Du Bois and His Rivals

Du Bois and His Rivals

Du Bois and His Rivals

Du Bois and His Rivals

Excerpt

This book was in preparation for a long time. When I was an undergraduate student, I was very much taken by Richard Hofstadter's collection of biographies, The American Political Tradition. Ever since then I have wanted to write a collective biography. When I started my doctoral dissertation, I had it in mind to write about several southern demagogues of the 1930s. Yet I could not figure out how to combine the pace and scope of a group portrait with the quantity of new information that is expected of a dissertation. I was afraid that my project would not pass muster as an original contribution to knowledge. So I turned to a different topic and later to another book.

In the 1970s I began to work on Du Bois and His Rivals. At the time the papers of W. E. B. Du Bois were owned by Du Bois's widow, Shirley Graham Du Bois, but were in the custody of the historian Herbert Aptheker. The papers were actually lodged in the basement of Dr. Aptheker's house in Brooklyn, but he periodically brought a briefcase full of Du Bois's letters for me to read in the Manhattan office of the American Institute for Marxist Studies. I appreciate Dr. Aptheker's getting me started on this project, although he will doubtless disagree with my departure from the usual depiction of Du Bois as a radical par excellence. He may even think it perverse for me to have portrayed our hero as a man who in at least some respects was a conservative: a man who believed in the conservation of races and who held traditional middle-class values with respect to art, the family, and sexual morality; a man who opposed Communism during most of his adult life and succumbed only when he was elderly, rejected by his former allies, and embraced by a new left-wing support network.

After reading several briefcases of documents, I knew that I should consult the entire collection of Du Bois's papers. At that point, however, the University of Massachusetts purchased the collection. The papers were then closed to scholars, to allow time for treatment with preserving chemicals and for microfilming. I was told that that would take a year or two, during which I traveled the country and did research in the manuscript collections of Du Bois's friends and rivals. I am grateful to the American Council of Learned Societies for . . .

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