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The Wit and Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois 

I've transcribed some quotes and passages from Du Bois' splendid reprinted 1965 edition The World and Africa (1946-7) and mixed them with some other writings such as The Souls of the Black Folk.  Despite his reverence for Karl Marx, I consider Du Bois to be one of the greatest historical, political, and poetic writers.





We continually set before us the successful rich man as more typical of what America means than the student or the philanthropist or the unselfish man of small income and simple tastes.



Make no mistake, war did make the Great Depression; it was the reasons behind the depression that caused war 

and will cause it again.



In the seventeenth century the African slave trade to America expanded.  It was not yet however a trade which made the word synonymous with Negro or black: during these years the Mohammedan rulers of Egypt were buying white slaves by the tens of thousands in Europe and Asia and bringing them to Syria, Palestine, and the Valley of the Nile.



The paradox of the peace movement of the nineteenth century is a baffling comment on European civilization.  There was not a single year during the nineteenth century when the world was not at war...[A]t least one hundred and fifty separate wars can be counted during the heyday of the peace movement.



There can be no doubt but that more individuals have had opportunity to rise from repression and obscurity in America than in Europe.  But even here we have  not done anywhere near what we might...Only the Jews among us, as a class, carefully select and support talent and genius among the young; the Negroes are following this example as far as their resources and knowledge allow.  It is for this very reason that jealousy of the gifted Jew and ambitious Negro is closing the doors of opportunity in their face.  This led to the massacre of Jews in Europe.



[The American Negro] wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.



From the shimmering swirl of waters where many, many thoughts ago the slave-ship first saw the square tower of Jamestown, have flowed down to our day three streams of thinking: one swollen from the larger world here and overseas, saying, the multiplying of human wants in culture-lands calls for the world-wide coöperation of men in satisfying them. Hence arises a new human unity, pulling the ends of earth nearer, and all men, black, yellow, and white. The larger humanity strives to feel in this contact of living Nations and sleeping hordes a thrill of new life in the world, crying, "If the contact of Life and Sleep be Death, shame on such Life." To be sure, behind this thought lurks the afterthought of force and dominion,—the making of brown men to delve when the temptation of beads and red calico cloys.





The goal of human life was illustrated in the nineteenth-century English novel: the aristocrat of independent income 

surrounded by a herd of obsequious and carefully trained servants.



Most of the civilizations of the world have lasted less than three centuries, save Egypt.  Even Egypt is only an apparent exception since, being for centuries without effective rivals, it did not actually collapse...



Before 1750, while the fire of African freedom still burned in the veins of the slaves, there was in all leadership or attempted leadership but the one motive of revolt and revenge,—typified in the terrible Maroons, the Danish blacks, and Cato of Stono, and veiling all the Americas in fear of insurrection. The liberalizing tendencies of the latter half of the eighteenth century brought, along with kindlier relations between black and white, thoughts of ultimate adjustment and assimilation. Such aspiration was especially voiced in the earnest songs of Phyllis, in the martyrdom of Attucks, the fighting of Salem and Poor, the intellectual accomplishments of Banneker and Derham, and the political demands of the Cuffes.



Patience, Humility, Manners, and Taste, common schools and kindergartens, industrial and technical schools, literature and tolerance,—all these spring from knowledge and culture, the children of the university. So must men and nations build, not otherwise, not upside down.



My journey was done, and behind me lay hill and dale, and Life and Death...How many heartfuls of sorrow shall balance a bushel of wheat? How hard a thing is life to the lowly, and yet how human and real! And all this life and love and strife and failure,—is it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day?



The race that produced the ugly features of a Darwin or a Winston Churchill was always "beautiful," while a Toussaint and a Menelik were ugly because they were black.



There can be little doubt but that in the fourteenth century the level of culture in black Africa south of the Sudan was equal to that of Europe and was so recognized.



As early as the fifth century the legend of Saint Moor occurs: the legend of a saint of the Roman Catholic Church who was a black man and was reputed to have been a prince in Egypt.



...the docility of Negro slaves in America is a myth...The next event that opposed the slave trade and slavery was the American Revolution.  Not only did the colonists achieve their independence through the help of slaves and the promise of their freedom...but they represented actual working classes rather than exploiters of labor.









All of the above quotations belong to W.E.B. Du Bois.



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