The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.


Part Thirty: Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and the First Civil Rights Movement

The life of W.E.B. DuBois spanned over 95 productive and creative years. He was born five years after the Emancipation Proclamation or February 23, 1868 and died August 22, 1963, the day before the famous March on Washington which featured the address by Dr. Martin Luther King. DuBois represented for the twentieth century what Frederick Douglass represented for the nineteenth century. Both men symbolize the undying struggle of African Americans against oppression. Both men lived long and productive lives. Both men devoted their lives to struggle on behalf of their race and the oppressed of the world. Douglass was self-taught and born in slavery while DuBois received his education at the most outstanding universities in America and Europe and was born into an integrated middle class environment in New England. In spite of these differences in background both men symbolize the famous statement by Douglass:

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who want the crops without plowing up the ground. They want the rain without the thunder and lighting. They want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters.

…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

Douglass provided new vigor and moral fervor to the Abolition Movement against slavery in the Nineteenth century while DuBois became the center of the Civil Rights Movement against discrimination and segregation in the twentieth century. The institutional vehicle for W.E.B. DuBois was the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) which he helped establish in 1909 and for many years was one of its outstanding leaders. To get his message across and that of the new Association, he organized and edited the Crisis magazine which became the mouthpiece of the NAACP. The institutional vehicle for Douglass was the Anti-Slavery Society, and his newspaper, The North Star, which helped him get his message to the public. Douglass was one of the most outstanding African American activist-organizers while DuBois stands out as one of the greatest scholar-activists in American history.

Both DuBois and Douglass expanded their world views beyond America. Douglass traveled to England to inspire the anti-slavery movement in London and other cities. He later transferred this international interest to the diplomatic field when he became the United States Minister to Haiti near the end of his career. Dr. DuBois studied in Europe at the University of Berlin and developed an international perspective that later involved him in progressive and liberal causes around the world. During the peak of his career, however, he became a leading advocate of Pan-Africanism and helped organize a series of conferences calling for an end to racism and colonialism. He moved to the Republic of Ghana at the end of his life and died there in 1963.

Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois left the world extraordinary legacies. Their lives are testimonies to the undying desire of the human spirit to struggle for freedom and justice. Their personal lives and public lives are inspirations for all peoples. Fortunately, they were both prolific writers so that future generations will be able to read in their own words their thoughts and convictions about the great issues of their time.

 

Economics, Politics and White Racism

By 1900 the strategy of white supremacy was successful throughout much of the South and gains made by African Americans after the Civil War were systematically attacked and often erased. This was particularly true in the political and economic fields. The strategy of White Supremacy was designed to keep African Americans poor, ignorant and politically powerless. Most of the gains made in the political arena were reversed. The vote was systematically taken from Black voters through fraud, electoral gimmicks, grandfather clauses, all-white primaries and when necessary, violence.

By 1901 the last African American Congressman of the Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction era, George H. White from North Carolina, made his farewell address before the House of Representatives and deplored the sad turn of events. It signaled the triumph of white racism and intensified the struggle of African Americans to fight against racism in America. Another Black did not win election to Congress until 1928 when Oscar De Priest used the growing population of African Americans in Chicago as his electoral base.

Since that time more than twenty men and women have been elected to Congress. They have established the Congressional Black Caucus which coordinates their activities. Most of these Congresspersons have come from electoral districts in the East, Mid-West and West, reflecting the population shifts out of the rural South into the urban north since World War II.

In the South, African Americans were eliminated from all state and local political offices by every conceivable means including murder. The property and farmlands of Blacks were often unscrupulously taken by Whites for fraudulent tax claims or questionable indebtedness. Most African Americans were denied equal opportunity in the job market as well as those finance resources necessary to establish an economic base. Since 1900 African Americans have waged an intense struggle against racism. Even education was denied African Americans because it opened up political and economic opportunities.

In 1903 Dr. W.E.B. DuBois wrote,

"Despite compromise, war, and struggle, the Negro is not free… In well-nigh the whole rural South, the Black farmers are peons, bound by law and custom to an economic slavery, from which the only escape is death or the penitentiary."

Another scholar noted that:

"Peonage exists in South Carolina because of the uncurbed, selfish greediness of many of the small town merchants who, through this credit system, manage to keep the vast majority of Negro farmers in debt permanently without any prospect of ever getting ahead financially. The small town merchants are really the backbone of the peonage system in this state and in other southern states."

Because of these conditions, men and women such as Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells helped organize the NAACP in 1909 and in 1910 the National Urban League.


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