Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas with Du Bois 2.0

In the December 1926 issue of The Crisis, Du Bois titled his Christmas reflection “Peace.” And the cover that month featured an Aaron Douglas piece titled “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields.”

Taking his text from Luke 2, out of which the traditional Christmas story comes, Du Bois rewrote the biblical text to fit an early twentieth century context—where life intersected with labor, war, greed, technology, internationalism, wealth, and poverty.

The story, of course, begins with shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the fields at night, “ignorant, black and striving shepherds—poor silly sheep all a-crying, in the gloom; field of harm and hunger.” Du Bois customarily wrote of striving black souls hard at work, and in the next moment the Angel of the Lord showed up to announce the good news of the Savior’s birth. “And lo, the angel of the Lord, Mahatma Gandhi, came upon them, brown and poor and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid.” Universal in scope, the message the Lord’s angel brought “shall be to all people and nations and races and colors…for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Peace.”

And what will be the sign of peace, Du Bois queried, and where will it be? “Ye shall not find Peace in the Palaces and Chancelleries, nor even in the League of Nations and last of all in the Church; but wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, down among lowly black folk and brown and yellow and among the poor whites who work.”

In the story the shepherds responded: “War was, is and ever will be,” they cried. “Wealth rules. God is with the big guns and the largest armies; the costliest battleships, the swiftest airplanes and the loudest boasters of superior races.”

Du Bois ends the story with the appearance of a “lone, lean, brown and conquered angel” accompanied with “a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth, Peace!”

Once again, with Du Bois, salvation comes from the brown, black and lowly; the marginalized pronounce peace, forgiveness, wholeness, and redemption.

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