Cover image for W.E.B. DuBois : biography of a race, 1868-1919
W.E.B. DuBois : biography of a race, 1868-1919
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt, 1993.
Physical Description:
xiv, 735 p. : illustrations.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 921 DUBOIS 1 1

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A literate, meticulously researched biography of the complex scholar/activist DuBois, premier architect of the civil rights movement in the United States. Annotation copyright by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Author Notes

David Levering Lewis is the Martin Luther King Professor of History at Rutgers University & was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919" received the Bancroft, Parkman, & Pulitzer prizes, & was a finalist for the National Book Award & National Book Critics Circle Award. He also wrote "W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

This rich, masterful biography covers the first half of the complex life and abundant career of scholar/activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963), whose work both redefined the history of race relations and spurred the 20th-century civil rights movement. Drawing on a wealth of sources, including critical readings of Du Bois's memoirs, which he ``retouched . . . to produce the desired image of impregnable racial pride,'' Lewis advances the narrative with grace and energy. He traces the growth of Du Bois's racial identity in his Massachusetts hometown, Great Barrington, his ``safe harbor'' at black Fisk University and studies at Harvard under philosophers like William James and George Santayana. Lewis finds the roots of Du Bois's idea that the ``Talented Tenth'' should lead blacks in a commencement sermon by a black priest at Wilberforce University in Ohio, where Du Bois had his first faculty job. Lewis ( When Harlem Was in Vogue ) thoroughly explains Du Bois's major ideas, such as his view that black Americans faced a ``double consciousness'' and his analysis of the black community's class structure in The Philadelphia Negro. Even more compelling is the author's description of how Du Bois, the man of ``incorrigible candor'' who founded the NAACP, clashed for years with Booker T. Washington, the 19th century's ``Great Accommodator,'' whom he succeeded as the preeminent voice of black Americans. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

/*STARRED REVIEW*/ Such a strenuous biography as this one--energetically planned and arduously presented--could have been just as exhausting as exhaustive. But, plainly and simply, it's brilliant. In this initial volume, the first 50 years of the long life of famous civil-rights leader, educator, and writer W. E. B. Du Bois receive a treatment of exemplary magnitude and grace. Willie Du Bois was born under no particularly distinguished circumstances in Massachusetts; his father, likewise in Haiti before him. But Willie was not average from day one, and "he gradually saw that academic achievement was his ticket out of Railroad Street." Simultaneous with that growing realization was another, "an informed idea of what being a black male meant even in the relatively tolerant New England." He was short in stature, not flexible in nature, and he didn't make friends well; these factors in the boy could be seen in the man. Nonetheless, he became an honored scholar early, and his civil-rights work broke tremendous ground. But his exalted position in the black community had as its price a very significant clash with the other great black leader of the time, Booker T. Washington (their conflict was based on differing philosophies of black advancement). Du Bois was tireless in his work for the cause and in his scholarly and literary output, but Lewis' portrait also reveals a man with a desiccated personal life. This major study is, on a larger plane, a detailed examination of the interworkings of the whole civil rights movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including its internecine struggles. Du Bois' life and accomplishments deserve the scrutiny, balance, and magnificently eloquent airing accorded here by the author of When Harlem Was in Vogue (1981). Few libraries should excuse themselves from purchasing this. (Reviewed Aug. 1993)0805026215Brad Hooper

Choice Review

Lewis's study promises to be the most comprehensive biography of DuBois yet written. The author's research is massive--99 collections in 28 archives on three continents. Lewis provides background and details not only for Dubois's life but also for all those people (some 150 in particular) and institutions that shaped his milieus. Arrogant, aloof, yet passionately involved with the lives of African Americans, DuBois was a complex man whose autobiographical writing blended myth with experience. Born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he died in 1963 in Accra, Ghana, where he lived in exile during his final years, alienated from the US. Volume 1 of Lewis's work begins with a sociocultural description of the setting into which DuBois was born and follows his life through the 1919 Pan-African Congress in Paris. Lewis clearly shows the development of DuBois's political consciousness as well as documenting his professional growth and publications. One of his books, The Philadelphia Negro (1899), was the first sociological study of African American life. Lewis also gives major attention to the genesis of the conflict between DuBois and Booker T. Washington, whose accomodationist policies were comfortably nonthreatening to white hegemony. The volume includes 16 pages of photographs, 120 pages of notes, and a selected bibliography of DuBois's writings. A required acquisition for all social science and African American collections. All levels. H. M. MacLam; Choice

School Library Journal Review

YA-More than a biography of an illustrious man, this first volume in a projected series is truly a history of the African-American experience. The first 50 years of DuBois's life are detailed, not only on a personal level but also in the context of American history. This exhaustive study includes an in-depth analysis of the civil rights movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The inner struggles and those between African-Americans make for fascinating reading, especially the clashes in philosophy between DuBois and Booker T. Washington. This is a major reference work, a tribute not only to a man who was dedicated to the advancement of his race, but also a marvelous account of the staggering problems and proposed solutions of the early civil rights movement. A magnificent resource.-Pat Royal, Crossland High School, Camp Springs, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) has finally found a Boswell worthy of his achievements as an African-American reformer who fought for human rights in the US and the wider world. In the first part of a projected two-volume biography, Rutgers history professor Lewis (The Race to Fashoda, 1988, etc.) offers a detailed chronicle that puts the eventful origins of a towering figure clearly in the perspective of his troubled times. Born in western Massachusetts less than three years after the abolition of slavery, Du Bois managed to earn a doctorate in history from Harvard. After graduating, he pursued one of the few careers open to educated blacks, that of teaching--at Atlanta University and other institutions. Meanwhile, he published pioneering sociological studies (The Philadelphia Negro, etc.), arranged symposiums, and helped found the Niagara Movement--an all- black group that in 1909 joined forces with liberal whites to form the NAACP. Du Bois left academe to become the NAACP's director of research and publicity as well as editor of its influential magazine, The Crisis. From this bully pulpit, he battled for racial justice; conducted intellectual inquiries (among other matters, on the talented-tenth theory); critiqued the views of rivals like Booker T. Washington (``the great accommodator''); and otherwise played to the hilt the role of outside agitator (he was active in the Pan-African cause as well). Here, he's last seen after a post- WW I congress that called for direct League of Nations supervision of German colonies in Africa, as he himself returns to a society that brutally and methodically excluded ``his people from meaningful citizenship....'' A masterly appreciation of a great man's intellectual development and singular service in a righteous crusade. (Thirty- two pages of photographs--not seen)

Library Journal Review

Author, activist, founder of the NAACP, and scholar, Du Bois (1868-1963) stands as one of the dominant figures of the 20th century. While other biographers have offered parts of the legend, Lewis, a professor at Rutgers University and the author of When Harlem Was in Vogue (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1989), presents a whole. He has deftly plumbed the life and works of Du Bois during the first half of his life, fixing them in an ideological landscape that yields new perspectives on Du Bois's character and the composition and meaning of his writings. In lustrous prose that relies on masterful, exhaustive research, Lewis offers a penetrating psychological examination that reveals the contradictions, paradoxes, and psychosexual energies of a virtually fatherless, self-created intellectual battling despair and self-doubt while confronting how the world was thinking about race. This treasure belongs in every collection. Highly recommended. See also ``W.E.B. Du Bois: A Century of Conscience,'' LJ 8/93, p. 122-123, and ``African Americans in the Spotlight,'' p. 118-124, this issue; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/93.--Ed.-- Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.