Things I’ve Seen: W.E.B. Du Bois (1920)

“I suppose you’d like to be a Crow and fly over the world and see just everything as I,-and maybe I wouldn’t like to be a dear Brownie!-but since Crows must be Crows and Folks must be Folks, I’ll try to tell you about some things I’ve seen on my flight over the seas!”-William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, _Crisis Magazine_ (July 1920)

While W.E.B. Du Bois’s own descriptions of the crow’s travels through “many and varied nests” appear to explain his idealistic search for a centralized place for his unique and innovative concerns as a scholar, the crow’s prophetic symbolism in relation to the periodical is far more enigmatic. As an embodiment of Du Bois himself, the black crow bore a conspicuous resemblance to that of an Old Testament seer or prophet with only one distinction: a biblical seer or prophet possessed a providential mandate for his oracles and writings, whereas Du Bois’s authority-manifested most profoundly in periodical and utilitarian writing-proceeded from his standing as the first Harvard- and Berlin-trained African American sociologist. Du Bois addressed African American social maladies using truths derived from sociological investigations in the African American community, which heretofore had never been attempted by an African American. He also possessed the unique advantage of being the most qualified African American to pursue African American social questions from an academic standpoint, and, among qualified sociologists, Du Bois was among the few whose work was wholly devoted to African American social problems for reform purposes. The black crow embodied in Du Bois’s founding of _Crisis Magazine: A Periodical of the Darker Races_ in 1910 as an arm of the NAACP; with it Du Bois marshaled the periodical’s unique ability to tersely disperse his enormous academic breadth of knowledge for reform and uplift purposes for the national African American and the larger global black communities. By situating the “black” crow “high above,” “looking downward with sharp eyes,” and dropping “bits of news” to the ordinary “folks,” Du Bois was able to metaphorically describe his uniqueness as an African American scholar relaying pertinent historical and contemporary knowledge for the purposes of reforming African Americans. Although the imagery surrounding the crow remains cryptic, it is certain that Du Bois was prescient enough to to know that the figure of the crow would personify an African American with unparalleled possibilities in the realm of utilitarian periodical writing that few could ignore, including major white editors and their national white audience. From such progressive, liberal and religious platforms, Du Bois could finally be seen and finally disseminate what he saw in a manner that he could not through the many academic and scholarly works that many non-academics would never encounter. Even his most famous work, (1903) _The Souls of Black Folk_ contained 9 of the book’s 14 essays that were first published via periodical publication.

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One response to “Things I’ve Seen: W.E.B. Du Bois (1920)

  1. Words can’t express how much I appreciate and admire your scholarship.


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