In an earlier post we celebrated the life and ministry of George Freeman Bragg, Jr. a priest of the Episcopal Church who was of African-American descent. In this post I celebrate the life and work of W.E.B. DuBois, who has been hailed as the father of Social Science. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of this man, “His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill the immense void”. In contrast to the approach of such important figures as Booker T. Washington who argued that persons of African descent should forego political equality and civil rights and focus on industrial evolution DuBois believed in the higher education of the talented tenth whose education would help other African Americans achieve.
The “Niagara Movement’ (named for the group’s first meeting site, which was shifted to Canada when they were prevented from meeting in the U.S.) was the result of his efforts toward “organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believed in Negro freedom and growth. “ In 1909, most of the group members merged with white supporters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed. Even when he was at odds with the white leadership of the NAACP he advanced his causes in the magazine Crisis.
DuBois was a leading participant in several Pan-African meetings. At one point he renounced his American Citizenship and moved to Ghana where he died in 1963, on the eve of the March to Washington.
In the Old Testament lesson from the prophet Jeremiah appointed to be read on this feast the Lord God commands the Hebrews to release and free their “Hebrew” slaves. They initially complied with this command but later fell back into enslaving their fellow men. And, for this the Lord wrought vengeance and defeat upon them. (Jeremiah 4:8-18) And, in Mark’s Gospel, Mark 3:23-29, Jesus answers those who accuse him of casting out demons because he is the prince of demons by making the famous declaration that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Even Satan cannot stand with a divided house. William Edward Burghardt DuBois knew that if we refuse to free our fellow man not just physically, but also legally and opportunity wise, we risk great destruction and division. The recent events in Charleston and other places teach us that lack of equal opportunity and the mythology which it perpetuates can have disastrous consequences and that we must continuously work toward true equality for all humankind.