W. E. B. Du Bois

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Writing with conviction and dignity, Hamilton gives a full account of the life and ideals of an extraordinary individual—one who had great hopes for his people. In many ways, the story of Du Bois is a sad one. He was a true intellectual who believed in his ideals, a man who suffered because of his outspoken commitment to equality for all, and one who was ultimately misunderstood by the very people he tried so hard to help.

Du Bois was probably the single most important African-American leader in the early twentieth century, yet his work and writings were ignored by the majority of Americans. In presenting both the philosophy of Du Bois and various historical events as evaluated in his writings, Hamilton makes the biography a valuable study in African-American history. She is able to show, for example, how different the lives of African Americans in the North were from those in the South. In this compelling account of Du Bois’ life and searching history of the African-American experience, Hamilton examines the reasons for the neglect of Du Bois as well as the reasons behind his move to Africa.

The Niagara Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Crisis magazine are put into a historical context, as are the Negro Renaissance, Pan-Africanism, and the peace movement. Du Bois was so important in these movements that he was called upon by presidents of the United States. The historical events of World Wars I and II are presented in the light of insights into the roles of African Americans. “The problem of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is the problem of the color line,” Du Bois wrote, and this problem is given a thorough discussion.

History texts do not give the full story of a people. Dates, events, places, and political intrigues are given, but personalities seldom receive full treatment. Hamilton presents a personality with history as the background, in a true cause-and-effect relationship. Du Bois was not always understood, and he held ideals and concepts that did not always agree with those held by others; Hamilton is fair about presenting this to her readers. She does not gloss over the reasons the NAACP asked him to resign from the Crisis, for example, or why Du Bois finally left the United States.

Young people will find this book particularly enlightening in that it presents a history of the movements that culminated in the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Those laws were not suddenly enacted only because of the efforts of leaders in the 1960’s; rather, they were the result of the actions of many people who worked to pave the way. Hamilton’s biography describes many of those who, through the years, fought for change.

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Critical Context