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Primary Research Paper Draft

Primary Research Essay
From the very conception of the United States of America, the motto, ‘land of the free
and home of the brave’ has been bolstered by the American people to signify that if one is an
American citizen they are entitled to certain inalienable rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness). These god-given rights have a storied past of individuals who have fought and died
for the ability of Americans to enjoy the freedom of being who they are. While this is an
incredibly easy motto to say, it is not as easily applied to all Americans. As a result, over the
course of American history there have been a number of individuals who have taken great
criticism of this motto and its application to those who are not White men, but none more than
the leader of the American fight for civil rights: W.E.B. Du Bois. His life was dedicated to
speaking out against all injustices and inequalities that he encountered. Du Bois' life-long
mission of speaking up for those who have been oppressed and silenced within America has been
abundantly clear throughout the biography, historical context, and contemporary connections
texts that have been analysed throughout the semester, but no set of sources has been more
directly related to the eradication of inequality than the primary source documents from Du Bois
himself. Upon analysis of all of these documents one is able to show the major events, trends,
and themes that Du Bois influenced most, compare and contrast the secondary sources
(biography, historical context, and contemporary sources) with the primary sources, and the way
in which examining these sources has may shift one's view of Du Bois as a historical figure as
well and historical research as a whole. It is for this reason that I believe that all people should
engage in historical research for the purpose of formulating a more comprehensive understanding
of the conditions of the past, the contemporary world, and the potential events of the future.
The direct impact of W.E.B Du Bois was most clearly felt in the historical context source
that I read. In Michael K. Honey’s book, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the
Fight for Economic Justice, It is abundantly clear the impacts of Du Bois’ work on the daily lives
of Black Americans during the mid-twentieth century 1. First, Honey’s book makes a direct
reference to Martin Luther King's extensive work with the National Association for the
advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of which Du Bois was a founding member. More
specifically, the book refers to the existence of a Baltimore based magazine originally titled “The
Crisis: a Record of the Darker Races” later renamed to The Crisis which was founded and edited
by Du Bois himself.2 This magazine is now the longest running black magazine in the world. In
this magazine, its readers, both Black and White, were able to learn about the current prejudices
in society that were plaguing people of color in society. This magazine, as well as the work of the
NAACP garnered a large amount of support which Martin Luther King Jr. used for the
coordination of the Civil Rights Movement in society. In other words, Du Bois created a
dedicated audience/reader-base that King used to enact the changes that he made in society.
Another NAACP contribution which was vital in the ending of Jim Crow segregation as well as
the outrage which shifted the narrative of civil rights in America was that of the flying of a flag
black flag with white lettering outside of the NAACP headquarters in Manhattan which read “a
man was lynched yesterday”.3 This small, yet powerful message was monumental in the social
Michael K Honey, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic
Justice. (W. W. Norton, 2018).
Michael K Honey, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic
Justice. (W. W. Norton, 2018) 37.
Michael K Honey, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic
Justice. (W. W. Norton, 2018) 41.
tide shifting within the country and the eventual achievement of civil rights for women and
people of color.
W.E.B. Du Bois’ impact on the evolution of social leaders throughout history has not
only been extensive, it has been cited. In the source that I read for the purpose of making
connections to contemporary issues, Mason Funk’s The Book of Pride : LGBTQ Heroes Who
Changed the World, Funk argues that those who fought for civil rights in the early to
mid-twentieth century were the catalyst for the future movement toward LGBTQIA rights. 4
Clearly, Du Bois was that leader. In terms of his contributions to the movement, Du Bois’ refusal
of the gradualism tactic that had been employed by previous Black leaders, namely Booker T.
Washington, was monumental in future movements' refusal to wait to be recognized in society as
a group that deserved to be treated equally. Further, Du Bois’ impact on the belief that these
people had that change was possible cannot be overstated. By showing the nation that he was not
going to bend the knee or lower his voice when faced with the task of speaking truth to power,
Du Bois was a shining example of the way in which future generations were to demand the rights
that were allotted to them as American citizens: loudly and with authority. Moreover, a similar
version of the Talented Tenth model was used throughout the LGBTQ movement as people of
high esteem like celebrities, politicians, and other community leaders began to come out of the
closet and show society that it is possible to simultaneously be an important member of society
and a member of the LGBTQ movement.5 These individuals, much like DuBois' vision for the
talented tenth, lifted up the rest of the movement and gave it popular, well-respected
representatives that society could look to.
Mason Funk, The Book of Pride : LGBTQ Heroes Who Changed the World (New York, NY:
HarperOne, An Imprint Of Harpercollins Publishers, 2019) 2.
Mason Funk, The Book of Pride : LGBTQ Heroes Who Changed the World (New York, NY:
HarperOne, An Imprint Of Harpercollins Publishers, 2019) 124.
While the extensive secondary research that was completed gave the reader a more
complete picture of the overall life and impact of Du Bois, one cannot establish a complete
understanding of Du Bois without reading primary sources directly from Du Bois himself. This
was very evident in the biography source that I read at the beginning of the semester, David
Levering Lewis’, W.E.B. Du Bois: a Biography.6 While this source's extensive content and
attention to detail was the reason I selected it, the book’s detail-oriented nature began to fade as
Du Bois began to speak out against America and its involvement in the Cold War. During this
portion of the book, Lewis seemed to be holding back key details about Du Bois’ anti-patriotism
and overall anti-nationalism. It was a drastic change from the previous chapters and one can only
speculate that the author purposefully chose to omit some details and opinions of Du Bois in
order to maintain his legacy of a great American leader. Fortunately, the primary source
documents filled in this gap in this portion of his life and were extremely helpful and detailed
regarding Du Bois’ growing hatred for many of the United States’ claimed values. This was
evidenced in the speech “Peace is Dangerous” which Du Bois gave in 1951 to the National
Council of Arts. 7 In this speech, Du Bois goes into detail about the hypocrisy that America is
engaging in as it pertains to its criticisms of the Soviet Union’s colonial imperialism and the
spread of communism throughout the world. This is also explicitly stated in Du Bois’ speech at
the American-Soviet Friendship Committee meeting where he gave a speech titled, “Do we want
peace with the Soviet Union”.8 He speaks extensively about the American people’s blinders
which have been placed on them by the government to believe that the only country that should
be branching its influence out into the world is their own. This was extremely eye opening
David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois : A Biography (New York: Henry Holt, 2009).
W.E.B. Du Bois, “Peace Is Dangerous,” credo.library.umass.edu, 1951,
W.E.B Du Bois, “Do We Want Peace with the Soviet Union,” credo.library.umass.edu, March
26, 1953, https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b203-i027.
DuBois is directly attacking American Nationalism in a way that is very difficult to refute and
extremely thought provoking.
Another gap that was missing in the Biography that was easily filled in by the use of
primary sources was Du Bois’ perspective on Black women and their struggle to battle both
racism and sexism. In the source, “The American Negro woman” 9, Du Bois fills in a gap in the
biography regarding his appreciation of Black women’s role in the fight for civil rights. He
specifically names two Black female leaders, Sojourner Truth and Harriett Tubman, as heros of
the march towards both women’s rights and civil rights throughout America’s history. These
primary documents were crucial in the understanding of specific key conditions that African
Americans faced. These conditions were spoken about throughout Lewis’ biography, but hold a
different weight when compared to the words of a man who is experiencing outright oppression
and persecution for the color of their skin. Through his speeches, “Civil Rights”10 and “Negro
Problems of the United States”11 which were given in 1948 and 1952 respectively, Du Bois
details the American government’s disgust for the African American community and their
commitment to the fight for civil rights. He speaks extensively about the importance of banding
together as people of color in order to fight a system that has banded together in opposition to
freedom and equality for all. In both of these sources, Du Bois explicitly speaks of the specific
setbacks that he experiences on a daily basis and compares them to someone who has leprosy
during biblical times: society wants to cast African Americans out of their communities. These
sources were monumental in the intimate understanding of the experiences of African Americans
W.E.B. Du Bois, “The American Negro Woman,” credo.library.umass.edu, 1949,
W.E.B. Du Bois, “Civil Rights,” credo.library.umass.edu, 1948,
W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Negro Problems of the United States, May 27, 1952,”
credo.library.umass.edu, May 27, 1952,
being treated as second class citizens in their own country. This is a stark contrast to the other
source’s focus on specific major events in Du Bois’ life as opposed to his day to day experiences.
Du Bois’ imagery of leprosy in the bible throughout his speech was extremely moving in that it
brings forth a religious component that had not previously been attributed to Du Bois as a
While there are many things the secondary sources (namely the biography) were missing,
there were also a number of places in which the primary and secondary sources line up extremely
well. First, the secondary sources did a particularly good job of explaining Du Bois’ refusal to
settle for a gradual allotment of deserved rights to a large demographic of people: those of color.
It was clear throughout Lewis’ biography that his central focus was debunking the
misconceptions of Du Bois as an impatient, radical leader who exclusively spoke and refused to
listen. Rather, Lewis showed Du Bois as an individual who recognized a need for immediate
change and refused to stop fighting for those who were being oppressed. This sentiment is
extremely clear through the primary source documentation in that Du Bois write an article titled
“Of peace and happiness” for the purpose of explaining that the only way to achieve true world
peace is to stop viewing the world in terms of the differences that people have and start by
focusing on what we have in common.12 He goes on to state that the best way to achieve
complete, world-wide happiness is to do no harm to any human being. That is, end wars over
resources, quash petty vendettas, and start recognizing that the entity one is in contact with is a
human being as well and deserves not to be killed. Further, Du Bois’ commitment to shifting the
narrative of Black people throughout the country from a top-down approach was very well done
by Lewis. This is bolstered by a leaflet written by Du Bois in 1935 titled “A new creed for
W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Peace and Happiness, May 16, 1932,” credo.library.umass.edu, May 16,
1932, https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b197-i042.
American Negros” in which he calls for unity of all people of color and for the Talent Tenth to
lift up and lead the rest of the group in order to change perception and shift a historical narrative
of laziness and inadequacy of African Americans. 13 The educated and successful among the
Black community lifting up the rest of the community was masterfully explained throughout
Lewis’ book as a key component of Du Bois’ leadership throughout his life. Lastly, the
biography did a great job explaining the deterioration of Du Bois’ spirit and belief in the actual
possibility of change as he grew older and more jaded to the system. This sentiment is
vehemently stated in a short book titled, “I take my stand for peace.”14 This source, bolstering an
old, weathered-looking W.E.B. Du Bois on the cover, seems to almost be a last effort by Du Bois
to cling to his Americanism and once again lobby the American people to understand his mission
of peace and equality for all people. In this source Du Bois is seemingly pleading to the
American government to understand his position and shift its influence in the world away from
selfish resource mongering to the fight for world peace. This source is one of the saddest one
could read because it is clear that Du Bois is soon going to give up on a country that he has
worked so hard to change and mold throughout his life which, in return is bringing up criminal
charges against him “for openly advocating for the one thing all peace want—PEACE”.15 At this
point, Du Bois has finally decided that America is too far gone to save.
The examination of primary and secondary scholarship has had a tremendous impact on
my opinion of both W.E.B. Du Bois as an individual and historical research in general. With each
successive source that I read I felt as if I was uncovering a new piece of Du Bois’ life. These
W.E.B. Du Bois, “A New Creed for American Negroes,” credo.library.umass.edu, October 5,
1935, https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b209-i035.
W.E.B. Du Bois, “I Take My Stand for Peace,” credo.library.umass.edu, 1951,
W.E.B. Du Bois, “I Take My Stand for Peace,” credo.library.umass.edu, 1951,
https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b227-i083 15.
discoveries, while small, tend to add up in a big way when one is reading a source that is a
thousand pages long. At this point, I feel as if I know W.E.B Du Bois better than the vast
majority of the population. That being said, at the beginning of my research I imagined it would
be relatively easy to read about the events of Du Bois’ life and formulate a deep understanding of
the motivations behind his anger with the American government throughout his life. I assumed
this answer would be a short, two sentence explanation which would cover every aspect of Du
Bois life and would make a definitive argument about why he was right or correct in his
decision. As I read more of the primary source documents by Du Bois I found there to be an
incredible amount of nuance in each of his decisions. As I alluded to earlier, it is one thing for
someone to write about the events that have happened to someone else and attempt to pick out a
theme which could be used as a guiding principle when each decision is made; it is a different
thing entirely when one is reading about the events that one has experienced through the words
and actions of the person affected by the events in real-time. Even if the author of a secondary
source is an incredible writer, one cannot fully comprehend someone’s life without the use of
primary scholarship. In other words, even if one is a good storyteller, it is better to hear the story
from the one who experienced it first hand. Further, I was expecting there to be a particular event
that sent Du Bois over the edge into complete emigration from the United States and refusal of
all American identity, but there was no such event. Rather, Du Bois’ descent into madness was a
slow, arduous process which was the product of a decades-long feud with the American
government and social structure. Nevertheless, W.E.B. Du Bois is the quintessential example of
an individual who refused to lay down and shut up even when the entirety of the system was
against him, and for that, he deserves to be cemented in the conversation of heroes of American
In addition to shifting my view of Du Bois as an individual, the analysis of primary and
secondary sources has also allowed me a deeper understanding of the practice of historical
research in general. The practice of reading history and analyzing the events is one that everyone
including those who do not have a particular interest in historical figures should engage in as
historical research is pivotal in the understanding of both historical society as well as
contemporary life. In terms of concepts, I have learned the value of taking the primary source
documents from somebody’s life, their opinions, arguments, mistakes, and successes and
combining them all together in order to apply the lessons that they have learned to contemporary
issues. This, in my opinion, is what history is all about: learning from the events of the past for
the purpose of ensuring that the benevolent events and changes continue and the malevolent
events cease to exist. This practice of historical research throughout this semester has also taught
me that not a single person throughout history, regardless of how great or influential is all good
or all bad. These historical figures, after all, are just people. They took in all of the information
available to them, all of their experiences, and all of their knowledge and made the decisions that
they believed was best for them and those that they cared about. The practice of historical
research is the practice of taking those people’s decisions, trying to make sense of them, and
subsequently moving on to the next event. After analysing historical research this semester, I
genuinely believe that I have a completely different perspective on those who write history as
well as those who make it.
Overall, throughout this semester I have learned an immense amount regarding the
practice of historical research as well as how to write historical research throughout my analysis
of primary and secondary scholarly sources. With this knowledge, I have been able to focus on
the life of W.E.B. Du Bois in order to analyse the succeeding events and movements that he has
influenced as a result of his life, compared and contrasted primary and secondary sources of Du
Bois’ life, and finally developed a new perspective on both Du Bois as a person and the practice
of historical research in general. Moving forward, I would like to continue to research more
individuals who have had an impact on social movements as this seems to be a particular interest
of mine. The deep understanding of these events is monumentally beneficial to the overall
understanding of contemporary events as well as future events.
David Levering Lewis. W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography. New York: Henry Holt, 2009.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “Do We Want Peace with the Soviet Union.” credo.library.umass.edu,
March 26, 1953. https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b203-i027.
———. “Peace and Civil Rights.” WMCA Radio Station. November 6, 1950.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “A New Creed for American Negroes.” credo.library.umass.edu,
October 5, 1935. https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b209-i035.
———. “Civil Rights.” credo.library.umass.edu, 1948.
———. “I Take My Stand for Peace.” credo.library.umass.edu, 1951.
———. “Of Peace and Happiness, May 16, 1932.” credo.library.umass.edu, May 16,
1932. https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b197-i042.
———. “Peace Is Dangerous.” credo.library.umass.edu, 1951.
———. “The American Negro Woman.” credo.library.umass.edu, 1949.
———. “The Negro Problems of the United States, May 27, 1952.”
credo.library.umass.edu, May 27, 1952.
Funk, Mason. The Book of Pride: LGBTQ Heroes Who Changed the World. New York,
NY: Harper One, An Imprint Of Harper Collin’s Publishers, 2019.
Honey, Michael K. To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for
Economic Justice. W. W. Norton, 2018.