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Date: 1997 July 12

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EAP History Archive
1997 July 12

Interview with Dr. David G. Du Bois: Son of W.E.B. Du Bois continues his father's dream for an Encyclopaedia Africana®™

by Bianca Floyd
The Prince George's Post
Upper Marlboro, Maryland, USA
July 1997
[Copyright 1997 - The Prince George's Post Newspaper]

David Graham Du Bois

Photo by Edward Cohen, 1994
North Amherst, MA

BIO: David Du Bois

Aided by Fisk University's Race Relations Institute, David Graham Du Bois leads a renewed effort to complete the Encyclopaedia Africana®™  

During the 31st Race Relations Institute (31RRI), held during the first week of July, Dr. David G. Du Bois, son of W.E.B. 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 .... David Graham Du Bois
Son of W.E.B. Du Bois

Speaking at the31st Race Relations Institute
Nashville, Tennessee
July 8-12, 1997

Ms. Floyd:  What was the original intent of the Encyclopaedia Africana®™ as your 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 Africana Project.

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 about Africa.

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 materials.

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 Foundation.

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.

Author's Note:

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 Harvard.

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 original Encyclopaedia Africana Project founded 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 project.

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.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
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, April 1962

Ms. Floyd:  What can black newspapers do to get the word out?

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.


Photo: Bianca Floyd, July 1997 - 31st Race Relations Institute

Bianca Floyd

For a paper copy of the above article, contact:

The Prince George's Post
15209 Marlboro Pike, Suite 203
Upper Marlboro, Maryland, USA - 20772-9930

Prince George's Post Newspaper, Inc. (301) Legusta Floyd, Sr., Publisher-Owner
627-0900 - Voice

David  Graham Du Bois
Dr. David Du Bois is the son of W.E.B. Du Bois and a professor at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
EAP Articles by David Graham Du Bois

76 Nile Street, Apt. 24 
Cairo, Egypt  12612

P.O. Box 144
Amherst, MA, USA  01004

e-mail: dubois@afroam.umass.edu

David Graham Du Bois

Photo by Edward Cohen
North Amherst, MA (1994)
BIO: David Du Bois

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

Encyclopaedia Africana Project
1997 July 12
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