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On the 100th Anniversary of the Publication of 'The Souls of Black Folk' a Look at the Life of W.E.B. Dubois

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“Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” That was how writer and civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois opened his landmark work “The Souls of Black Folk.

The book, a collection of 14 essays, was published 100 years ago today.

The Souls of Black Folk brought international recognition to DuBois who was already well known for becoming the first African-American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard. “Souls” was praised for its literary merit and for its social commentary. It won the highest praise from Henry James who wrote that the collection was “the only 'Southern' book of any distinction for many a year.”

In “Souls,” DuBois also began an intense debate with Booker T. Washington. Dubois criticized Washington’s philosophy of accepting the status quo in racial matters.

Since the first edition in 1903, “The Souls of Black Folk” has gone through several printings totaling over 350,000 copies and has had worldwide circulation.

After the publication of Souls, DuBois would go on to help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He edited the NAACP magazine “Crisis.” All told he went on to write 20 books, two novels, a play and numerous articles and essays.

He would become a leading supporter of socialism and pan-Africanism. He would be targeted by the U.S. for his political views. And he would eventually leave the U.S. for Ghana where he died in 1963 on the eve of the march on Washington when the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream Speech. ”

Professors Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates said of DuBois, “in a sense, it would be true to claim that all black intellectuals and all of our civil rights leaders are, in some manner, his heirs.”

  • W.E.B. DuBois, recorded in 1951 in Los Angeles.
  • David Levering Lewis, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian for his two biographies on W.E.B. DuBois. In 1994 he published “W.E.B. DuBois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919” and in 2001 he published “W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality in the American Century, 1919-1963.” He is a professor in the history department at Rutgers University.
  • W.E.B. DuBois, speaking in the early 1960s for Folkways Records on governmental charges that he was an agent of the Soviet government.
  • David DuBois, stepson of W.E.B. DuBois. He is a visiting associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He teaches courses on the press and the Third World and the history of the African-American press.

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