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Up From Prodigy

June 2024
1min read

W. E. B. Du Bois Biography of a Race, 1868–1919

by David Levering Lewis, Henry Holt, 735 pages

In the first of what will be two volumes on the extraordinary life of the black historian, sociologist, and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, David Levering Lewis follows his subject’s growth from the dutiful, gifted son of a frail mother and absent father in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, through his prime years of eloquent outrage at the helm of The Crisis , the NAACP monthly magazine he founded. “Under similar circumstances we would fight again,” Du Bois wrote as black American soldiers returned from Europe in 1919. “But by the God of heaven we are cowards and jackasses if now that the war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.” After his impressive rise through the academic ranks (at Harvard he studied with George Santayana and William James), Du Bois became an intellectual force for activism and openly broke with black leaders like Booker T. Washington when he considered them too accommodating. This superb book is equal to its hero’s fiercely brilliant career. The second volume will follow Du Bois from age fifty-one until his death in Ghana on the eve of the 1963 March on Washington.

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