“Never Cross a Man Not Afraid to
W.E.B. DuBois
“The problem of the the 20th century
is the problem of the color-line.”
(Political Science 110EB)
W.E.B. Du Bois
First black PhD at Harvard
Radical (equality)
Publisher of NAACP’s The
• Communist
– MLK: “It is time to cease
muting the fact that Dr. Du
Bois was a genius and chose
to be a Communist.”
Du Bois gets radicalized
• Sam Hose (1899)
– Accused of murdering employer & raping his wife
– Admits murder (over debt, possibly in self-defense),
denies rape
– Lynched w/2,000 witnesses outside of Atlanta
– Emasculated, face skinned, tied to a tree and burned
alive. Knuckles displayed for sale in shop window.
– Lynching a communal activity
– Du Bois comes to believe that “one could not be a
calm, cool, and detached scientist while Negroes were
lynched, murdered, and starved.”
Major Themes
The Veil
Race consciousness
Racial essentialism
Race Consciousness
• “How does it feel to be a problem?” (7)
– American society consistently and irresistibly
forces awareness of one’s own blackness
– Blackness is not a quality of appearance, but of
• Not just what the individual looks like, but who the
individual is
– Blackness is a “problem”
The Problem of the Color Line
• The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the
color-line,--the relation of the darker to the lighter races of
men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the
sea.” (15)
– Not geographical, but a “line” nonetheless.
– A notably American (and to a lesser extent, European) way of
looking at the world.
• “Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I
was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and
longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.” (8)
– Parallel worlds
– Restrictive only to blacks, who cannot move beyond the veil,
while whites can move back and forth.
• Privilege.
The color line
• The American world “yields him no true selfconsciousness, but only lets him see himself through
the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar
sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of
always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others”
• “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.” (8)
– Internal division on the color line
– Partly self, partly not-self
– Constant internal conflict
The color line
• Blacks exist in some sense on both sides of the color
– “He would not Africanize America, for America has too
much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach
his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he
knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.”
• Essentialism
– Partly inherent, partly historical
• “He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be
both a Negro and an American, without being cursed
and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors
of Opportunity closed in his face.
– “to merge his double self into a better and truer self.” (9)
The Color Line
• Three parties in Civil War: North, South, Blacks
– Freedman’s Bureau constitutes a separate government for
liberated slaves
• Du Bois on Imperial Japan vs. China
• The “blighted, ruined form” of the post-War white
“with hate in his eyes” vs. the “form hovering dark and
mother-like, her awful face black with the mists of
centuries” who had raised his children, buried his
wives, and slaked his lust (25)
– Metaphor: male & female
– “The South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous
What is to be done
From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed
Hereditary bondsman! Know ye not
Who would be free themselves must strike the
-Byron (33)
Booker T. Washington
• 1856-1915
• Support from white establishment in North &
• Some support from black leaders
– “Leader not of one race but of two” (38)
• Advocated assimilation (as does Du Bois),
recognition of political & social realities of the
South, modus vivendi w/Southern whites
– After the War, North & South looked to re-join as a
single nation, diminishing patience for the question &
fate of blacks in both Sections
Booker T. Washington
• Washington insists that to advance, blacks must give up
hopes for
– Political power
– Insistence on civil rights
– Higher education
• In return for
– Peace
– Industrial schooling
• An issue of practicality: believed blacks would benefit most from
trade school rather than liberal education
– Example: disapproval of poor black boy trying to learn French
– Long-term assimilation & advancement
Booker T. Washington
• In short order, he gets
– Black disenfranchisement
– Jim Crow laws
• Legal inferiority
• Example, OK: literacy requirement, unless you were
eligible to vote before 1866
– Abandonment of blacks by institutions of higher
Du Bois’ Criticisms
• Washington wants to advance black business,
but how can this be done without the right to
vote in your own interests?
• Insists on thrift & self-respect, but also on
“unmanly” submission to whites
• Advocates elementary & industrial school, but
who will teach at black schools if blacks can’t
get higher education?
– Imagining a different world
3 bad consequences
• 1. South is justified in despising blacks
because of blacks’ current degradation
– They are in Washington’s depiction ignorant and
slothful, not quite up to par with whites & have to
catch up
• 2. Cause of this degradation is the wrong
education in the past
• 3. Idea that the future of blacks in America
depends primarily on their own efforts
• These are “Dangerous half-truths” for Du Bois
– 1. What about slavery and systematic exclusion
from politics, economy, society?
– 2. black schooling lagged because it had to wait
for first generation of black teachers
– 3.While blacks must work for their own
improvement, Du Bois argues that they must be
assisted and encouraged “by the initiative of the
richer and wiser environing group” (whites) (43)
• Is this problematic?
• Du Bois & NAACP insist on more militant, though
still peaceful, position, demanding
– Right to vote
– Civic equality
– Education of youth according not to race, but ability
• In essence, Du Bois accuses Washington of
apologizing and covering over for systematic
racism, making it appear as if the disadvantaged
position of American blacks has nothing to do
with whites and everything to do with blacks.
• “By every civilized and peaceful method, we
must strive for the rights which the world
accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to
those great words which the sons of the
Fathers would fain forget: ‘We hold these
truths to be self-evident…’” (44)
• Can blacks be educated?
• “Most Americans answer all queries regarding
the Negro a priori, and that the least that
human courtesy can do is listen to evidence.”
– Note: not most white Americans
– Basic assumptions as part of the Veil
Why is education necessary?
• This segregation is reinforced the places that blacks & whites live
• Either they live in proximity, encountering one another at their
worst, or whites own black homes but never encounter their
– “…the family of the [former] master has dwindled to two lone women,
who live in Macon and feed hungrily off the remnants of an earldom.”
• Relatedly, uneducated blacks are often victimized in business by
outsiders. They can own nothing themselves.
– Debt: repossession and exploitation
• Deeper and deeper year by year
– Whites, Yankees, Jews
– Antisemitism
Permanent Alienation
• Thus, two attitudes come to the forefront:
• Disengagement: “Happy?—Well, yes; he laughed
and flipped pebbles, and thought the world was as
it was. He had worked here twelve years and has
nothing but a mortgaged mule. Children? Yes,
seven; but they hadn’t been to school this year,-couldn’t afford books and clothes, and couldn’t
spare their work.” (89)
Permanent Alienation
• Resentment: “Let a white man touch me, and
he dies; I don’t boast this,--I don’t say it
around loud, or before the children,--but I
mean it. I’ve seen them whip my father and
my old mother in them cotton-rows till the
blood ran”
– “Careless ignorance and laziness here, fierce hate
& vindictiveness there;--these are the extremes of
the Negro problem which we met that day, and
we scarce knew which we preferred.” (89)

Race, Power, & Equality Poli 110J 7.1