February 23, 2013

Birth of Du Bois: to reap the harvest wonderful

He was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868, and named William Edward Burghardt DuBois, though he is better known as W. E. B. Du Bois. His father left the family when the boy was two; his mother died when he was 15. He was lucky, however, to grow up in a community quite free of racial discrimination. The members of his predominantly white church donated the money that sent him to Harvard. After his graduation (he was first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard), Du Bois went on to become a professor, editor, and author. He advocated particularly for equal rights for blacks, an effort which resulted in his co-founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also edited their journal, The Crisis (he is pictured above sitting in the office of that publication). He particularly believed that access to education would be a great equalizer and used his own learning and eloquence to empower fellow African Americans.

Du Bois's most famous work is likely his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. The book collects several essays, including a few previously published, which lay out the author's view on race and how to address what he considers the main problem of the century: "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea." Each chapter includes a poem or quote as an epigraph (including ones from James Russell Lowell and John Greenleaf Whittier). As he concluded in the book:

Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare. Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed

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