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I asked my wife if she knew who W. E. B. Du Bois was. She did, as would most Americans. I then asked her if she knew where Du Bois was born and raised. She did not, and most Americans wouldn't either. The odd thing is that Du Bois, who was one of the founders of the American civil rights movement and perhaps the most famous black public intellectual of the 20th century, was born and raised a stone's throw from where my wife grew up in Western Massachusetts. If you are from Illinois, you know it is the "Land of Lincoln." If you are from Virginia, you know that Jefferson was a Virginian. If you are from Kansas (as I am), you know that Eisenhower is a native son (even though he's not, really). But the people of Western Massachusetts forgot Du Bois was one of their own. Or did they just choose not to remember? Amy Bass explores this question in her challenging new book Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle Over W. E. B. Du Bois (Minnesota UP, 2009). Those who wanted to commemorate Du Bois saw a deep thinker who had overcome racism and helped found the civil rights movement; those who did not want to remember him saw Du Bois the communist who had abandoned the United States for Africa. Du Bois was both and much, much more. But historical monuments cannot reflect such complexity; they are all about simplification through selective recollection. Du Bois, however, just couldn't be made simple. So the battle was joined and, to some degree, is still going on today.
19th Century, 20th Century, African Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Cold War, Commemoration, Communism, Intellectuals, Memory, Public Intellectuals, Racism, Red Scare, Socialism
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