Remembering the Night before The March On Washington: When Dr. W.E.B Du Bois Was Called Home By the Ancestors

by Obi Egbuna Jr.

A giant passed into history the day before Dr. Martin Luther King made his “Dream” speech in 1963. W.E.B. Du Bois had broken with a Democratic president 15 years before. “This put Dr. Du Bois in the exact same position that Dr. King was in when he decided losing back door access to Lyndon Johnson's White House was a small price to pay in order to stand on the side of peace and justice.


Remembering the Night before The March On Washington: When Dr. W.E.B Du Bois Was Called Home By the Ancestors

by Obi Egbuna Jr.

It was Dr. Du Bois who reminded us “Government is for the people's progress and not for the comfort of an aristocracy.”

For Africans at home and abroad that respect and honor our tradition of protest, many of us marked the weekend on their calendars; that the umbrella of Civil Rights organizations would peacefully assemble in Washington, D.C. not only to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but use this platform to address the practical steps and measures we must take collectively to address the challenges that lie ahead. We know that the matriarchs and patriarchs of our immediate families will more than likely share with their grand and great grand children, what type of political and social statement the march made and why it must be respected no matter where our points of view fall on the ideological spectrum. If history is truly our guide when having this spirited discussion, we only hope no African on earth forgets the night before this monumental gathering; one of Mother Africa's bravest sons, W.E.B Du Bois, made his transition to the ancestors at the age of 95.

Because our struggle for liberation and human dignity is a process, it is at best naïve to celebrate any example of mass mobilization, regardless of the quantitative amount of people it attracts and at the same time, treat the passing of an organizer whose 70 years of exemplary service on the battlefield is second to none as far as the 20th century goes. For the sake of continuity, the way Dr. King felt about the life and contributions of Dr. Du Bois must never be forgotten. With his usual blend of eloquence and passion, Dr. King said, “history cannot ignore W.E.B. Du Bois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. Du Bois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. 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 this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man.” If this statement by Dr. King was made in the Bible by Jesus Christ or in the Quran by Muhammad, it would be considered prophecy, especially when we know the manner in which our former colonial and slave masters have attempted to reduce Dr. King to his “I Have a Dream” speech. It is almost identical to their efforts dealing with the amplification of Dr. Du Bois’ quote from the address to the nations of the world at the First Pan African Congress in London, “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line” and the talented tenth theory. Frederick Douglass first used the term “color line” in an article with the same title in 1881 in a newspaper called the North American Review.

While Dr. Du Bois died in the arms of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first President (who was born the same year Dr. Du Bois helped found the NAACP) and his loving wife and Comrade Shirley Graham Du Bois on African soil, prior to his passing, made the decision to renounce his U.S. citizenship. Those who attended and organized the original March on Washington along with those who were present for the 50th anniversary must know that at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, a protest was organized to show solidarity with those who came to the Nation's capital to have their voices heard.

Among the organizers were Julian Mayfield, William Alphaeus Hinton, Alice Windom and Maya Angelou. They submitted a petition to the United Nations that demanded expulsion of South Africa from the UN, Non-interference in Cuba and Vietnam. Some of the signs in that historic protest contained slogans like “Remember Lumumba and Medgar Evers,” “Down with American Apartheid,” “Stop Mad Dog Attacks” and last but not least “WEB Du Bois 20th century prophet.” The last sign was only fitting because all these brave young Africans who organized and participated in this demonstration were part of the repatriate community in Ghana, which was the brainchild of Shirley Graham Du Bois. Since Dr. Du Bois and Dr. King both belonged to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, we hope at some point that not only their leadership but rank and file come to the realization that making a birthday tribute for Dr. King a mandate and not celebrating the life of not only Dr. Du Bois, but his comrade in arms Paul Robeson sends the wrong message to daughters and sons of Africa worldwide.

When academicians in the African community imply that their scholastic duties and interests make them exempt from political activism, they must be reminded they are tarnishing the name and work of one our must noble giants, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's letter from the Birmingham Jail when he stated, “'I must confess that over the past few years I have become gravely disappointed with the White moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's greatest stumbling block in his strive toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the Caucasian moderate who is more devoted to order than justice.” When Dr. Du Bois accepted the assignment of Director of Publications and Research with NAACP, he clashed with one of the Board of Directors, a Caucasian liberal philanthropist named Oswald Villard who suggested that when Dr. Du Bois publishes the monthly record of lynchings in the Crisis, he should also publish a list of Negro crimes. This same man harbored resentment towards Dr. Du Bois for many years because of the masterpiece he wrote about the abolitionist John Brown, due to the fact Mr. Villard was also writing a biography about a man he did not have the courage to emulate, but instead chose to live in opulence and give paternalistic advise to Du Bois on how he should approach his own people's fight. For those amongst us who, when the study by the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement revealed that Africans are murdered every 28 hours by the Homeland Security Apparatus is highlighted, feel compelled to bring up what the Bloods and Crips have done in Los Angeles or what the Disciples and Vice Lords do in Chicago, you are guilty of discussing our collective experience thru the lens of Caucasian liberals and the Democratic Party's machine that thrives off manipulating African people's pain and anger. In the same manner, Dr. King felt restricted by the church pulpit and left Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to help create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. Du Bois, who is considered by many the father of U.S. sociology in the world of western academia even by propagators of imperialism and White supremacy, never attempted to convince any of his students that scholarship was by no means a substitute for taking your place on the front line in our liberation struggle. Because Dr. King was only 39 when he was assassinated by the FBI-CIA, it is easier for the enemies of justice and progress to distort his purpose when it comes to Dr. Du Bois, who was 95 years old and left behind 21 books, 15 others he edited and 100 essays and articles, the same task would be nearly insurmountable.

This is in addition to the three propaganda organs he formed. The Moon and Horizon were created during the short lived Niagara Movement and the Crisis for the NAACP, which is still published to this day. The mark Dr. Du Bois left on the academic world during his time when he taught economics and history at Atlanta University and edited 16 annual publications between the years of 1897-1910 called Studies for the Negro Problem, in addition to the study called The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study in 1899, coincide with the creation of the Niagara Movement and NAACP along with the first Pan Africa Conference. It is for this reason that today when academicians in the African community imply that their scholastic duties and interests make them exempt from political activism, they must be reminded they are tarnishing the name and work of one our must noble giants, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.

In our quest for unity, we as Africans have a tendency not only to ignore the many valuable lessons we can learn from our differences, but hand our former colonial and slave masters countless opportunities to manipulate those differences on a silver platter. When Dr. Du Bois weighed in on his disagreement with Booker T. Washington, he said “Neither I nor Booker Washington understood the nature of capitalistic exploitation of labor, and the necessity of a direct attack on the principle of exploitation as the beginning of labor uplift.” Of the nine point agenda that the Civil Rights umbrella is raising on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the first and third issues are jobs and the economy and workers’ rights.

When the Niagara Movement got incorporated on January 31, 1906 in Washington D.C., the seventh principle was a belief in the dignity of labor.  Due to the fact it is sinful and blasphemous to speak for the dead, all we have at our disposal is people's track record when attempting to determine how they would view and analyze moments in history, which they were not physically a part of. It would be hard to imagine that Dr. Du Bois would not be proud of the African fighting spirit that Lucy Parsons invoked. We should pay homage to our sister, who organized the historic “May Day” demonstration in 1886 through her involvement with the International Working People’s Association by masterminding the campaign for the 8 hour work day at a moment in history where German and Bohemian immigrants were working 14 hour days and earning a $1.25 for a day’s work. Her husband was arrested and eventually executed for conspiring in the Haymarket Affair, which resulted in May 1st becoming the International Day of the Worker. Since Labor Day weekend succeeds the weekend of the 50th commemorative of the 1963 march, it forces our people to remember the deceitful maneuvering of President Grover Cleveland who canceled May Day in the U.S. This decision was made in order to attempt to erase from history the fact that police in Chicago shot down, in cold blood, Caucasian workers for protesting the cycle of ruthless exploitation of labor.   For daughters and sons of Africa, when it comes to the labor question, our historical point of reference will always be not only the cotton and tobacco plantations of the Southern part of the United States but all plantations throughout the Americas where our ancestors were subjected to over 300 years of forced free labor.

The heroes of our youth are those who as individuals escape the monstrous cycle of abject poverty and ascend from the assembly line of the blue collar crime wave where they moonlighted as hand to hand drug dealers, pimps, burglars, to the make-believe world of sports, music and Hollywood and become lapdogs of corporate USA, pitching everything from underwear to headphones. A few slogans that best captures and defines this trend are “From plantations to boardrooms” or “Welcome to world of comfortable exploitation.” We understand the sentiments of our young based on the fact they have been indoctrinated to believe that their options come down to one question: Would you rather strive to be one of the world's 1,456 billionaires or be one of the 1 billion people who are hungry? One of capitalism's most dangerous characteristics is its reduces those it exploits to focus on basic survival instead the highest possible standard of living, which in a society where your basic necessities are considered privileges instead of rights, is not only impractical but a recipe for self-destruction, en route to death. Out of all the speakers that graced the podium last Saturday afternoon, it appears none of them are ready to say as long as U.S. imperialism exists, Africans will be well represented amongst the permanent underclass that free enterprise leaves in its midst. It was Dr. Du Bois who reminded us “Government is for the people's progress and not for the comfort of an aristocracy.”

When the Niagara Movement got incorporated on January 31, 1906 in Washington D.C., the seventh principle was a belief in the dignity of labor.”

As we celebrate the life and service of Dr. Du Bois, we are bound to hear Africans in the nationalist movement trash his name to no ends due to his war of words with the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. What makes their anger towards Dr. Du Bois nerve wrecking is the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey's widow, Amy Jacques Garvey and his first wife Amy Ashwood Garvey, worked with Dr. Du Bois on the fifth Pan African Congress, which symbolizes the burying of the hatchet between two freedom fighters we as Africans still consider larger than life. On July 11, 1926 the Reverend James Allan Francis, addressing the Baptist Young Peoples Union in Los Angeles, California shared a poem he wrote called “One Solitary Life” as a tribute to Jesus Christ. The very first line of the poem is “he was born in an obscure village” when Dr. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on which 50 Africans resided there in comparison to 5,000 Europeans. The next line that is tailor made for Dr. Du Bois is “He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.” This succinctly describes what transpired because the Department of Justice used the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 in order to shame and discredit a giant who, because of his infinite wisdom, was for U.S. imperialism beyond reproach. For far too long, organizers involved in our liberation struggle at an intense level arrive at the conclusion that without broad based support, genuine efforts eventually fall by the wayside. This makes the 2,500,000 signatures the Peace Information Center collected when distributing the Stockholm Appeal (which had half a billion signatures worldwide), nothing short of remarkable. It would be inaccurate to infer that Dr. Du Bois was solely responsible for the signatures inside U.S. borders, but the NAACP trio of Walter White, Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall, who made Dr. Du Bois’ return to the NAACP a living hell, learned the hard way that a fighter with a lengthy and impeccable track record can never be counted out.

When we examine our history, it would be difficult to find any freedom fighter who utilized the combination of study and travel more effectively than Dr. Du Bois. To have your passport confiscated by the U.S. State Department at the age of 83 clearly demonstrates that even in his twilight years, the old man turned a document used to facilitate travel into an instrument of guerrilla warfare. The international support for Dr. Du Bois resulted in the Supreme Court handing down a decision that the U.S. Congress had never given the State Department any authority to demand a political affidavit as prerequisite to issuing a passport. It would come as no surprise if Dr. Du Bois pondered the fact that the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey was thrown out of the country for his political influence inside U.S. borders, while he was being held against his own will because U.S. imperialism feared he would expose their greed and barbarism on every platform available, which at that point had become second nature to him. Each and every activist that praises Malcolm X for planning to take the U.S. before the United Nations owes it to themselves and our community worldwide to study the Appeal to the World Dr. Du Bois submitted to the United Nations in 1947. This document was an excellent follow up to the masterpiece the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey submitted to the League of Nations in 1923 entitled “The Soul of White America.” This teaches us that by the time Dr. King had been successfully persuaded by the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee to condemn U.S. imperialism's war on Vietnam, Dr. Du Bois and the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey had paved the way several years before.

By the time Dr. Du Bois joined the Council of African Affairs in 1948, he played a pivotal role in the first five Pan African Congresses from 1900 to 1945. This illustrates how throughout his life of service in the struggle, Mother Africa was always part of the equation. The organizers of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington highlighted the following issues: jobs and the economy, voting rights, Stand Your Ground laws & gun violence, women's rights, immigration, LGBT equality, environmental justice and youth. Before this agenda is seriously examined or critiqued, the obvious question is why would U.S.-EU policy on Africa be absent at the exact moment that the White House is occupied by an African? Because the organizers of the 50th anniversary of the March were using the original march as their historical point of reference. They conveyed a political message to Africans on and off the continent that Mother Africa is part of our glorious past, not our present and future. This position creates an atmosphere that insulates our national organized formations and spokespeople, when propagating the notion if the Obama administration bombs or invades any African nation in the manner Libya was cowardly and barbarically attacked by the U.S.-NATO alliance, the Civil Rights movement in concert with the Democratic machine can claim they are genuinely consumed by the U.S. domestic agenda.

It is because of this political dynamic many so-called African-Americans under 50 years of age feel completely comfortable saying the Civil Rights movement is non-existent. This does not mean they don't respect history, on the contrary, they want these organizations who are holders of the key to break the stranglehold the Democratic Party has on our community.

By the time Dr. King had been successfully persuaded by the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee to condemn U.S. imperialism's war on Vietnam, Dr. Du Bois and the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey had paved the way several years before.”

When President Obama was elected for the first time in 2008, it was the 60th anniversary of Dr. Du Bois being dismissed from the NAACP because he did not support the reelection of Harry S. Truman, who ended up creating the CIA and overseeing the establishment of NATO, dropping the atomic bomb and giving the creation of the Zionist state of Israel his seal of approval. At the height of the Korean War, Truman even instructed his Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer to assume control of some of the nation's key steel mills in order to, as he put it, maintain an uninterrupted supply of steel for munitions to be used in the war in Korea. This put Dr. Du Bois in the exact same position that Dr. King was in when he decided losing back door access to Lyndon Johnson's White House was a small price to pay in order to stand on the side of peace and justice and call the U.S. government what it was and still is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

The three other issues of paramount importance the March commemorative did not list were health care, education and gentrification. In 1906, Dr. Du Bois published a study entitled the “Health and Physique of the Negro American” which was an excellent compliment to the creation of the National Medical Association in the mid 1890's. This bold decision was in response to the American Medical Association being segregated. These efforts also propelled Booker T. Washington to establish Negro Health month in 1915. So when Africans who politically speaking see themselves as democrats first talk about health care advocacy, in the spirit of being historically obedient, we can smile and say this ain't nothing new. The HBCUS like Fisk and Morehouse that produced Dr. Du Bois and Dr. King are being told by the federal government that they are going to have to perform miracles like Jesus when he turned water to wine and fed a village with a loaf of bread in order to keep their doors open for business. If the U.S. government is not careful, the gentrification/urban renewal or as Africans call it real life LEGO, could very well result in urban rebellions that make what transpired in the 1960's look like a fistfight at a summer cookout. Dr. Du Bois 91st birthday was made a national celebration in China. It is difficult to go one day without hearing paranoid overtures that China is the next colonizer of Africa. We are optimistic that those who make these accusations will have to put up or shut up, especially when a penetrating analysis exposes Africa and Asia stand to break Western imperialism's grip on the world economy. When Osageyfo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stated socialism and African unity are organically complementary, that was music to the ears of Dr. Du Bois. Because Dr. Du Bois was not allowed to attend Nkrumah's inauguration, he sent a statement of solidarity that stated "Pan African Socialism seeks the Welfare State in Africa. It will refuse to be exploited by people of other continents for their own benefit of the peoples of Africa." Because this is the also 50th anniversary of establishment of the African Union, it comes as no surprise we are witnessing a healthy portion of born again Pan Africanists. Perhaps a way to weather the storm is to get their take on whether they will join us in the foxhole in the fight for One Unified Socialist Africa.  The reason that African heads of state are predominantly neo-colonialist is because they have used nationalist and Pan African slogans to camouflage their ruling class values and aspirations for over 40 years. 

The fact Dr. Du Bois left us physically in Ghana while working on Encyclopedia Africana is powerful for a multitude of reasons. The first is the father of African history, Dr. Carter G. Woodson who himself was working to develop an Encyclopedia, warned him a project of that magnitude would have developed completely autonomous of those outside our culture. Because Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah brought Dr. Du Bois home to complete the project, the assertion and concerns of Dr. Woodson were validated 10 times over. For activists and historians who have a burning desire to work on the ground in Africa, the confession of Dr. Du Bois should echo in our minds forever when he said “Once I thought of you Africans as children, whom we educated Afro-Americans would lead to liberty, I was wrong. We could not even lead ourselves much less you. Today I see you rising under your leadership, guided by your own brains.” In an attempt to be one with Osagyefo Nkrumah and the revolution in Ghana, he renounced his U.S. citizenship. Since homeland security attempts to bend our arms when demanding we demonstrate through word and deed where our loyalties lie, our answer should be a 95 year old African warrior of the highest order named W.E.B Du Bois showed us the way 50 years ago on sacred and indigenous soil.

Obi Egbuna Jr. is the U.S. Correspondent to the Herald (Zimbabwe's National Newspaper) and a U.S. based member of the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association. Mr. Egbuna is also a frequent contributor to Your World News and a founding member of the Pan African Collective for Advocacy and Action. His email address is [email protected].