W.E.B. Dubois: Influential Black Leaders
In the introduction to The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois wrote that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of color line.” Though this prophetic remark is perhaps his most indelible, in a career spanning over a half-century until his death in 1963, Du Bois possessed the most perpetual voice on race in American history.
Attentive to both sides of the color line, Du Bois provided the most cogent explanation why whites to this day rebuff interracial political alliances even when sharing economic interests with people of color. In Black Reconstruction in America, published in 1935, Du Bois observed that working-class whites receive the psychological wage of whiteness. “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers,” he penned, “while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.”
Du Bois also wrote incisively on the black condition, including the observation that blacks have a double consciousness. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
This is the legacy of Du Bois — a veritable library of works that were essential reading the moment he finished them because they spoke to the issues of the day and yet speak just as loudly now. – Brando Simeo Starkey