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October 23, 2005

W.E.B. DuBois: Remembering McCarthyism

I'm nearing the end of David Levering Lewis's masterful two-part biography of W.E.B. DuBois, but after a life of achievement and acclaim, the story is one of DuBois running into the chainsaw of the anti-left purge of the post-war period.

There is little question that DuBois was a fellow-traveller of the Communist Party after World War II, largely because of his revulsion at the US restoring the colonial dictatorships of Britain and France in Africa and Asian while US leaders hypocritically condemned Russia's emerging dictatorship in Eastern Europe. But the reality of the period was that the wrong opinion meant being stripped of honors and livelihood -- as happened with DuBois's fellow prominent African-American compatriot Paul Robeson -- and even being indicted, as DuBois was at age 82 for being in the leadership of an anti-Cold War organization, the Peace Information Center.

This was one of the flimsiest of flimsy anti-Red criminal cases, and even the judge, after hearing testimony, dismissed the case, but the trial itself would leave DuBois isolated and outcast, even among the civil rights leadership that he had himself created over the years. A man, one who had earned a German degree and travelled the world as the father of Pan-Africanism, was stripped of his passport and denied the right to leave the country-- and irony in a country condemning East Bloc nations for denying exit to their citizens.

As DuBois himself wrote, "I would have been hailed with approval if I had died at fifty. At seventy=five, my death was practically requested."

For those who may have read The Souls of Black Folks, written by a much younger DuBois, it's worth remembering that his life went on for decades more and his US public career would only end, as so many other careers did, in the criminalization of belief that was the post-war anti-Communist crusade.

Posted by Nathan at October 23, 2005 09:28 AM