“The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin – the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world.”
W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1963
Historian, professor, and one of the founders of the NAACP
From a letter Du Bois sent to his 13-year-old daughter in 1914. She had just started boarding school in England and his letter is filled with encouragement. He writes honestly about how people may wonder about her brown skin and crinkley [sic] hair, reminding her that “most folk laugh at anything unusual” and that she must not laugh at herself. “You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley [sic] hair as straight. The main thing …” Published in Posterity, Letters of Great Americans To Their Children by Dorie McCullough Lawson
I was a bit skeptical last January when I first read about the one word resolution, thinking it simply another gimmick that would soak up my time but yield little in return … even though I’m a list-maker and like to make checkmarks on my to-do lists, and even though my family and I write resolutions every year.
And for awhile, my word did waste my time.
I signed up for a “Google alert” so I’d get an email every time my word showed up in print. I subscribed to blogs of writers who’d chosen the same, or a very similar, word. My inbox was full, but most of the Google alerts were about Mexican or Italian food, and very little of what I read on other writers’ blogs helped me move forward.
So I unsubscribed from everything and simply incorporated the word into every question I asked myself about how I spent my day and how I planned to spend my day tomorrow. And I think that’s why this quote from W. E. B. Du Bois has stayed with me ever since I first read it. It says authentic but it doesn’t scream at me.
Three things I’ll think about the next time I read this quote
His family history as it relates to American history
His maternal great-great grandfather Burghardt was a slave, brought to Massachusetts from West Africa and freed after the Revolutionary War. His paternal great grandfather was a slave-owning plantation farmer in the Bahamas who emigrated there after the Revolutionary War; his paternal great grandmother was a mulatto.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born three years after the 13th Amendment (abolished slavery) had been passed and was two years old when the 15th Amendment (gave African American men the right to vote) was passed.
He died in 1963, two weeks before the Civil Rights Act was passed. Five years later, Martin Luther King gave a tribute to Du Bois at a celebration to honor what would have been his 100th birthday; it was the last major lecture King gave before he was assassinated.
In 1904, while teaching at Atlanta University in Georgia, W. E. B. Du Bois published a Credo in a New York periodical called The Independent.
He was one of leaders of Niagara Movement (New York, 1905) which led to establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was the NAACP’s first Director of Publications and Research and edited The Crisis, the organization’s official publication, for 25 years.
He became critical of American foreign policy during the 1940s and 1950s, was accused of being a Communist, and was forced to leave the NAACP. After this, many black leaders, newspapers, and intellectuals distanced themselves from him; his passport was revoked.
In an effort to educate African American children about their heritage, he produced 24 issues of a children’s magazine (The Brownies’ Book) and wrote a three-hour pageant about the Negro race (The Star of Ethiopia) which was performed four times across the United States between 1913 and 1924.
His lifelong dream was to write an encyclopedia of the Negro race and he first attempted to do so while teaching at Atlanta University. He does nothing else on the project until he gains support from the prime minister of Ghana and in 1961, moves there to work on Encyclopedia Africana. He becomes a citizen of Ghana in 1963 and publishes the first volume of the encyclopedia shortly before he dies.
Bois, William E. B.. W. E. B. DuBois speaks. Volumes 1 and 2. New York: Pathfinder Pr., 1970. Print.
Du Bois Central." Du Bois Central. <http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/dubois/>.