The authors featured in our exhibit American Voices represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminating with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
W. E. B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois was a leading voice in the fight for civil rights, a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Du Bois was also an advocate of Pan-Africanism, encouraging African colonies to fight for independence from European powers.
The first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, Du Bois was an academic activist. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), is a seminal work of sociology and African-American literature, brilliantly advocating for the full rights of African-Americans and vigorously denouncing the notion of biological white superiority. Black Reconstruction in America (1935) scathingly rebukes the theory that African-Americans were to blame for the failure of Reconstruction.
Du Bois served as the first editor of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP. Under his leadership, the magazine promoted education and women’s rights, and featured such groundbreaking writers as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.
“This sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others… One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”—W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)