Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

A Harvest for the People: P. Sterling Stuckey, Activist and Scholar

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

A Harvest for the People: P. Sterling Stuckey, Activist and Scholar

Article excerpt

  After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and
  Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and
  gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields
  him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through
  the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this
  double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self
  through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a
  world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his
  twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two
  unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose
  dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of
  the American Negro is this strife,--this longing to attain self-
  conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer
  self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be
  lost. He would not Africanize America.... He would not bleach his
  Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism.... He simply wishes to
  make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without
  being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without the doors of
  Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

I thus begin on the occasion of the retirement of P. Sterling Stuckey from the University of California, Riverside, with this familiar passage from W. E. B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk published in 1903, an association I hope to demonstrate momentarily. Of course, this is a passage many can quote from memory, as it has provoked and inspired seemingly endless commentary and rumination. This is as it should be, for here and elsewhere in Souls, Du Bois displays his own second-sightedness, a profound insight into the condition of the African-descended, that continues to reverberate and instruct one hundred years later. This particular passage is crucial, as in it Du Bois provides a window into the interiority of the black experience, and lays his finger on the principal condition arising from the African's confrontation with the withering, steady blast of American racism. The resulting disorientation is indeed the defining feature of the African diasporic experience in North America, the notion of irreconcilability, the core of the dilemma.

Du Bois's Souls establishes an important context for our meditation on the life and work of P. Sterling Stuckey. The working thesis of this commentary is that Professor Stuckey responded to the pioneering work of Du Bois (and others) in such a profound way as to not only establish him as a pioneer in his own right, but as one who substantially answered one of the more profound challenges formulated by Du Bois.

It can be argued that the African diaspora, for which Du Bois was a principal architect, is the quintessential "imagined community," existing as both academic project and social agenda, its precise location a matter of considerable debate, but certainly not far from the verges of scholarly endeavor and political exigency, concomitantly inhabiting realms of the noumenal and experiential. As such, the African diaspora is spatially expansive and temporally comprehensive, and includes African persons and populations who have resided in both Europe and Asia as far back as antiquity. Insofar as the Atlantic world is concerned, it is perhaps more useful to envision it as (at least) a 500-year conversation, in myriad languages and cultural expressions, among various members of African-descended communities (both within nation-states and between them) over the meaning of loss and displacement. Discursive patterns characteristic of the African diaspora tend to be preoccupied with navigating the implications of the Middle Passage, the principal divergences (ideological and often literal) heading in one of two directions, either towards Africa or the Americas. Of course, the great conundrum has been the unattainable nature of the polarities: Africa, once lost, has yet to be recovered; while America, as an ideal, has yet to become home. …

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