Aided by Fisk University's Race Relations
Institute, David Graham Du Bois leads a renewed effort to complete the
During the 31st Race Relations
Institute (31RRI), held during the first week of July, Dr. David G. Du Bois, son of
Du Bois, spoke with the author at length regarding the continuation of the Encyclopaedia Africana®™ . What follows are excerpts from that interview:
||David Graham Du Bois
Son of W.E.B. Du Bois
Speaking at the31st Race
July 8-12, 1997
Ms. Floyd: What was the original intent of the
father envisioned it?
Dr. David G. Du Bois: The
Encyclopaedia Africana Project
[EAP], which is
located in Accra, Ghana, was conceived by Dr. Du Bois and by Kwame Nkrumah as an idea for
the creation of an encyclopedia of Africa in the scope and the size of the Encyclopedia
Britannica, on the African continent, supervised and directed by African scholars,
contributed to primarily by African scholars or those who are invited to contribute who
are non-African, by the direction or the directors of the project who are African and are
on the African continent. That is fundamental to the objective of the Encyclopedia
We all know that in the last three or four
centuries, we have been subject to an image created of Africa by European scholars and
that image has basically been centered around a justification of European slavery, a
justification of European colonialism on the continent of Africa and a justification of
slavery in the New World, and therefore there were great missions. There were great
distortions. There were great lies incorporated in the scholarship of Europeans in writing
And all of this has been the basis of scholarship
both intellectual and popular about Africa. And we still see evidences of it all the time
in our popular television and in the media in general.
And so the objective of the Encyclopaedia Africana®™ is to challenge, is to correct, and is to add to all that material
that has been left out in a scholar way to make available for researchers, and for
scholars and for writers, both from an intellectual point of view and from the popular
point of view.
Ms. Floyd: How much of it has been completed?
Dr. David G. Du Bois: There have been three volumes completed and published and
they are basically biographies of African personalities. The meat of the encyclopedia
however, is not the question of personalities, but the question of life, history, culture
of Africa told from an African perspective and based on African experience in the light
of the omissions, the distortions and the lies that have appeared in most
European-centered scholarship on Africa.
Ms. Floyd: What will the involvement of Fisk
University's Race Relations Institute (RRI) now mean to the project?
Dr. David G. Du Bois:
It will mean a great deal. The project has been limping
along. After the publication of these first three volumes, the project has been limping
along because of the failure or the inability to raise funds. The original conception was
that organizing committees of the Encyclopedia would be created all over Africa, different
regions of Africa each creating a regional center for the collection materials, for the
assignment of articles, etc. based on their areas and their regions, scholars coming out
of those regions and writing on their own regions in their own areas.
This project, after it was initiated in Ghana by
President Nkrumah, but after President Nkrumah's political overthrow, there were a
succession of political disruptions in Ghana, until such time as the coming of
President Jerry Rawlings. And in that period of a succession of different
political coup d'etats and changes in the politics of Ghana, the Encyclopedia Africana
Project secretariat was to a large extent inactive.
It has been revived now under President Rawlings,
however, it still suffers from [lack of] financial assistance. The original idea again was
that all African countries would contribute to the secretariat. Well most African
countries have other priorities, they have other greater needs, or at least greater needs
from the point-of-view of their leadership.
Our relationship with the Center [Race Relations
Institute] has meant that very important new state-of-the-art communications equipment can
be provided, and will be provided, by the Institute to facilitate the work of the
secretariat out of Ghana.
And this is going to make
all the difference in the world. Modern communications facilities make it possible
for the contact to be all over the continent and for speedy transfer of articles or
So this is what we are
looking forward with a great deal of excitement as a result of Dr. Winbush's consciousness
of the importance of original concept of the Encyclopaedia Africana®™
Ms. Floyd: Why do you think there has been no
movement among black scholars in the discipline of black or African Studies to financially
support the Encyclopaedia Africana®™ as a group, regardless of whether you are
a traditionalist or Afrocentrist, but rather because of what W.E.B. Du Bois gave to us in
terms of our history?
Dr. David G. Du Bois:
That is a very interesting question and a very significant
and important one. And it goes back to the period of time when Dr. Du Bois came under the
severe attack by the U.S. government for his association with the communist movements in
the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the attempt on the part of the U.S. government to
indict him, they successfully indicted him, the attempt to accuse him of and put him in
jail because of his relationship with Communism. This is during the McCarthy era.
So many of our young people don't have any idea
of the circumstances of that period. But it was in that period that Dr. Du Bois was
singled out because of the work that he was doing in tying African-Americans to Africa.
This was in the fifties, in the 40s even before,
the determination of the U.S. government to try to put him in jail to prevent him for
carrying on his activities. And as a result, an image was promoted of Du Bois as some kind
of non-patriot, as some kind of enemy of the country.
This image still persists in many areas, so that
the problem of raising money, the problem of supporting anything that is connected with
the Du Bois name, even though you see reflections of the Du Bois presence or consciousness
throughout African-American studies today in this country.
Even though that is true, money, public support,
promotion still raises fears on the part of many in academe, many blacks in academe, fears
that association with Du Bois, the name W.E.B. Du Bois would jeopardize their positions
in academe and consequently be a source of difficulty for them. That's the reason why I
created the W.E.B. Du Bois
I was determined that an effort must be made to
guarantee that Du Bois' legacy was preserved, that the legacy is passed on to our young
people, and that any distortion of that legacy is challenged, and that's the function and
purpose of the W.E.B. Du Bois Foundation.
And again one of the reasons we responded so
immediately to Dr. Ray Winbush's recognition of the importance of the Encyclopaedia Africana®™
as being created in Ghana.
I raised the
question of the project undertaken by Harvard University's African-American Studies
Department which was termed, "Microsoft Encarta Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience " but has since been changed
to "Afropaedia". I asked Dr. Du Bois to
clarify the difference between the original project started by W.E.B. Du Bois in Accra,
Ghana, and the project undertaken by the African-American Studies Department at
Dr. Du Bois was very mindful of
the sensitivity of the topic, and did not wish to confuse or cause conflict among either
project. The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with information on the
Encyclopaedia Africana Project
by Drs. Du Bois and Nkrumah, and the following response by Dr. Du Bois' was offered as a
clarification of the use of the "term" and should be read in that context.
Ms. Floyd: Dr. Du Bois, what was the difference
between the project undertaken at Harvard University's Department of African-American
Studies which was initially termed "Encyclopedia Africana" and the
"Encyclopedia Africana Project" in Accra, Ghana?
Dr. David G. Du Bois: What was desired apparently at Harvard was
the use of the term "Encyclopedia Africana" for its project. Now the way it has
been described to me, this project is a very vast CD- ROM project bringing together
material all having to do with the black world, from all the diaspora, as well as from the
Continent, but mainly utilizing scholars who are located in the United States of America
or Europe. And they wanted to use the name "Encyclopedia Africana" for their
Well, when we learned about this,
we realized that their project was very different from the project in Accra, Ghana and the
project of W.E.B. Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah. Consequently, a question was raised about
this and it has been resolved now fortunately because Encyclopaedia Africana®™
has been licensed by the publishers of the original three
volumes - the term Encyclopaedia Africana®™
and what Harvard was attempting to do was
to get permission to secure the rights to the utilization of this term.
Because this is part of the
function of the W.E.B. Du Bois Foundation, we don't want any distortion of the Du
Bois tradition or the Du Bois legacy which motivated me to intervene and we were
successful and the Harvard people have recognized that their project is decidedly
different from the project of Du Bois and Nkrumah, and the last word I got was "we
wish you well." So, it has been resolved and resolved amicably.
Ms. Floyd: Can you comment on western scholars and
what appears to me to be some discomfort in releasing control of the interpretation of
African history to African scholars.
Dr. David G. Du Bois: That's the importance of the guarantee that the
Encyclopedia Africana in Accra be given the kind of support that Fisk University is prepared to give it. And it's inevitable. That's what this
conference has been talking about. The whole idea of whites feeling that they are better
equipped to do everything, not just interpret our history, but everything having to do
with Black people than we are ourselves. And this has such great importance in the
intellectual area because for four centuries they have dominated in presenting the image
of Africa to the world.
You get reflections of this not just in North
America, but you get reflections of this in Egypt, you get reflections of it in Japan, you
get reflections of it all over the world, of the European interpretation of Africa and
Africa's history, life and culture.
And not until we create the kind of institutions,
such as the Encyclopaedia Africana®™
and we support them and we provide for them. Now the job
is, that we get our departments, those few that are independent and have funding resources
(cause most of them don't) to support Fisk and the Secretariat in Accra and that creates
the challenge which I think is necessary to set the parameters for the struggle, but its
going to be an on-going struggle because they are scared to death to let us talk about
ourselves in terms of truth. They don't want the truth to be told, they really don't.
White scholars, not knowing the truth in large
measure, because its never been told to them, seem in many cases to be very sincere in the
belief about the belief that they can do it better than Africans can do it, and its just
basic white supremacist attitudes towards African and people of African descent - that
they just can't do the job.
They use all kinds of things like, "you
don't have the money" but that's the importance of this whole thing, but I think that
you can make a major contribution in directing the attention of African-American scholars
in American in the departments, where ever they are, of this need for them to identify
themselves with the effort that is being done in Accra.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
"When once the Blacks of
the United States, the West Indies and Africa work and think together, the future of the
Black man in the world is safe."
Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois,
Founding Director and Secretariat,
Encyclopaedia Africana Project,
Ms. Floyd: What can black newspapers do to get the
Dr. David G. Du Bois: Black newspapers can play a great role in getting the word
out about the Encyclopaedia Africana®™
. There are at least 230, maybe 240 black newspapers
all over this country. Not just the Chicago Defender and Essence magazine, there are 230,
or 40, or 50 black newspapers all over this country - the Institute must make a regular
policy of sending materials to these black newspapers with pictures.
This is something we have a responsibility to do,
to recognize the existence of black newspapers because there are wonderful
newspapers out there. There are new ones every day, and there are ones that die because
they don't have the financial support, historically that has been true with black
newspapers, the difficulty of financially maintaining themselves. Its not the question of
what their politics are, cause their politics has always had to be determined by their
ability to make money.
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