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 		 [ Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis delivered a speech
during the Du Bois 150th Birthday Celebration. Du Bois at age 95 was
more radically unorthodox than virtually any other engaged
intellectual of the 20th century. The real problem was really the
manipulation of race in the service of wealth.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PROLOGUE TO GREATNESS: W.E.B. DU BOIS AND GREAT BARRINGTON  
[https://portside.org/2018-03-15/prologue-greatness-web-du-bois-and-great-barrington]


 

 David Levering Lewis 
 February 23, 2018
Portside 

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	* [https://portside.org/node/16754/printable/print]

 _ Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis delivered a speech during
the Du Bois 150th Birthday Celebration. Du Bois at age 95 was more
radically unorthodox than virtually any other engaged intellectual of
the 20th century. The real problem was really the manipulation of race
in the service of wealth. _ 

 United States Postal Service 1992 Black Heritage series stamp,
honoring Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois., United States Postal
Service 

 

In this month of emancipators Washington; Lincoln; and Frederick
Douglass; we gather together here in Great Barrington to honor native
son William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, born this twenty-third day, a
Sunday, 150 years ago on Church Street. The birth certificate reads
William E. Du Boise, “colored,” issue of Alfred Duboise and Mary
(no maiden name given), whose February 5th nuptials in the nearby
village of Housatonic the previous year had been duly noted in the
*Berkshire Courier.* Alfred Du Bois, a Union Army veteran who gave his
birthplace as San Domingo, Haiti, departed in murky circumstances soon
thereafter, leaving wife and newborn in the tenuous care of Alfred’s
Burghardt in-laws. Most of what is known of these early Great
Barrington years comes from “Willie” Du Bois himself, as his
family and the townspeople knew him.

Willie recalled being “greatly impressed” by Charles Taylor, who
died soon after volume one of his *History of Great Barrington* was
published in 1883. Very likely, the old scholar talked shop with the
young scholar; but the fact that African- Americans are invisible in
Taylor's rich chronicle tells us much about the times, the milieu, and
the races.  Willie was certainly not invisible, though, as he
scurried from home to school to chores and back.  As the hard slog to
survive ground down his mother Mary Silvina and the other Burghardts,
it had the reverse effect on him. Willie developed a compensating
sense of adolescent self that would become more portentous and
embracing in the coming years. "I very early got the idea," he would
tell the interviewer from Columbia University’s oral history project
"that what I was going to do was to prove to the world that Negroes
were just like other people." At fourteen, his contributions in the
New York *Globe*, a black weekly published by the militant Timothy
Fortune, foretold Du Bois’s success in this regard.

Du Bois left Great Barrington at age seventeen, returning during the
following four score years only infrequently, and always for brief
stays: memorably, in late May of 1899, when he and new wife Nina came
to bury their baby son Burghardt in Mehaiwe Cemetery; then again in
early July, fifty years later, to bury his Nina in Mehaiwe; and to
Mehaiwe again for the last time with the remains of daughter Yolande
before self-exile in Ghana in October 1961. But the importance of the
Great Barrington period, its imprint upon all that Du Bois grew to be,
was deep, and certainly singular. His compelling prose re-creations of
this insular town, the times, the races, and of his own family and
himself there are landmarks in American letters. Fifteen years after
leaving, the village prodigy had transformed himself into the
awesomely credentialed Doctor Du Bois of Harvard University and
Berlin’s Friedrich Wilhelm Universitaet---distinguished scholar and
cosmopolitan traveler. Still, it had been here in this placid, kindly
place “by a golden river in the shadow of two great hills” (Du
Bois’s words) that his sense of identity or belonging was spun out
between the poles of two distinct racial groups-- black and white--and
two dissimilar social classes--lower and upper--to form that double
consciousness of being he would famously describe at age thirty-five
in *The Souls of Black Folk*.

There were actually three Great Barringtons, and the largely Catholic
white newcomers were pressing against the door of domestic service, a
challenge coming just as the Burghardt farms on Egremont Plain were
less able to compete with produce shipped by river and rail from afar.
From Du Bois's recollections and a culling of town-hall records, a
reasonable estimate would fix the number of African-American families
in the region at less than thirty, a few of them, like the Thomas
Burghardt who worked for the Kellogg family, were substantial property
owners.  Most were Burghardts, with a smattering of Crawfords,
Freemans, and Pipers, although a small influx of freed slaves from the
South was just beginning. "The color line was manifest," Willie has
written, "and yet not absolutely drawn." The old African-American
families that ventured out of farming preferred personal service, and,
at least until the 1870s, tended to have the pick of gentler jobs as
domestics, barbers, stewards, and coachmen.

Black and white Great Barrington coexisted civilly, even
affectionately, but the two seldom commingled except on Sundays and in
town meetings. By the late 1870s, although Willie and some of his
immediate family continued to worship in the Congregational Church
(previous generations had been Episcopalian), the religious and social
life of the black community found its pulse in the little African
Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) church founded by freedmen and
women from the South. W.E.B. Du Bois sensed early that he was
something of a curiosity to the white townspeople because of his light
color and the long locks which changed to crinkly texture by the time
he was four.  He was well aware of the whites' curiosity by the time
he entered public elementary school.  But if his being physically
different "riveted attention" upon him, he was fortunate in long being
able to ignore Great Barrington's muted racism (even when he dimly
recognized it). First had come an awareness of class distinctions. He
had told himself that race, in the large sense of generalized and
dismissive attitudes about his people, had played only a small part in
his elementary school experience.

Had he not become the "favorite" of "stern and inflexible" Miss Cross,
his first primary teacher?  Had he not been cheered on by the leading
citizens as he advanced year after year--the sole black boy in the
school--more quickly than most of his white classmates?  Had he not
always felt welcome in the homes of even his wealthy classmates and
frequently been complimented by their parents for setting a good
example? In the early, innocent, Horatio Alger years, then, Willie
believed that the differences between people were the result of
industry or ability--and sometimes physical courage. "I cordially
despised the poor Irish and South Germans," he confessed, adding that
"none of the colored folk I knew were so poor, drunken and sloven."46
However poor, drunken, and sloven, the Irish and Bavarians and Czechs
were as white as their Anglo-Saxon detractors, a trump card that
Willie and his people could never find in the deck of assimilation.
Willie's troubling sense that he was somehow different grew, at first
imperceptibly, then gnawingly.

With that flare for drama in language in which he has few equals, Du
Bois pinpoints, in *The Souls of Black Folk*, the exact moment in his
ten-year-old life, a spring day in 1878, when, as he says, “I
remember well when the shadow swept across me. . . . . In a wee wooden
schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy
gorgeous visiting-cards--ten cents a package—and exchange.  The
exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my
card--refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me
with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or
like, mayhap, in heart and life, and longing, but shut out from their
world by a vast veil.” A permanent, anchoring sense of Du Bois's
racial identity *could* have come from a single such traumatic rebuff
in Great Barrington’s "wee wooden schoolhouse." Yet sympathetic
skepticism is advisable whenever Du Bois advances a concept or
proposition by way of autobiography. Often, the truth is not in the
facts but in the conceptual or moral validity behind them. In the case
of the sweeping shadow and separating veil, there are several local
versions and equivalents. But what is clear is that Du Bois extracted
both his seminal concept of the divided self and his powerful metaphor
of the veil from his pubescent years here. For a sensitive,
well-behaved male of sixteen, and in that time and place, his
innocence of the opposite sex was not all that unusual. Except for a
single, coy reference in the *Autobiography* to a "lovely little
plump, brown girl who appeared out of nowhere, and smiled at me
demurely," girls had significance solely as classmates or relatives in
the Great Barrington narratives.

In 1880s America, not even the sons of mill owners (and but the rarest
daughter) took college education as a matter of course.  Du Bois
recalled that maybe two others in his high school graduating class of
thirteen were heading for college.  He knew well that the doors to
higher education were "barred with ancient tongues" and that his best
hope for steady work in the future, paying enough to support himself
and his ailing mother, was by way of vocational courses offered at
Great Barrington High School (GBHS). Willie's supercharged ambition at
first failed to grasp the value a college education might have for a
colored man. That was GBHS Principal Frank Hosmer's doing: "He
suggested, quite as a matter of fact, that I ought to take the college
preparatory course." Hosmer did more, for the unraveling Burghardt
clan's fitful limited resources could hardly afford the college-course
textbooks on Greek, Latin, algebra, and geometry. Louis Russell's
mother, second wife of Farley Russell the mill owner, agreed to buy
them, after Hosmer spoke with her.

The records for the high school years are lost or destroyed, but
memories of Willie's academic rage to succeed persisted until the
1960’s among some of the townspeople. What gave Mary Silvina the
greatest of all pleasures was her son's performance in school. She
followed a policy of noninterference in Willie's conduct and unlike
many parents of her generation, she made no attempt to train him out
of left-handedness. There were seven boys and six girls in the
graduation class on June 27, 1884. It must have been a long evening,
with the program preliminaries, music, and thirteen finest-hour
recitations. Looking "somewhat drawn" but proud, Mary Silvina Du Bois
and other Burghardts, heard Willie deliver an oration on Wendell
Phillips, the conscience of New England abolitionism. It was the
success of the evening, the *Berkshire Courier* reporter judging that
"William E. Dubois [sic] a colored lad who has had good standing" gave
an excellent oration and "provoked repeated applause."

But he was not going to Harvard. Not even to Williams College. Money
remained a big problem, of course. There was the care of failing Mary
Silvina. She wanted college for Willie as much as he did, but the
loyal, humane thing for him to do was to stay in Great Barrington
working to help support her. And there was the racial factor, the
distinct lack of enthusiasm among so many otherwise kindly, charitable
white people for helping even a brilliant "Negro" to attend the
nation's leading college. Principal Hosmer shifted their sites
southward. Four Congregational churches pledged twenty-five dollars
each for four years to underwrite Willie's education at Fisk
University, a Congregational school for Negroes in Nashville,
Tennessee. Harvard was not lost--the thought never occurred to
him--merely adjourned. Suddenly, Mary Silvina was gone, dead of an
apoplectic stroke and buried in the last week in March 1885.  For all
the tender words of affection and comradeship, Willie's grief is oddly
formal, repressed, intellectualized. Whatever her death really meant
to him, the timing was perfect. One more obstacle to Harvard College
had fallen. Finally, he was free to begin redefining himself.

With earnings from a summertime position as construction crew
timekeeper at Searles and Castle, he was off to Fisk University. His
Burghardt relatives supposedly grumbled about his going South. He says
he did not. For him, it was a great adventure into the unknown, sort
of an educational safari among the fascinating and barbarous--"the
South of slavery, rebellion, and black folk." Remarkably, the Fisk
curriculum offered its students Greek, Latin, French, and German,
theology, natural sciences, music, moral philosophy, and history.
Helen Morgan from Oberlin, the first woman appointed full professor in
a coeducational institution in the country had chosen Fisk over Vassar
as the place of her life's work in Latin. Du Bois arrived that
September 1885, entering the sophomore class at the age of seventeen
because of his superior northern secondary education. His memory of
his first dining hall supper he carried to his grave, retrieving the
moment when he sat "opposite two of the most beautiful beings God ever
revealed to the eyes of seventeen."  One of them, Lena Calhoun, was
the great-aunt of Lena Horne, yet to be born and enchant a middle-aged
Du Bois almost as much as her comely forebear. At age 92, Willie would
animatedly tell the Columbia Oral History Project interviewer "that
she was beautifully dressed--oh, a perfectly lovely girl." No Fisk
woman would ever refuse his card because he was black.

Willie's profound relief and delight at having finally reached at Fisk
a safe harbor of feelings could still burst out long afterward, as in
this cathartic passage from *Darkwater*: “Consider, for a moment,
how miraculous it all was to a boy of seventeen, just escaped from a
narrow valley: I willed and lo! my people came dancing about
me,--riotous in color, gay in laughter, full of sympathy, need, and
pleading; darkly delicious girls--'colored' girls—sat beside me and
actually talked to me while I gazed in tongue-tied silence or babbled
in boastful dreams.” It always annoyed Rayford Whittingham Logan,
one of his closest future collaborators, whenever Du Bois insisted (as
he often did) that he had embraced his racial identity only at Fisk.
"Henceforward I was a Negro," Du Bois would proclaim, and then soar
into a grand vision of his place in the race, knowing full well that
Anglo-Saxon America was objectively blind by custom and law to
intermediate racial categories.  Logan always said that Du Bois's
claim of belated racial self-discovery was a polemical contrivance to
give greater punch to his writings about race relations.  To claim
that his identity as a Negro was in some sense the exercise of an
option, an existential commitment, was to define Du Bois’s
celebration of and struggle for his people as an act of the greatest
nobility and philanthropy. With the country beginning to fill up with
Slavic and southern European immigrants for whom, like the earlier
Irish, the surest touchstone of citizenship was distance between
themselves and Americans of African ancestry, pretending to be
racially indeterminate was an invitation to physical battery or even
institutional commitment. Increasingly,[OU1] <#_msocom_1>  you were
either white or black; there was no Creole or mestizo (with the
problematic exception of Louisiana), and mulatto was largely a census
term that was shortly to be abandoned.

Graduating with highest honors after three brilliant years at Fisk,
Great Barrington’s brown ambassador entered Harvard College in
September 1888. Curiously enough, the academic standards at Harvard
and Fisk may not have been as incommensurable as it might seem
reasonable to suppose today, given the imported Ivy League faculties
and the minuscule social class from which the elite black southern
liberal arts colleges recruited their best students. Still, for a
young African American even of Du Bois's manifest brilliance to pass
from a two decades-old missionary school to the two hundred fifty-two
year-old empyrean of white collegiate training in America was an
extraordinary ascension. His mother’s sudden death had eased the
Fisk matriculation. A timely bequest from Grandfather Alexander Du
Bois, father of the long vanished Alfred, provided money enough
together with a scholarship to survive the first year. As part of
President Charles W. Eliot's ongoing plan to transform what had been a
diploma-granting club for New England scions, Harvard began opening
its doors to exceptional male representatives of immigrant groups, as
well as a few African Americans. Harvard and Yale traditionally
required African American baccalaureates to repeat a portion of their
undergraduate training, a requirement frequently imposed on white
graduates of undistinguished colleges. Du Bois entered Harvard College
as a junior, the sixth of his race to do so, and graduated magna cum
laude with a concentration in philosophy under William James in the
class of 1890. He commenced graduate studies at Friedrich Wilhelm
University. The first of his race to win a Harvard doctorate in 1896,
Du Bois haughtily allowed later that it was a consolation for having
been denied the few additional months needed to finish a coveted
doctorate in economics from the University of Berlin. His 1896
dissertation on the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade to the
United States was an immediate classic, the first history monograph
published in Harvard’s new historical series. *The Philadelphia
Negro* (1899) was recognized as a methodological breakthrough in the
social-sciences.

A score of years after departing his birthplace, William Edward
Burghardt Du Bois’s renown as a scholar and what today we call a
public intellectual achieved an unparalleled eminence with the
publication in 1903 of a collection of fourteen bombshell essays that
could only be described as 'sui generis'. "The Souls of Black Folk",
explained Americans of color to themselves with a saliency that still
inspires and defines today. The 35 year–old author was the first to
grasp the international implications of the struggle for racial
justice, memorably proclaiming, at the dawn of the century, that the
problem of the twentieth century would be the problem of the color
line. He was a principal founder of the nation’s oldest civil rights
association, created one hundred nine years ago this month, and whose
militant monthly, *The Crisis*, he edited as the voice of
uncompromising racial equality for a quarter century. No exaggeration
to state that a majority of literate African American households were
weaned on Du Bois’s monthly---even those beholden to the legacy of
Booker T. Washington.  All Americans owe Du Bois a considerable debt
for the historical masterpiece, *Black Reconstruction in America*,
which changed forever our understanding of the shameful suppression of
racial democracy in the post-Civil War South.  A Du Bois bibliography
runs to sixteen pioneering or provocative books of sociology, history,
politics, and race relations. In his seventies, he found time to
finish a second autobiography (the splendid *Dusk of Dawn*) and to
produce three large historical novels, complementing the two large
works of fiction written in the first two decades of the twentieth
century that anticipated the so-called Harlem Renaissance. The long
march from the Supreme Court’s *Plessy v. Ferguson*’s “separate
but equal” equivocation in 1896 to *Brown v. Board*’s mandate for
integration in 1954 would have been even longer and harder without his
mind and pen. Du Bois cut an amazing swath through four continents (he
institutionalized the Pan African Movement, was a Lenin Peace Prize
laureate, and his birthday was once a national holiday in China).

A new edition of *The Souls of Black Folk* is forthcoming this month.
Properly so, because this book is both timeless while being also
time-bound. Like the public’s immutable memory of Martin Luther
King’s Dream Speech, so its vivid retention of Du Bois’s
color-line prophesy has meant that the evolved ideas both men held in
their last years are forgotten, unknown, deemed subversive---or all of
the above. We should probably not expect to see the release of a new
edition of *In Battle for Peace*, Du Bois’s account of his 1952
Justice Department indictment, trial, and embarrassed acquittal in
Washington as a foreign agent. The New England-born and bred Du Bois
criticized his country’s shortcomings as much from a youthful
Calvinist’s intolerance of moral slothfulness as from an aged
Marxist’s impatience with the rigged outcomes of unregulated
capitalism. In a 1951 Op-Ed in the *National Guardian *he called for
“a vast social change,” and warned that America’s democratic
ideals were salvageable only by drastically “curbing the present
power of concentrated wealth.” Speaking to a capacity audience in
Carnegie Hall on Du Bois’s birthday in 1968, Martin Luther King
insisted that Du Bois was a personality “history cannot ignore,”
yet Du Bois had been virtually excised from his country’s mainstream
narrative when Dr. King spoke these words five years after Dr. Du
Bois’s death in self-imposed exile in Ghana, still lucid and
confrontational at ninety-five.

Famous at fifty, Du Bois often claimed that his death was practically
requested at seventy-five. He characteristically looked upon the
ultimate value of citizenship for people of color in America with the
gravest misgivings if that citizenship were to mean that the peoples
of Africa and Asia were to become subjects under a *Pax Americana*
maintained for the profit of the military-
industrial-financial-complex.  In his Carnegie Hall tribute, King
spoke as a civil rights leader whose evolving economic philosophy owed
a great deal to Du Bois’s socialism and whose own deep distress
about his country’s militarism also echoed the latter’s fierce
reproach of American imperialism. The old contrarian’s death on the
eve of the historic 1963 March on Washington was announced as Dr. King
prepared to deliver his I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial. The generational baton passed with stunning symbolic
appropriateness that day. Six weeks after his 1968 Carnegie Hall
tribute to Du Bois, Martin King died from a sniper’s bullet in
Memphis.

To be sure, the complexities of the American twenty- first century do
beggar those of the last. Du Bois’s twentieth- century problem was a
color-line actually without color, for it was starkly black and white.
Our century is on its way to being brown and yellow as well as
minority white and black. Still, as Du Bois might well have argued, to
concede that a historic racial dyad has yielded to a polychrome
present, does not mean that race has been transcended as a potent
force in our national life. Rather, as Du Bois himself predicted in
his final years, the future problems of the color-line will be
problems of the cash and credit line in which the problems of the past
will play a cruelly significant part. In one of his last jeremiads
before exiling himself to Ghana, he called for the restoration of
democracy in America.  "Make it again possible for the people to
express their will," he implored.  "Today the rich and the powerful
rulers of America divide themselves into Republican and Democrats in
order to raise [millions of] dollars to buy the next election and
prevent you from having a third party to vote for, or to stop war,
theft and murder by your votes."

Were he with us this afternoon, the old contrarian Du Bois would
almost surely discern in the shortcomings of the last US presidential
administration the toxic persistence of race. Senatorial candidate
Obama debuted at the 2004 Democratic Convention where he struck a
memorable exceptionalist chord by assuring us that ‘there is not a
black America and white America and Latino America and Asian
America---there’s the United States of America.” Presidential
Candidate Obama channeled the 'e pluribus unum ' mythos of American
Exceptionalism as seldom before by a credible public figure. Not only
did he minimize the significance of political labels, but racism was
seen as an old problem that the candidate’s generation---he called
it the “Joshua Generation”---could refute and even move beyond as
it honored Rosa, Whitney, John Lewis, and Martin of the Moses
Generation. Racism “was subject to refutation,” Barack Obama wrote
in *The Audacity of Hope*, his ambitious campaign book.

Indeed, in his *Dreams from My Father*, the most revelatory personal
narrative written by a major political figure, the 44th President
tells us that he was put off by the anguished writings of Du Bois,
Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. “Each man
finally forced to withdraw, one to Africa, one to Europe, one deeper
into the bowels of Harlem,” Obama sighed---“all of them exhausted,
bitter men, the devil at their heels.” To be sure, the legacy of
Barack Obama is writing itself as we speak. Yet what can now be sadly
realized is that a redeeming vision of a national post-racial reset
that defined the Obama presidency has succumbed to the nightmare of
worsening disparities now almost irrevocably color-coded, by Supreme
Court majorities disingenuously mocking African American and Latino
voting rights, by reborn nativism more virulent than its
mid-nineteenth-century parent, and by criminal justice system
irregularities, such as the Zimmerman acquittal and the Ferguson
impasse, perceived as outrageous enough to spark corrective riots.

The first existential president appeared to believe that he could
resolve those insurmountable dilemmas of nationality and color
unforgettably posed by Du Bois’s foundational text---
notwithstanding the reality of white majority votes against him in
2008 and 2016. Instead, the political illusions and policy failures of
the 44th president’s tenure have paradoxically yielded the seeming
triumph of racism and cleptocracy. The vital center did not hold and
the angry fringe prevailed last November, delivering a confused
democracy to an oligarchy presided over by a narcissistic aberration.

When he left this pleasant village in the mountains of Western
Massachusetts, Du Bois made the existential decision that his life
would exemplify the American race problem. That Du Bois saw his
illustrious civil rights vocation in such existential terms was summed
up shortly before his death in 1963, when he reiterated in his third
autobiography that, but for the race problem, he might have become, he
said, “an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the established
social order into which I was born. But just that part of this order
which seemed to most of my fellows nearest perfection seemed to me
most inequitable and wrong,” he had understood; “and starting from
that critique, I gradually, as the years went by, found other things
to question. . . .” He was one of the most aristocratic
intellectuals ever to enroll in the Communist Party of the United
States. Nor is there anything typical about a political evolution
that, in contrast to the profile of most lives, became increasingly
anti- establishmentarian, so that Du Bois at age 95 was more radically
unorthodox than virtually any other engaged intellectual, black or
white, of the 20th century.

By the time he made his well-timed exit on the eve of the historic
1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Du Bois had repeatedly
proclaimed in so many words that the cash-line was the cardinal
problem of the age. The real problem of the century, therefore, was
really the manipulation of race in the service of wealth, and a
clairvoyant Du Bois greatly feared that the odds increasingly favored
the manipulations of the rich. In one of his most prescient essays,
"Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism in the United States," written
ten years before his death, he offered a diagnostic of the
contemporary, omnivorous turbo-capitalism that now assails the nation,
admonishing that

"the organized effort of American industry to usurp government
surpasses anything in modern history.  . . . 

From the use of psychology to spread truth has come the use of
organized gathering of news to guide public opinion then deliberately
to mislead it by scientific advertising and propaganda

. . . .  Mass capitalistic control of books and periodicals, news
gathering and distribution, radio, cinema, and television has made the
throttling of democracy possible and the distortion of education and
failure of justice widespread."

In the course of his long, turbulent career, then, Great
Barrington’s native son attempted virtually every possible solution
to the problem of racism---scholarship, propaganda, integration,
cultural and economic separatism, politics, international communism,
expatriation, third-world solidarity. First had come culture and
education for the elites; then the ballot for the masses; then
economic democracy; and, decade by decade, finally all these solutions
in the service of global racial parity and economic justice. On
October 1, 1961, at ninety- three, Du Bois applied for membership in
the Communist Party of the United States and then departed immediately
with his second wife Shirley Graham for Nkrumah’s Ghana. By that
time, the membership of the CPUSA, FBI agents included, numbered well
under then thousand.  His letter to the CPUSA chairman stated,
“Today, I have reached a firm conclusion. Capitalism cannot reform
itself; it is doomed to self-destruction.”

It should be understood that it is by far the significance of Du
Bois's protest and of his gradual alienation, rather than the
solutions he proposed, that are instructive. For he was an
intellectual in the purest sense of the word---a thinker whose
obligation was to be dissatisfied continually with his own thoughts
and those of others. No doubt he was precipitous in totally writing
off the market economy.  Even so, it may be suggested that Du Bois
was right to insist that to leave the solution of systemic social
problems exclusively to the market is an agenda guaranteeing obscene
economic inequality in the short run and inescapable political
gridlock or confusion in the long run.

A decade after my Du Bois biography said its peace, I happened upon an
insightful, lively, small book about the question that has time and
again fiercely—if civilly---divided Great Barringtonians of how best
or how best NOT TO honor the memory of William Edward Burghardt
Dubois.  Many of you will know that book well---*Those About Him
Remained Silent: The Battle over W.E.B. Du Bois*, by Amy Bass.   By
the time Amy Bass’s book appeared in 2009, Du Bois had lain
venerated in the soil of Ghana almost fifty years. The world outside
Great Barrington had already pretty much moved on after Ronald Reagan
tore down Mr. Gorbachev’s Berlin Wall, after the Soviet Union
imploded taking the Cold War with it, and after winds of sexual,
racial, cultural changes swept over the land. But not yet in the town
of Du Bois’s birth.

“People in the Berkshires,” Professor Bass wrote, “have been
unable to decide upon Du Bois’s place in local history, choosing to
focus largely on his Communist Party membership and eventual Ghanaian
residency rather than his local, national, and Pan-African
achievements and legacies, and,” she continues, “choosing to
vilify those who tried to pay tribute to him.” There is in this book
a cast of varied, valiant Du Boisians: Walter Wilson, the real estate
mogul, writer manquee, and card-carrying socialist who, together with
that exceptional scholar Edward Gordon and with the dedication of Ruth
Jones and Elaine Gunn and Julian Bond, brought forth, against fierce
opposition, the delayed Du Bois memorial ceremony on Egremont Plain on
a bright October Saturday in 1969. “We simply gathered in the field
and did our thing and left,” Ed Gordon recalled.

I ventured that opinion ten years ago, and it seems to me today that
the rejection of the high school school-naming efforts of the
'Berkshire Eagle's Derek Gentile, Rachel Fletchter, Randy Weinstein,
Bernard Drew, and others must now be broadly acknowledged as the
missed symbolic opportunity it was. As Rachel Fletcher’s
eleventh-hour appeal to the school committee observed, Du Bois,
“more than any other alumnus of this school district exhibits the
promise of public education.” 150 years late, as this inspiring Du
Bois birthday commemoration concludes tonight, Great Barringtonians
will have solemnly acknowledged that, surely, it is time both to
forgive his flaws and to prize his genius.
 

_[David Levering Lewis
[http://nyihumanities.org/david-levering-lewis/] has written nine
books and compiled several editions. A historian of the French Third
Republic, he wrote Prisoners of Honor: The Dreyfus Affair (1974, UK,
1975) based on new material from French military archives. Prisoners
of Honor had been temporarily set aside to write King: A Critical
Biography(1970, rev. ed. 1978, 2013) for Allen Lane the Penguin Press,
UK, the first scholarly biography of Dr. King. Lewis's civil rights
history excursion led him to write a history of the Harlem
Renaissance, When Harlem Was in Vogue for Alfred Knopf (1980). Third
Republic interests, combined with a lectureship at the University of
Ghana, inspired Lewis to write The Race to Fashoda: European
Colonialism and African Resistance to the Scramble for Africa (1988,
rev. ed. 1994). W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919(1993)
received in 1994, respectively, the Bancroft Prize in American
History, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize for
Biography. In 2001, W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the
American Century, 1919-1963 (2000) received a second Pulitzer Prize
for Biography. Lewis's recent book, God's Crucible: Islam and the
Making of Europe, 570 to 1215 was published by Norton (2008) and
translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Indonesian, and several
other languages.]_

_Thanks to the author for his permission to publish this on Portside._

 [https://youtu.be/ruejt6ZBFUI]

Listen here [https://youtu.be/ruejt6ZBFUI].

Dr. David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning Du Bois biographer,
delivered a speech, titled "Prologue to Greatness: W.E.B. Du Bois and
Great Barrington," during the Du Bois 150th Birthday Celebration at
the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington on February 23,
2018. This event also kicked off the W. E. B. Du Bois Lecture Series
on Education and Democracy across the Bard Early Colleges. 

David was introduced by Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, a history professor
at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

The Du Bois 150th Anniversary Festival and birthday celebration was
hosted by the town of Great Barrington, and organized by Festival
Committee Co-chairs Randy Weinstein, founder and executive director of
The Du Bois Center at Great Barrington, and Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant,
founder and executive director of Multicultural BRIDGE.

Video footage courtesy Monk Schane-Lydon, faculty member at Bard
College at Simon’s Rock, a sponsor of the Du Bois 150th Anniversary
Festival.

Bard Early Colleges [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruejt6ZBFUI]
March 13, 2018

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