Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fall 2009: W.E.B. Du Bois

As I'm preparing to take up a new teaching position this fall, beginning to revise my dissertation into a book manuscript, preparing several conference papers, and otherwise make steady progress on several other writing projects, recently I came across some books I'm looking forward to reading this fall.

As the title of this post suggests, these are works about W.E.B. Du Bois.

1. The first is from American studies scholar and College of New Rochelle historian Amy Bass. Well-known for her historical analysis of recent Olympics games, her first book Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete (2002) is a serious study with enduring relevance. (See also the recent documentary on Black Power, the quest for justice, and the 1968 Olympics, "Salute.") Professor Bass's new book, titled Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle Over W.E.B. Du Bois, due out in October, is a study of the memory of W.E.B. Du Bois. The University of Minnesota Press's website contians this summary of the book:

On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois died in exile in Ghana at the age of 95, more than a half century after cofounding the NAACP. Five years after his death, residents of Great Barrington, the small Massachusetts town where Du Bois was born in 1868, proposed recognizing his legacy through the creation of a memorial park on the site of his childhood home. Supported by the local newspaper and prominent national figures including Harry Belafonte and Sydney Poitier, the effort to honor Du Bois set off an acrimonious debate that bitterly divided the town. Led by the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, opponents compared Du Bois to Hitler, vilifying him as an anti-American traitor for his communist sympathies, his critique of American race relations, and his pan-Africanist worldview. In Those About Him Remained Silent, Amy Bass provides the first detailed account of the battle over Du Bois and his legacy, as well as a history of Du Bois’s early life in Massachusetts. Bass locates the roots of the hostility to memorialize Du Bois in a cold war worldview that reduced complicated politics to a vehement hatred of both communism and, more broadly, anti-Americanism. The town’s reaction was intensified, she argues, by the racism encoded within cold war patriotism.Showing the potency of prevailing, often hidden, biases, Those About Him Remained Silent is an unexpected history of how racism, patriotism, and global politics played out in a New England community divided on how—or even if—to honor the memory of its greatest citizen.

2. One of my former professors, UH's Gerald Horne, has a biography of W.E.B. Du Bois coming out later this fall. I'm on a panel with Horne at the 2010 American Historical Association Annual Meeting in San Diego about the NAACP's magazine The Crisis, so I look forward to getting the full scoop on the new book there. Already an accomplished scholar and author, this newest biography comes from one of the leading Du Bois scholars today. Published in Greenwood Press's Biography Series, here is a blurb about Horne's forthcoming work, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography:

This revealing biography captures the full life of W.E.B. Du Bois—historian, sociologist, author, editor—a leader in the fight to bring African Americans more fully into the American landscape as well as forceful proponent of them leaving America altogether and returning to Africa. Drawing on extensive research, Gerald Horne, a leading authority on Du Bois and a versatile and prolific scholar in his own right, offers a fully rounded portrait of this accomplished and controversial figure, including the often overlooked final decades without which no portrait of Du Bois could be complete. The book also highlights Du Bois's relationships with and influence upon other leading civil rights activists both during, and subsequent to, his extraordinarily long life, including Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Jesse Jackson.

3. Just out, religious studies scholar Jonathon Kahn's book, Divine Discontent: The Religious Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois, adds yet another layer to our understanding of W.E.B. Du Bois and religion. Here's a bit from Oxford University Press's website:

W. E. B. Du Bois is an improbable candidate for a project in religion. His skepticism of and, even, hostility toward religion is readily established and canonically accepted. Indeed, he spent his career rejecting normative religious commitments to institutions and supernatural beliefs. In this book, Jonathon Kahn offers a fresh and controversial reading of Du Bois that seeks to overturn this view. Kahn contends that the standard treatment of Du Bois turns a deaf ear to his writings. For if we're open to their religious timbre, those writings-from his epoch-making The Souls of Black Folk to his unstudied series of parables that depict the lynching of an African American Christ-reveal a virtual obsession with religion.

Du Bois's moral, literary, and political imagination is inhabited by religious rhetoric, concepts and stories. Divine Discontent recovers and introduces readers to the remarkably complex and varied religious world in Du Bois's writings. It's a world of sermons, of religious virtues such as sacrifice and piety, of jeremiads that fight for a black American nation within the larger nation. Unlike other African American religious voices at the time, however, Du Bois's religious orientation is distinctly heterodox--it exists outside the bounds of institutional Christianity. Kahn shows how Du Bois self-consciously marshals religious rhetoric, concepts, typologies, narratives, virtues, and moods in order to challenge traditional Christian worldview in which events function to confirm a divine order. Du Bois's antimetaphysical religious voice, he argues, places him firmly in the American tradition of pragmatic religious naturalism typified by William James. This innovative reading of Du Bois should appeal to scholars of American religion, intellectual history, African American Studies, and philosophy of religion.

4. David Levering Lewis, noted Du Bois biographer, has a new one-volume version of his two-volume biography coming out.
It is hard to tell is this is a revised and updated version of his previous work, or a repackaging of selected portions of his previous books. Either way, Lewis's W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography I'm sure will be well worth the read.