Personal Reflections on
W. E. B. Du Bois
The Person, Scholar, and Activist
HERBERT APTHEKER and FAY APTHEKER
There are some very good biographies of Dr. Du Bois that outline in great detail the life of this extraordinary man. One should read volume 1 of David Lewis's W. E. B. Du Bois (Biography of a Race, 1868–1919 ); Manning Marable's W. E. B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat (1986); Herbert Aptheker's Literary Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois (1989); and Arnold Rampersad's Art and Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois (1976). And then, of course, there is Dr. Du Bois's autobiography—The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (1968). This essay is not intended as a substitute for any of these works. It is an attempt to answer some essential questions that emerge out of a careful reading of the Du Bois biographies and autobiography. His later years are especially important to look at. Who was W. E. B. Du Bois as a person; how did he produce such extraordinary work; why did he work so hard and so long; what were his goals and intentions; why did he return to the NAACP a second time and why did he eventually leave; how did he attain his physical longevity; why did the U.S. government persecute him; and did he really give up on the United States when he left the country? In responding to these questions, Fay and I draw from our personal knowledge of Dr. Du Bois and from four decades of immersion in editing the Du Bois works. There are also a few points that the biographers missed that will give the reader a good sense of the man.
I first met Dr. Du Bois in the spring of 1945. He had a small office at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) headquarters on 41st Street and Fifth Avenue across the street from the New York Public Library's main building. He was director of special re