Saturday, February 23, 2008

Remember W.E.B. DuBois 1868-1963

W.E.B. DuBois was born on this date on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. DuBois died in Accra, Ghana in West Africa on the very same day of the famous 'March on Washington' on August 28, 1963 at age 95. The following statement recognizes the extraordinary achievements of this great African American intellectual, scholar, and revolutionary activist whose iconic work spanned over seven decades:

W.E.B. DuBois and the Afro-American Spirit: The Soul of Art

Historian, sociologist, cultural critic, political theorist, activist, essayist, journalist, teacher, editor, scholar, and poet, William Edward Burghardt DuBois (1868-1963) remains the single greatest intellectual figure in the history of Afro-American letters. The author of over 30 books of literature, sociology, history, cultural criticism and political analysis; founder/editor of the legendary Crisis magazine for over twenty-five years for the NAACP (which he co-founded in 1909), DuBois wrote many of the seminal books of the 20th century, including The Souls of Black Folk (1903), The Negro (1915), The Gift of Black Folk (1924), Black Reconstruction (1935), Dusk of Dawn (1940), and The World and Africa (1947). His role as advisor and mentor to the new generation of young black writers to emerge in the early 1920s is considered to be indispensable to the public recognition of such stalwarts as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Alain Locke (Rhodes scholar and leading cultural archivist of the period), and Countee Cullen.

What makes DuBois’ work so important is that it provides us with a conceptual framework for understanding what the underlying aesthetic and philosophical values and concerns of this generation (known as the ‘New Negroes’) were. What emerges from an inquiry into the historical sources of their ideas and strategies is an affirmative articulation of what is independent, precious, and of human value within the cultural forms and structures of Afro-American life and art. No longer is the black artist only concerned with the defensive posture of protesting the interpretation and definition of his/her experience by white American society, but with fully revealing the beauty and strengths of one’s own legacy and present creative power. DuBois is at the forefront of this bold, new climate of self-assertion over and against the oppressive limitations of racism and imperialism. He accomplishes this in a stunning series of essays that he writes as an extended examination of “art, culture, politics, philosophy and education” within the national Afro-American community at the turn of the twentieth century. The result was the classic entitled The Souls of Black Folk, published to widespread acclaim and controversy in 1903.

In this major work DuBois delineates in loving detail many of the major themes and concerns that would be taken up directly and forcefully by the ‘New Negro’ generation some twenty years later: 1) The use of ancestral knowledge and communal wisdom passed down through the ages by oral means (e.g. folklore, prov¬erbs, colloquialisms, tales, legends and myths); 2) An insistence on the right to a critical perspective that stems from one’s own cultural/social experience and reality; 3) An active commitment to the liberation of oppressed and colonized peoples through art and politics; 4) The revelation and exposure of the power and depth of Afro-American culture through the creative use of the imagination and the innovative expression of form and content; 5) Recognizing and using the techniques and methodologies that have been devised and created in the Afro-American cultural tradition to enhance one’s own art; 6) Emphasizing the transformative qualities of art through attention to both spiritual values and uncensored secular activity.

An important new book dealing with DuBois's radical leftist politics and his longtime friendship with fellow revolutionary artist/activist Paul Robeson has been recently published by Nation Books (2007) entitled The Professor and the Pupil: The Politics and Friendship of W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson by political journalist, teacher, and author Murali Balaji