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Date: 2000 December 14

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EAP History Archive
2000 December 14

Race, Class and Power: The Driving Forces Behind Du Bois' Scholarship and Revolutionary Agenda

by Rodney D. Coates, Ph. D.
Miami, University
Oxford, Ohio, USA
December 14, 2000

From 1867 to 1876, Negroes placed their whole hope of full emancipation and economic security upon their political power.

This was of course putting the cart before the horse. Their political power could only have been permanently sustained by economic security-ownership of land, control of some capital and education (Du Bois, 1936a).

America, with its egalitarian creeds imbued in the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is to be judged by the extent that these rights and privileges are extended to all the citizenry.

Du Bois, fervently believing in a populist democracy, spent nearly a century challenging America to live up to its promises by guaranteeing these rights and privileges denied particularly to blacks.

Blacks, however were not his sole concern, Du Bois like the prophet crying in the wilderness, consistently rebuked imperialism, anti-semitism and oppression in all of its many guises (Pollard, 1992).

Racism, an historically created social process, erected many obstacles to the fulfillment of these promises. Racism, as observed by Du Bois, created a complex system under which attitudes of racial differences interacted with, structured and defined the economic and political spheres of American and western societies.

Referring to race and racism as a veil, he made significant, even if generally ignored, intellectual contributions as a sociologist and social psychologists (Lemert, 1994).

W. E. B. Du Bois argued that racism represented a central contradiction in and for America, which, if left unresolved, ultimately would lead to the destruction of our society (Du Bois, 1968a, Cain, 1990, and Goldman, 1994).

It is virtually impossible to pick up a text dealing with sociology, race and race relations, anthropology, stratification, American, European or African history and not come across the name or ideas of Du Bois.

Books, essays, organizations, originating in the mind of Du Bois, serve us even today. They persist just as robust, just as provocative, and just as fresh as when they were first conceived.

W.E.B. Du Bois, born in the small New England town of Great Barrington, traversed the halls of government, palaces of royalty and national and international platforms. On this journey he would occupy the roles of historian, sociologist, poet, editor, lecturer, organizer, essayists, propagandist, civil rights activist, humanitarian, diplomat, and advocate for peace.

Du Bois plotted a course few would even dare to dream, much less live. His impact can be seen from Africa to Asia, from America to China, and from France to Russia.

Through it all, amid praise and damnation, pride and humiliation, hope and despair -- Du Bois remained singularly directed toward confronting and defeating the "color-line". Du Bois ultimately became identified with the plight of the African diaspora and their refusal to accept anything less then freedom.

He used scholarship, poetry, fiction, and diplomacy to advance the cause of blacks every where. His unquestioned place in the black struggle, American and world history is only now, thirty years after his death, being fully appreciated and openly acknowledged (Bennett, 1993).

Following in the footsteps so firmly established by: 

  • Frederick Douglass
  • Benjamin Banneker
  • Fannie Lou Hamer
  • Phyllis Wheatley
  • Pierre Toussaint
  • Mary Jane McLeod Bethune
  • Timothy Fortune
  • Sojourner Truth

Du Bois set the standard and defined the revolutionary agendas for civil rights leaders of the twentieth century, such as:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Audre Lorde
  • Eldridge Cleaver
  • Angela Davis
  • Malcolm X


through love
...... Rodney D. Coates, Ph.D.
Director of Black World Studies
Associate Professor of Sociology
Miami University
Oxford, Ohio 45056 USA
Telephone:  513-529-1235
e-mail: coatesrd@casmail.muohio.edu
umoja, rodney c


Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography
Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography

Encyclopaedia Africana Project
2000 December 14
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