Monday, October 30, 2017

W.E.B. DuBois Later Years

During the later years of his life (from 1945 to 1963), W.E.B. DuBois continued to live his life. He was a member of the three person delegation from the NAACP that attended the 1945 conference in San Francisco. This was the location where the United Nations was established. The NAACP delegation was clear to desire that the U.N. ought to promote racial equality and bring an end to the colonial era. Therefore, DuBois pushed a drafted proposal that pronounced unequivocally that, "[t]he colonial system of government [...] is undemocratic, socially dangerous and a main cause of wars.” The NAACP proposal was supported by China, Russia, and India. Yet, it was virtually ignored by the other major powers. The NAACP proposals were not included in the United Nations charter. After the United Nations conference, Du Bois published his book entitled, “Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace.” This book attacked rightfully the colonial empires. One reviewer mentioned the following words about the book, “contains enough dynamite to blow up the whole vicious system whereby we have comforted our white souls and lined the pockets of generations of free-booting capitalists." In late 1945, he attended the fifth and final Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. The congress was the most productive of the five congresses. DuBois met Kwame Nkrumah, who was the future first President of Ghana. He would later invite Du Bois to Africa. DuBois continued to send petitions to the UN relating to fighting against discrimination, which harmed African Americans. His most noteworthy petition was the NAACP's "An Appeal to the World: A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress.”

This advocacy laid the foundation for the later report and petition called "We Charge Genocide", submitted in 1951 by the Civil Rights Congress. "We Charge Genocide" accuses the U.S. of systematically sanctioning murders and inflicting harm against African Americans and therefore committing genocide. The Cold War started during the mid-1940’s. The NAACP by this time distanced itself from the Communists, because they had a fear of losing funding or its reputation. The NAACP became a stronger anti-Communist campaign by 1947. This came about after Life magazine in the same year published a piece by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. claiming that the NAACP was heavily influenced by Communists. WEB DuBois continued to fraternize with communist sympathizers like Paul Robeson, Howard Fast, and Shirley Graham (his future second wife). Back then, u Bois wrote "I am not a communist [...] On the other hand, I [...] believe [...] that Karl Marx [...] put his finger squarely upon our difficulties [...]." In 1946, Du Bois wrote articles giving his assessment of the Soviet Union. Back then, he did not embrace communism and he criticized Stalin's dictatorship. However, he felt that capitalism was responsible for poverty and racism, and felt that socialism was an alternative that might ameliorate those problems. The Soviets explicitly rejected racial distinctions and class distinction. DuBois felt that the USSR was the most hopeful country on Earth back then. He associated with many communists. The NAACP started to oppose DuBois because of this. The FBI started to aggressively investigate communist sympathizers. DuBois resigned from the NAACP for a second time in late 1948.

After departing the NAACP, Du Bois started writing regularly for the leftist weekly newspaper the National Guardian, a relationship that would endure until 1961. W.E.B. DuBois was a lifelong anti-war activist. He continued in his anti-war activist after World War II. By 1949, DuBois spoke at the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace in New York: "I tell you, people of America, the dark world is on the move! It wants and will have Freedom, Autonomy and Equality. It will not be diverted in these fundamental rights by dialectical splitting of political hairs [...] Whites may, if they will, arm themselves for suicide. But the vast majority of the world's peoples will march on over them to freedom!" In the spring of 1949, he spoke at the Peace in Paris, saying to the large crowd: "Leading this new colonial imperialism comes my own native land built by my father's toil and blood, the United States. The United States is a great nation; rich by grace of God and prosperous by the hard work of its humblest citizens [...] Drunk with power we are leading the world to hell in a new colonialism with the same old human slavery which once ruined us; and to a third World War which will ruin the world." Du Bois affiliated himself with a leftist organization, the National Council of Arts, Sciences and Professions, and he traveled to Moscow as its representative to speak at the All-Soviet Peace Conference in late 1949. By the 1950’s, there was the U.S. government’s anti-communist McCarthyism campaign. It targeted Du Bois because of his socialist views.  Historian Manning Marable characterized the government's treatment of Du Bois as "ruthless repression" and a "political assassination.” The FBI had a file on him since 1942. During the early 1950’s, the government attacked him aggressively also because of Du Bois’s opposition to nuclear weapons. In 1950, he was the chairman of the nearly created Peace Information Center (PIC). It wanted to work to publicize the Stockholm Peace Appeal in America. The primary purpose of the appeal was to gather signatures on a petition, asking governments around the world to ban all nuclear weapons. The U.S. Justice Department accused the PIC of acting as an agent of a foreign state. So, they wanted to require the PIC to register with the federal government. DuBois and PIC leaders refused to do it. So, they were indicted for failure to register.

After the indictment, many of DuBois’s associates distanced themselves from him. The NAACP refused to issue a statement of support. Many labor leaders and leftists like Langston Hughes supported Du Bois. He was finally tried in 1951 and he was represented by civil rights attorney Vito Marcantonio. The case was dismissed before the jury rendered a verdict as soon as the defense attorney told the judge that "Dr. Albert Einstein has offered to appear as character witness for Dr. Du Bois.” Du Bois's memoir of the trial is In Battle for Peace. Even though Du Bois was not convicted, the government confiscated Du Bois's passport and withheld it for eight years. Du Bois was disappointed that many of his colleagues (including members from the NAACP) didn’t support him during his 1951 PIC trial. Working class black people and white people supported him a lot. After the trial, DuBois lived in Manhattan. He wrote and spoke. He associated with mostly leftist acquaintances. He wanted world peace. He opposed the Korean War and other military actions. He viewed the Korean War as efforts by imperialist whites to maintain people of color in a submissive state. In 1950, at the age of 82, Du Bois ran for U.S. Senator from New York on the American Labor Party ticket and received about 200,000 votes, or 4% of the statewide total. Du Bois believed that capitalism was the major reason why imperialism existed against people of color worldwide. He recognized the errors of the Soviet Union, but he believed that communism was a possible solution to racial problems.  In the words of biographer David Lewis, Du Bois did not endorse communism for its own sake, but did so because "the enemies of his enemies were his friends.” In 1940, he called Stalin a tyrant and by 1953 (when Stalin died), he praised him. For the record, Stalin was an authoritarian tyrant and many Trotskyites and other socialists disagreed with Stalin's anti-liberty policies.

The United States government prevented DuBois from going into the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia. The conference was the culmination of 40 years of Du Bois’s dreams. It was made up of a meeting of 29 nations from Africa and Asia, many recently independent, representing most of the world's people of color.  The conference celebrated their independence, as the nations began to assert their power as non-aligned nations during the Cold War. In other words, the Non-Aligned movement didn't want to be dominated politically by the capitalists or the communists. In 1958, Du Bois regained his passport, and with his second wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois, he traveled around the world, visiting Russia and China. In both countries, he was celebrated and given guided tours of the best aspects of communism. Du Bois later wrote approvingly of the conditions in both countries. He was 90 years old. Du Bois was incensed in 1961 when U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1950 McCarran Act, a key piece of McCarthyism legislation which required communists to register with the government. To demonstrate his outrage, he joined the Communist Party in October 1961, at the age of 93. Around that time, he wrote: "I believe in communism. I mean by communism, a planned way of life in the production of wealth and work designed for building a state whose object is the highest welfare of its people and not merely the profit of a part." Ghana invited Du Bois to Africa to participate in their independence celebration in 1957. He was unable to attend, because the U.S. government had confiscated his passport in 1951. By 1960 – the "Year of Africa" – Du Bois had recovered his passport, and was able to cross the Atlantic and celebrate the creation of the Republic of Ghana. Du Bois returned to Africa in late 1960 to attend the inauguration of Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first African governor of Nigeria. While visiting Ghana in 1960, Du Bois spoke with its president about the creation of a new encyclopedia of the African diaspora or the Encyclopedia Africana. In early 1961, Ghana notified Du Bois that they had appropriated funds to support the encyclopedia project, and they invited Du Bois to come to Ghana and manage the project there.  In October 1961, at the age of 93, Du Bois and his wife traveled to Ghana to take up residence and commence work on the encyclopedia. In early 1963, the United States refused to renew his passport, so he made the symbolic gesture of becoming a citizen of Ghana. While it is sometimes stated that he renounced his U.S. citizenship at that time, and he did state his intention to do so, Du Bois never actually did. His health declined during the two years he was in Ghana, and he died on August 27, 1963, in the capital of Accra at the age of 95. Du Bois was buried in Accra near his home, which is now the Du Bois Memorial Centre. A day after his death, at the March on Washington, speaker Roy Wilkins asked the hundreds of thousands of marchers to honor Du Bois with a moment of silence. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, embodying many of the reforms Du Bois had campaigned for his entire life, was enacted almost a year after his death.

By Timothy

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