Writer’s Quote Wednesday // W.E.B. Du Bois

Hello dear readers and fellow writers and welcome to Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each week bloggers share their favorite quotes to motivate and inspire one another to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution this week is from the  American author, historian, and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.

W.E.B. Du Bois circa 1911

William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois (pronounced doo-BOYZ) was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. He grew up in a fairly tolerant and integrated community. He identified himself as “mulatto,” but freely attended school with whites and was enthusiastically supported in his academic studies by his white teachers. In 1885, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University. It was there that he first encountered Jim Crow laws. For the first time, he began analyzing the deep troubles of American racism.

He attended Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his BA in 1890 and his MS in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910.

Du Bois adamantly opposed the idea of biological white superiority and vocally supported women’s rights. In 1909, he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served as editor of its monthly magazine, The Crisis. 

Du Bois rejected any compromise in his quest for equal rights and political representation for Black people, he wanted nothing less than all America had to offer and believed that the Black intellectual elites he named the Talented Tenth would be crucial in obtaining those rights. He refused to play by the rules White Americans imposed on the Blacks. He would not fall into that trap and instead encouraged a new way where Black people stopped caring what white people thought and start playing their own game.

Du Bois would go on to become a prolific author. His collection of essays,  The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, is a collection of 14 essays, in which he urged black Americans to stand up for their educational and economic rights, was a classic work in African-American literature. His  1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. He wrote the first scientific treatise in the field of sociology; and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics, and history.

He died on August 27, 1963, in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. He was 95 years old.

Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent.

– W.E.B. Du Bois, Criteria of Negro Art

In this quote, Du Bois is speaking about his belief that art should mean something and not just be purely for art’s sake. He hated that White people had been misrepresenting Black people in an unflattering and cruel way, and represented their own race as always good and beautiful. He also hated that black artists  worked so hard not to offend White people in their own art. He believed Black people should no longer critique their arts by white standards and instead create art that counters the current prejudice and tells the story of racism and suffering in America.



information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

The word propaganda has a lot of negative connotations in most people’s minds. People think of lies, wars, and corrupt governments, but propaganda can be used for good, and it can be used to tell the truth. In Du Bois time art and writing were used to counter misinformation and raise people’s awareness, tolerance, and compassion.

Today the world still needs this kind of art and like Du Bois I believe all art should be propaganda. I have no use for things that are just “pretty to look at”. I have no use for art that doesn’t make me feel or see something I haven’t before, or doesn’t remind me of a part of myself I have forgotten.

All artist and writers should strive to tell a truth about the world, correct a wrong they see, or counter a conventional, yet incorrect or harmful belief. Du Bois meant specifically the belief that “all things white were good” and “all things black were bad”, but what about “women always say ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes””, or “all gay people are perverted”? What about “all Muslims are terrorists” or “racism doesn’t exist anymore”?

Artists and writers should be working to make the world greater through their work. They don’t have to tackle big issues, even a small contribution is worthy. A personal story that sheds light on the parts of our lives we are ashamed to talk about or that illustrates the immense love that can be found in a family is something I would consider good and beautiful. I talk about my little life with my girlfriend and my pets, but I want to show that even the ordinary should be seen as wonderful and rare. I want to show that each of us is something and that we all deserve happiness. My art has a meaning.

Art should always spread information and ideas about what is good, bad, beautiful, and right and wrong. It should raise awareness and tell a truth about the world. It should shine light wherever darkness and evil still prevail.

Biographical information via Wikipedia, Goodreads, and Biography.com