A Letter from W.E.B. Du Bois to His Daughter Yolande, Dated "Moscow, December 10, 1958": Introduction and Footnotes

By Higbee, Mark D. | The Journal of Negro History, Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

A Letter from W.E.B. Du Bois to His Daughter Yolande, Dated "Moscow, December 10, 1958": Introduction and Footnotes


Higbee, Mark D., The Journal of Negro History


Published here for the first time is a rare 1958 letter from W. E. B. Du Bois to his daughter, Yolande Du Bois Williams. Du Bois wrote the letter at a sanitarium near Moscow, four months into an extended trip through western and eastern Europe, Soviet Russia, Soviet Central Asia, and China. The letter reveals much about the trip that Du Bois called "the most significant journey" of his life, blending personal concerns with political matters in a casual way rarely found in his published writings. The document conveys a sense of Du Bois's numerous activities at a vital moment in postwar world history: Here Du Bois recalled using the then still-young national health service in Britain; described visiting France as the Fifth Republic was coming into being; told of celebrating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution in Red Square; reported being too ill to travel to the "All-African Peoples' Conference," in Accra, in the newly independent African state of Ghana; and mentioned chatting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The letter reveals much about Du Bois's politics, humor, physical health, and sense of his body at age ninety.

This letter is also important for the insight it provides into the creative process by which Du Bois's last major work was written, the posthumously published Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois. Numerous sentences from the December 10 letter were later incorporated into The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois, some slightly changed, others unaltered. (According to Du Bois's friend and literary executor, Herbert Aptheker, Du Bois wrote the Autobiography in 1958-59 and revised it some in 1960.) Du Bois was an amazingly prolific writer: his published works alone equal about one piece for each 12 days of his long life. In part, Du Bois achieved this by frequently reworking passages from one piece of writing for use in later works, as illustrated by the December 10 letter's relationship to the Autobiography.

This document indicates the extent to which Du Bois was honored and feted in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. The blandishments extended to admired foreign guests by Communist states held considerable appeal for Du Bois, as this letter shows more plainly and more personally than do his published writings. Du Bois collected at least four honorary degrees from universities in Communist countries (two such ceremonies are described in this letter).

The honors so abundantly shown Du Bois by the political-cultural elites of the Communist bloc were altogether denied him in his native land during the 1950s. In Cold War America, Du Bois's race and his radicalism resulted in his being persecuted by the U.S. Government. His peace movement activities and his sympathy for the Soviet Union resulted in his being charged and tried as an "unregistered foreign agent" in 1951. A long and costly defense ended in Du Bois's acquittal, but the American State Department nonetheless denied Du Bois - and numerous other Americans, including Paul Robeson - the right to travel abroad. For seven years the State Department refused to issue Du Bois a passport. In the summer of 1958, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the State Department lacked the authority to deny passports to American citizens who refused to make sworn statements that they were not communists. With his new passport, Du Bois felt like "a released prisoner" and sailed from New York for Europe on August 8, 1958; he returned on July 1, 1959.(2)

Du Bois's Cold War era embrace of the Communist movement has been seen in various and contradictory ways. Some have attributed it to senility; others to bitterness at America's enduring racism and postwar militarism; still others to high moral principle and the wisdom of age. In fact it was the product of Du Bois's complex ideology and considered political judgments, not the result of any single force. Beginning in the late 1940s, Du Bois was a heartfelt and sincere advocate of mid-twentieth-century Communism, believing that it alone could lead humanity toward peace and racial equality; he saw communism as the one real obstacle to a renewed American and European colonialism and a capitalist war drive.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Letter from W.E.B. Du Bois to His Daughter Yolande, Dated "Moscow, December 10, 1958": Introduction and Footnotes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.