W.E.B. Du Bois: An Encyclopedia

By Gerald Horne; Mary Young | Go to book overview

I

INTEGRATION VERSUS SEGREGATION

Du Bois' analysis of whether African Americans should attempt to integrate with European Americans to become full social and political participants in the United States or organize autonomously among themselves is generally viewed as having three phases. In Du Bois' period of greatest direct political influence, between The Souls of Black Folk (1903) and the Great Depression, he was an integrationist whose politics were consistent with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the organization for which he worked. During the 1930s, however, he grew frustrated with the inability of that organization to effect substantive change. Therefore, he began to identify that inability with the limitations of organizations reliant on European American capital for funding. As a result, during the 1930s and culminating with the publication of Dusk of Dawn (1940), he developed a program for the autonomous work of a black middle class that identified blacks working among themselves as the agents of political change. Then, during the 1940s, as his deepest involvement moved to international movements for decolonization, world peace, and socialism, he found himself Red-baited by black middle-class organizations and increasingly in alliance with predominantly white leftist organizations and U.S. communism. At this point he abandoned separatism as a political program. Without question, it is Du Bois' arguments for civil rights and integration during the early period that are most often read. As a result, the later positions are sometimes dealt with as the result of personal frustrations rather than intellectual considerations, somehow not authentically Du Boisian. Even among those who take the positions of the later Du Bois most seriously, these positions are usually interpreted as dramatic breaks from his earlier position.

While this simple narrative is accurate in many ways, it leaves out many

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