The Horse’s Mouth

By Ronald Court

You can learn a lot by reading the actual words written or spoken by someone instead of relying on what others write or speak about them. That’s why we go to such effort to make it easy for you to read BTW’s own books, articles and speeches on this site.

WEB’s Autobiobraphy Similarly, I just read W.E.B. Du Bois’ autobiography to learn what made WEB tick. I wanted to get it from “the horse’s mouth” rather than possibly biased historians.

I learned more than I expected. At various times, WEB revealed himself to be jealous, resentful, idealistic, bitter and defensively full of himself. It seemed to me that he never quite felt at home in his own skin and consequently didn’t feel at home here.

Was he intelligent? Of course. Hard working? Sure. But history is littered with intelligent and hard -working people who traveled a wrong path. Even those who can back up their intelligence with power can get it wrong. Witness Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Julius & Ethel Rosenberg. One’s belief in a cause, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned one may be, is no guarantee that it, or methods to achieve it, is right.

Bio notes on WEB Du Bois sometimes mention that he renounced his US citizenship, joined the Communist Party and exiled himself to Ghana before he died. All true. But there’s more. (Click the image to buy your own book.)

He was well-intentioned and correct in some ways, but terribly misinformed and mistaken in others. I hope to provide some glimpses into the man without drifting too far into THINK tank territory. I must remind myself that the Society is a DO tank. Our aim is to help youths live constructive, productive lives, not merely to talk about how to do so.

Still, I’ll quote from WEB’s autiobiography from time to time to hopefully shed light on the emotional and intellectual state of the man. Here’s one for openers:

I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools. (p. 285):

              W. E. B. Du Bois

What an astoundingly ignorant thing for WEB Du Bois to say. What say you?

5 thoughts on “The Horse’s Mouth

  1. Alex

    Okay, a couple different parts of the post to respond to.

    Interesting assessment on WEB DuBois’ comfort in his own skin. I don’t know the history here, I’d be interested to hear what this might have been rooted in, and how you feel it shaped his reaction to Booker T and his viewpoint.

    Unfortunately, in your post, you go another unsupported direction.

    The comparison between Stalin and Mao and Dubois serves to demonize DuBois, rather than address his points and how they relate to your opening statement. If you are attempting to discredit an academic, which Dubois certainly was, you are better off showing the flaws in his arguments, rather than calling him evil and concluding that makes him irrelevant.

    Also, grouping the Rosenbergs in with Stalin and Mao is a weak is confusing given that though they were certainly guilty of treason, their crimes in no way directly caused the deaths of MILLIONS of their fellow citizens. If you want to make an argument about the effects of the Soviet development of atomic weaponry, Klaus Fluchs bears the responsibility for that to a far, far greater extent that then Rosenbergs.

    Moving on, you provide only one quotation from Dubois, and it is the first mention or reference to religious belief that you’ve made in the post. I’m not entirely sure how this is related to your previous point regarding “One’s belief in a cause” and the methods to achieve it. If your point is that here are people who were atheists and they did bad things, therefore DuBois is bad, your argument is flawed on several levels. First, your own reference includes the Rosenbergs, who were Jewish, and second, history is full of religiously motivated actions that were anything but ethical. (Ranging from the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades, to the Jihadist movements and many, many others.)

    Personally, I disagree that that quotation is astoundingly ignorant for DuBois. It is perhaps ignorant of the realities of Soviet life, but the philosophy that education should not be dependent on
    or require a specific religious faith is more progressive than ignorant. Even the architects of our own constitution saw fit to provide for a separation of church and state, with the result being that any child, regardless of religion, can go to school and learn the subjects applicable to the second of those institutions.

    That’s my two cents. I’d love to see your individual sections broken apart and addressed separately, especially your opening observation, which may shed some very interesting light onto the interaction between Booker T and DuBois.

  2. Ronald Court

    Thanks for posting.
    My sense re Du Bois not being comfortable in his own skin is not original. Others have surmised that his writing on the “twoness” Negroes feel was more personal than observational. He refers to his inability to make friends easily a number of times, though that doesn’t necessarily indicate that he is uncomfortable with his own company. Still, that’s the impression I came away with.

    Du Bois traveled to Russia and China several times (I’ll build a time-line to be more accurate someday). I mentioned Stalin and Mao because Du Bois refers to their ruling system with affection in that the socialist system treats everyone as equals. He felt he was treated as an equal in those countries, but it seems to me his sense of equality was among the intelligentia and not the oppressed peasantry.

    I hope to expand on this theme as time permits.

    You disagree that Du Bois’s statement that, “…the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools” is more “progressive than ignorant.”

    I’m not sure what ‘progressive’ in that context means, but I believe that for a man to profess freedom for one group (based on race) while professing admiration for the banning of another (based on faith) which included severe persecution, expropriation of property, etc. since 1918, is astoundingly ignorant, . link

    The separation of church/state in the Soviet Union context, meant the imposition of one and only one church, in that the state is the church. For him not to see that was, imho, astoundingly ignorant.
    He saw what he wanted to see, the good there, the bad here. Of course he was righteously angry with America and justifiably so. The question is how do you deal with that anger. I believe BTW’s more sanguine approach was a healthier way to go.

    As to my mentioning the Rosenbergs, Du Bois defended them, as did others. (Yes, we the public knows for certain now that the US Govt was right.)

    I’m not ready to lump all religions over all time together to pit their record of atrocities vs. who? atheists? From corrupt popes to embezzling ministers and power hungry imams, any institution, faith-based or governmental, can be “hijacked” by persuasive charismatic individuals. The founding fathers knew this and devised the best system of the day to attempt to assure equal treatment under the law. It’s in the interpretation of the law that things got and get sticky.

    Yet, Judaism (G*d’s Word, not necessarily the people who profess it) provided humanity with a code of conduct that works, with room for others to believe, or not. My 2nd most favorite biblical Jew, Saul (Paul) brought the teachings of Judaism’s Christ to the world for Gentile as well as Jew to revel in.

    Final point: re architects of our constitution saw fit to provide for a separation of church and state. Not so. The Constitution enjoins Congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion. To know what the founding fathers meant, one needs to look at how they lived and practiced. But that will have to wait, I’m afraid. I’ve got to root (even pray) for my Boston Red Sox.
    Best, RAC

  3. Alex

    As I commented before, the Dubois quotation shows an ignorance of the realities of life under Stalinist rule. As the saying goes, in theory, communism works. I was not aware that DuBois visited the Soviet Union and Maoist China, that sheds a very different light on the quotation, which, given that I have not studied DuBois previously, I didn’t know.

    Regarding the Rosenbergs, if your point was that DuBois defended them in the same way, he defended others based on the theory of their actions without regard for the reality, great. However, your original statement was that they were people of intelligence and power who used their capabilities for evil results. This is a different point. I’m just trying to make sure I follow your argument.

    You wrote: “Final point: re architects of our constitution saw fit to provide for a separation of church and state. Not so. The Constitution enjoins Congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion. To know what the founding fathers meant, one needs to look at how they lived and practiced.”

    On the separation of church and state in the US, I’ll allow Thomas Jefferson to write for himself:

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

    Great stuff to be digging into. I’m curious. What was Booker T’s view?

  4. Ronald Court

    Speaking of a “wall,’ allow me to point you to a presentation by author and historian David Barton, the President of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization which distributes historical, legal, and statistical information; and helps citizens become active in their local schools and communities. David’s exhaustive research (from original writings) on the Founding Era has rendered him an expert in this field. You can listen to a presentation of his here.

    Re Booker T.s view: Although (or perhaps because) he attended a religious Seminary for about a year, he did not have a high regard for organized religion. On the other hand, he made it a practice to read “a chapter or at least a few verses from the Bible every day.”

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