This past weekend I purchased David Levering Lewis’s W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, volume one of Lewis’s two-part narrative of the life and times of the historian and sociologist. It’s part of a wider plan I have for a few projects that I intend to work on this academic year. I don’t want to go too into detail now, but I will say that I intend to take an international perspective on certain issues that often are interpreted through a domestic lens. Biography of a Race was released in 1993, the year I graduated and took a class on twentieth century Black Protest as an undergraduate. For that course we had to read The Souls of Black Folk, which I was too young at the time to fully comprehend and appreciate. I might delve in again this autumn. Du Bois has never been more relevant than he is today.
It is difficult to believe it was twelve years ago, but 2007 a colleague and I ordered The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois, a 19-volume set of the scholar’s complete works, for our library in our capacity as subject specialists. Du Bois is really always there. Two years ago during the Great War centennial students in a module I co-taught read him and others to gain different perspectives on the First World War. Sadly but not surprisingly some students had no idea who he was, though thankfully we changed that in our own small way. Du Bois lived in Brooklyn for a time, in a house he purchased from Arthur Miller no less.
I say all this because it had not occurred to me until reading about it on the social media platform of a journalist I follow that today, August 27, is the anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’s death. Much like Adams and Jefferson’s passing on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Du Bois’s death had a poetic aspect: the 1963 March on Washington took place the following day. It was there on the National Mall that many heard news. Du Bois was far away in both body and spirit; he was ninety-five years old at the time of his death and had long since left America. Du Bois must have found the independence movements invigorating in the winter of his life. He died in Accra, Ghana.