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Publication of The Souls of Black Folk was a dramatic event that helped to polarize black leaders into two groups: the more conservative followers of Washington and the more radical supporters of aggressive protest. Its influence cannot be overstated. It is essential reading for everyone interested in African-American history and the struggle for civil rights in America.
Originally published in 1915, the book was acclaimed in its time, widely read, and deeply influential in both the white and black communities, yet this beautifully written history is virtually unknown today. As a wellspring of critical studies of Africa and African Americans, it directly and indirectly influenced and inspired the works of scholars such as C. L. R. James, Eric Williams, Herbert Aptheker, Eric Foner, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. One of the most important books on Africa ever written, it remains fresh, dynamic, and insightful to this day.
The Negro is compelling on many levels. By comparing W. E. B. Du Bois's analysis with subsequent scholarship, Robert Gregg demonstrates in his afterword that The Negro was well ahead of its time: Du Bois's view of slavery prefigures both paternalistic perspectives and the materialist view that the system was part of the capitalist mode of production. On black contributions to the Civil War and to the emancipation of slaves, historians have yet to acknowledge all that Du Bois delineated. In his discussion of Reconstruction, Du Bois preempts much later historiography. His identification of segregation as an issue of class rather than race is almost forty years ahead of C. Vann Woodward's similar thesis. As to the matter of race, Du Bois is clear that the concept is a social construct having no foundation in biology.
Intellectually and historically prescient, Du Bois assumed globalization as a matter of course, so that his definition of the color line in The Negro links all colonized peoples, not just people of African descent. With the resolution of the Cold War and the ascendancy of the global market, Du Bois's sweeping vision of Africans and the diaspora seems more relevant now than at any time in the past hundred years.
Charismatic, singularly determined, and controversial, W.E.B. Du Bois was a historian, novelist, editor, sociologist, founder of the NAACP, advocate of women's rights, and the premier architect of the Civil Rights movement. His hypnotic voice thunders out of David Levering Lewis's monumental biography like a locomotive under full steam.
This second volume of what is already a classic work begins with the triumphal return from WWI of African American veterans to the shattering reality of racism and lynching even as America discovers the New Negro of literature and art. In stunning detail, Lewis chronicles the little-known political agenda behind the Harlem Renaissance and Du Bois's relentless fight for equality and justice, including his steadfast refusal to allow whites to interpret the aspirations of black America. Seared by the rejection of terrified liberals and the black bourgeoisie during the Communist witch-hunts, Du Bois ended his days in uncompromising exile in newly independent Ghana. In re-creating the turbulent times in which he lived and fought, Lewis restores the inspiring and famed Du Bois to his central place in American history.