In honor of Black History Month this weeks Writer’s Quote Wednesday is dedicated to the great W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois (born William Edward Burghardt) was a historian, a civil rights activist, an author and editor, and so much more. He was one of the first Black men to earn a doctorate, and later became a professor at Atlanta University and was one of the co-founders of the NAACP in 1909. He was a great man and is considered a great figure in African-American history.
I fear my little post on this little blog will not do him, nor even his quote, justice.
One of my New Year resolutions was to read more books this year and so I decided for Black History Month I would read only black authors. I chose Du Bois The Souls of Black Folks as my first book and although I am not very far into it yet I can tell you that is a beautiful collection of essays. It was first published in 1903 and is a “landmark book and a founding work in the literature of black protest”.
I feel as though it is nothing short of a work of art. I plan to read it many times over and I get the feeling with every read I will learn something new.
As to the quote, while it seems like such a small quote, the meaning behind it is so big and so deep that I know both my limited understanding and ability to write well are going to diminish it’s power. I will try anyway though because when I read it something happened to me, a light went off in my head. I knew I had read something quite profound but I didn’t quite know what it meant.
I’ll share the context with you for the full effect:
“I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter 6 (“Of the Training of Black Men”)
Here Du Bois is talking both about the what education means for Black people, and condemning White Americans for trying to keep Black people from becoming educated. The former issue is the one that spoke to me the most. To me the quote was saying that through reading and education we can all escape the veil of oppression and racism, both in our own minds, and together, as a race.
The great authors do not care whether you are black or white, or male or female, or rich or poor. They only exist now to teach us all something of the past and of human nature. When we educate ourselves and learn their work we can find our own way of voicing our experiences and one day teaching others something of the past and of human nature, no matter whether they are black or white, or male or female, or rich or poor.
I am probably not understanding it fully but that is what the quote says to me. Du Bois put it in a way that sounds beautiful and powerful. He makes me want to go spend the day at the library reading the classics. I can picture myself sitting with Shakespeare and walking with Dumas and Aristotle, it sounds like such an amazing thing. To be among the great authors, where we can all be equal.
The greats do not care who you are or where you come from. Seek them out, learn from them, then go teach others.