By Homer "Skip" Meade
STOCKBRIDGE — At this time and in this place, amid a celebration recognizing what would have been the 150th birthday of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, we take pause. We take a moment to dig deeply into that reservoir of personal thoughts, joy-filled or not, as we sift through our own personal thoughts of the past. In that pause, in that moment, we are encouraged to contemplate what the world would have been without the contributions given by Du Bois.
Many readers may have traveled the "weary road," hoping to plumb the depths of racial antagonisms as well as, for a time, to cool the rage of the mistreated. Some search for he/she who would become a champion for all who are disfranchised. We see that the young Du Bois found at an early age the foundation upon which his public service for his people was to be based. The foundation reflected the determination and the genius displayed by the young Du Bois seeking out members of his family and his community, i.e., ". . . let us cheer the lonely traveler."
This search for that traveler is certainly one that has a noble goal; however, what the good doctor pictured at age nine was not an "end." The reality was not as pictured in Du Bois's young adolescence mind.
To identify those "noble goals" interested readers might direct their attention to the gathered correspondence of Du Bois. In those three volumes we are offered moments when his genius is captured. In Du Bois's writings we find reports of meetings work, travel, and professional academic writings. In the reading of the presented correspondence, we read Du Bois responses that may present ideas contrary to his own. The joy of reading the "Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois" is that we witness the evolution of thought, i.e., the maturing or not of once accepted raison d'etre.
A true perfectionist
In the correspondence of Du Bois we find a perspective of Du Bois's prose that to some is missunderstood. For a glimpse of what is found outside his academic work, I offer the following: his separation from the NAACP department-specific letters from his gathered letters to the editor addressed to The Crisis (the house publication of the NAACP founded by Du Bois in 1910).
In Du Bois's shop perfection was expected. We find letters, directives work assignments, reports and so on. These categories informed Du Bois of the state of the production cycle and, in turn, Du Bois would be informed of the state of the The Crisis measured by the purchase of the magazine and/or the new subscription orders that had been received.
If a specific target area showed a drop in the subscriptions, Du Bois would ask for a review in case the drop was the fault of the magazine or was there in issue of the welfare of the subscription holders. Du Bois instructed the magazine staff to follow-up with those readers who had questions to be addressed; exchanging business letters with contractors for NAACP projects to be planned; projects being maintained; gathering persons with expertise and contacts with "vendors" to find where new talent may be found; planning the agenda of The Crisis, and on, and on.
With Du Bois, we witness the maturation of the depth of consideration associated with his thoughts across the breathe of his writing. Du Bois, for so many reasons has a rightful seat in the pantheon of the Greats.
Were we to consider Du Bois's body of work, both oral and written, we would begin to quench our interests in noting the young Du Bois's maturation beginning. The introduction to Du Bois's maturation can be found in a letter written in March of 1877:
Gt. Barrington. march(sic), 8, 1877
My dear grandmama.
I thank you for your present, and hope you will be here this summer — my schoolhouse stands a little way from Main St.
This was written when I was nine years of age.
WE Du Bois.
Du Bois, by the age of nine years, was already a keen observer of life, and in looking at his work we begin following his writing at that age in 1877. One of the important take-aways that is found in the note above is that this was Du Bois's first effort to truly speak to those who took an interest in his life. Even, at that age of nine, Du Bois anticipates that he will offer insights to the late 19th century thought to whoever will pause to hear or to read his words and take notice of his views.
Du Bois gladly shared the opinion of change in the social order here in the United States. Du Bois would like to challenge the stand-back attitude that The Crisis advisory board suggested. There would be time for Du Bois's program and the board would gladly share in the recognition of and the attention given to the concerns of the individuals who are especially the targets of racism.
At the age of 95, Dr. Du Bois sent his last letter to his publisher while he was working on final edits to the text of "ABC of Color." This would be the last work to be published, in the summer of 1963. He passed on August 27, 1963, the evening before "The March on Washington," which meant all the world was informed of his death at the same time.
At that announcement, despair and tears gripped those who stood around the Lincoln Memorial. It is reported that after the announcement was made, civil rights leader Roy Wilkins commented that "Without that old man, we would not be here today."
Dr. Meade is an educator and Du Bois scholar. He served as a member of the W.E.B Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the UMass-Amherst