois and the Foundation of the NAACP.” National Endowment for the Humanities, 14 Feb. 2014, www.neh.gov/news/web-du-bois-and-thefoundation-the-naacp. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018. “W.E.B. Du Bois Biography.” Biography, A&E Television Networks, www.biography.com/people/web-du-bois-9279924. “W.E.B. Du Boi, the Souls of Black Folk(1903).” shmoop, www.shmoop.com/harlem-renaissance-literature/duality-characteristic-soulsblack-folk-example.html.
Image Citation Image #1: W.E.B Du Bois. IMDb, www.imdb.com/name/nm1415438/. Image #2: Du Bois in the Group of the Six Speakers at the Graduation of 281 Harvard Students. DuBoisopedia, scua.library.umass.edu/duboisopedia/doku.php?id=about:harvard_university. Image #3: This is a logo for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. NAACP, www.naacp.org/pages/press-resources. Image #4: Historic NAACP Convention Photo. Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-naacp-changed-direction-the-breakup-thatneeded_us_593063bde4b09e93d7964888. Image #5: The Crisis Volume 1, Number 1, Page 1 - November 1910. Paperless Archives, www.paperlessarchives.com/the_crisis.html. Image #6: The Crisis Volume 10, Number 2, Page 69 - June 1915. June 1915. Paperless Archives, www.paperlessarchives.com/the_crisis.html. Image #7: The Crisis Volume 17, Number 5, Page 229 - March 1919. Mar. 1919. Paperless Archives, www.paperlessarchives.com/the_crisis.html. Image #8: Racial Violence. Paperless Archives, www.paperlessarchives.com/the_crisis.html. Image #9: Prince, Steve. The Souls of Black Folk. Rakuten kobo, www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-souls-of-black-folk-46. Image #10: W. E. B. Du Bois. AZ Quotes. Image #11: The Souls of Black Folk. The University of Chicago Library, news.lib.uchicago.edu/blog/2010/08/18/among-our-acquisitions-this-past-yearis-a-first-edition-of-web-du-bois-t/.
Image Citation Image #12: Du Bois, W.E.B. Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil. Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/book/show/672737.Darkwater. Image #13: "William Edward Burghardt Du Bois." Between the Covers Rare Books, www.betweenthecovers.com/ref_details.php?title_id=1013403.
This newsletter discusses W.E.B Du Bois' accomplishments and focuses on three of his famous literary works.