W.E.B. DuBois tribute 50 years ago

February 23 is the 50th anniversary of the Carnegie Hall tribute to DuBois on what would have been his 96th birthday.

W. E. B. Du Bois's Life After Death

On February 23, 1964-50 years ago today-family, friends, and admirers of the late W. E. B. Du Bois hosted an event at Carnegie Hall in his honor. Not only would February 23, 1964, have been Du Bois's 96th birthday, but commemorating his life and impact so soon after his passing (Du Bois had died in Ghana about 6 months before the Carnegie Hall event) also registered an important political point about the prominent scholar's legacy: he would indeed have life after death. It is vital to remember that at the end of his life Du Bois was heavily criticized by many bourgeoisie black Americans, some white liberals, and his earliest biographers Elliott Rudwick and Francis Broderick-not to mention being surveilled by the U.S. government-for his proposed socialist solution to the abiding persistence of the color line. Such demonizing only amplified when Du Bois joined the CPUSA in 1961. Therefore, the Carnegie Hall celebration in February 1964 was as much of a commemorative gesture for a comrade as it was a bold proclamation that Du Bois's work remained as relevant as ever.

Organized by the Du Bois Memorial Committee, notables headlined the Carnegie Hall gathering. A young history professor named John Hope Franklin delivered the Eulogy, while Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Arna Bontemps, and Eslanda Robeson also participated in the ceremony. The souvenir pamphlet for the event, the full text of which is available online through the Du Bois Papers at UMass here, featured a timeline of Du Bois's life, extended quotations from his many published works, and photographs that archived his rich life. The closing pages of the program printed tributes to Du Bois's legacy.

Several of these tributes are worth noting as we remember Du Bois's life, continue the work he began, and seek to honor his memory in the 21st century.

A longtime associate and friend of Du Bois, Alphaeus Hunton, commented both about the present reception of Du Bois in the 1960s and about the late scholar's legacy: "Much has been said and will be said about the remarkable and varied accomplishments of Du Bois. Sometimes and in some quarters there has appeared a tendency to speak about what he stood for and did with a sort of smug and deliberate emphasis on the past tense. But as it was impossible to daunt the courage or still the voice of Du Bois while he lived, so it is now impossible to bury his works with him, as some would like to do, albeit sanctimoniously . . . . My sincere hope, then, is that the Memorial Tribute to Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, may mean for us above all else the reaffirmation of our determination to carry on his battle for peace-for peace, for democracy, for socialism; for human decency, dignity, and progress" (p. 12).

The lawyer, activist, and prominent communist William L. Patterson, the subject of a recent and fantastic biography by Gerald Horne, stated: "William E. B. Du Bois . . . will go down in history among the immortals for he lived with history, understood its driving forces and identified himself with the most advanced of these. To honor such a man is to honor all that one could hold as sacred and to honor oneself" (p. 13).

Finally, Benjamin Mays, longtime president of Morehouse College (also the subject of a recent outstanding biography by Randal Jelks), remarked: "Dr. Du Bois, without a question, was one of the great men of our time. Although there are those who do not agree with this statement I am quite sure that time will prove that my conviction is correct" (p. 13).

Since the battle for peace continues, remembering and commemorating the history that Du Bois made while avoiding references to him merely in the past tense, will ensure that Du Bois's life after death will continue well into the 21st century.

*Biographical note: Phillip Luke Sinitiere (Ph.D., University of Houston) is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies, a multiethnic school located in Houston's Mahatma Gandhi District. A scholar with specialties in American religious history and African American studies, his latest publication on Du Bois, co-edited with Amy Helene Kirschke, is Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Crisis, and American History (University of Missouri Press, 2014).

 

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  • W.E.B Du Bois's "Life After Death".
    Both the tributes from Carnegie Hall, one in "64 (this one) and the other in '68 (wherein M L K made his historic oration) to Dr. Du Bois are too little known to all-left, right, and center of this great U. S. A. Thanks to Phillip Luke Sinitiere for commenting and writing on them both, in PA.
    The present writer had written an extensive comment 02/24/14, that seems to have been lost. In that comment, the Old Testament, and Du Bois's extensive knowledge of it, his reverence for the Christ, and his rejection of both religious dogmatism and totalitarian traditionalism were highlighted. These two tributes are almost essential to understanding "Life After Death" of the great Du Bois-its spirituality. Also, essential to understanding his monumental fight for peace, with his "Race Woman" Communist wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois.
    Both tributes give insight into why the radical, wild, genius Du Bois, with his signal, cold, calculated, almost miraculous spirituality and scientific logic, chose to be Communist, his long and fruitful career having enriched science, people of color and others everywhere, and nature itself.
    We note one of his timeless, prophetic statements:
    "..PEACE WILL BE MY APPLAUSE".

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 02/25/2014 10:53am (4 years ago)

  • Both the tributes from Carnegie Hall, one in '64 (this one) and the other in '68 (where M L K made his historic oration)to Dr. Du Bois are too little known-thanks to Phillip Luke Sinitiere for commenting and writing on them both, in PA.
    The present writer had written an extensive comment 02/24/14 that seems to have been lost.
    In that comment, the Old Testament, and Du Bois's extensive knowledge of it, his reverence for the Christ, and his rejection of both religious dogmatism and totalitarian traditionalism were highlighted.
    These two tributes are almost essential to understanding "life after death" of the great Du Bois,
    also, essential to understanding his fight for peace with his "Race Woman" wife Communist, Shirley Graham Du Bois. They give insight into why the radical, wild, genius Du Bois, with his signal, cold, calculated, almost miraculous spirituality and scientific logic, chose to be Communist, his long and fruit career having enriched science, people of color and others everywhere, and nature itself.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 02/25/2014 10:26am (4 years ago)

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