Treasures From The KBOO Archives on 10/12/12
A Speech by W.E.B. DuBois, followed by a speech by Paul Robeson
These talks are part of a special series Treasures from the KBOO Archive, which presents examples of the thousands of reels currently deteriorating in KBOO's back room. We need your help to preserve these audio gems! Donate today to help support the archive digitization project.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 - August 27, 1963) was an American civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar. He became a naturalized citizen of Ghana in 1963 at the age of 95.
On Feb. 23, 1868, W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Mass., where he grew up. During his youth he did some newspaper reporting. In 1884 he graduated as valedictorian from high school. He got his bachelor of arts from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., in 1888, having spent summers teaching in African American schools in Nashville's rural areas. In 1888 he entered Harvard University as a junior, took a bachelor of arts cum laude in 1890, and was one of six commencement speakers. From 1892 to 1894 he pursued graduate studies in history and economics at the University of Berlin on a Slater Fund fellowship. He served for 2 years as professor of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
In 1891 Du Bois got his master of arts and in 1895 his doctorate in history from Harvard. His dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published as No. 1 in the Harvard Historical Series. This important work has yet to be surpassed. In 1896 he married Nina Gomer, and they had two children.
In 1896-1897 Du Bois became assistant instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. There he conducted the pioneering sociological study of an urban community, published as The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899). These first two works assured Du Bois's place among America's leading scholars.
Du Bois's life and work were an inseparable mixture of scholarship, protest activity, and polemics. All of his efforts were geared toward gaining equal treatment for black people in a world dominated by whites and toward marshaling and presenting evidence to refute the myths of racial inferiority.
biographical information from the NAACP
Paul Robeson was the son of a former slave, born and raised during a period of segregation, lynching, and open racism. He earned a four-year scholarship to Rutgers University, making him the third African American to attend the school. There he was a member of the prestigious Cap and Skull Honor Society, played four varsity sports (baseball, football, basketball, and track), won speech and debate tournaments, and managed to graduate valedictorian of his class. After graduation, Robeson applied his athletic abilities to a short career in professional football. Aside from his prowess on the gridiron, he earned a law degree and changed the direction of his career. His legal career was cut short, however, after a secretary refused to take dictation from him solely because of the color of his skin. He left law and turned to his childhood love of acting and singing. Robeson starred in Shakespeare's Othello, the musical Showboat, and films such as Jericho and Proud Valley. He was one of the top performers of his time, earning more money than many white entertainers. His concert career spanned the globe: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Moscow, New York, and Nairobi.
Robeson's travels opened his awareness to the universality of human suffering and oppression. He began to use his rich bass voice to speak out for independence, freedom, and equality for all people. He believed that artists should use their talents and exposure to aid causes around the world. "The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice," he said. This philosophy drove Robeson to Spain during the civil war, to Africa to promote self-determination, to India to aid in the independence movement, to London to fight for labor rights, and to the Soviet Union to promote anti-fascism. It was in the Soviet Union where he felt that people were treated equally. He could eat in any restaurant and walk through the front doors of hotels, but in his own country he faced discrimination and racism everywhere he went.
While Robeson's activist role increased abroad, he met dissent and intimidation in the United States. Rioters at his concert at Peekskill, New York in 1949 smashed the stage, torched chairs, attacked concertgoers, and threatened Robeson's life. His outspokenness about human rights and his pro-Soviet stance made Robeson a prime target of militant anticommunists. In 1950 the State Department revoked his passport, thereby denying his right to travel and, ultimately, to earn income abroad. Robeson fought this injustice for years vigorously but with no success. He repeatedly applied for reinstatement of his passport but was turned down. He filed a lawsuit against the State Department and faced discouraging delays, adverse decisions, and rejected appeals. Yet Robeson stuck to his principles and refused to swear an affidavit that he was not a Communist. "Whether I am or not a Communist is irrelevant," he told the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956. "The question is whether American citizens, regardless of their political beliefs or sympathies, may enjoy their constitutional rights." In 1958 the U.S. Supreme Court finally agreed, ruling that the State Department could not deny citizens the right to travel because of their political beliefs or affiliations.
biographical information from the National Archives