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Du Bois, W E B

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1868-1963) US sociologist, historian, journalist and author; active from the early 1890s, the first African-American to gain a doctorate from Harvard University (in 1895); a co-founder in 1909 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was a central figure for many decades in campaigns for full civil rights. His two best known books, The Souls of Black Folk (coll 1903) and Black Reconstruction in America (1935), remain seminal texts. He is of sf interest primarily for two stories inserted into Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (coll 1920), a complex array of autobiographical essays, poems and fictions much influenced by Du Bois's analysis of the implications for the West of World War One. In "Jesus Christ in Texas", Jesus observes Black prisoners enduring wage slavery in Waco, Texas (see Race in SF), and condemns racism as inhuman. The Black protagonist of The Comet (1920 in Darkwater; 2001 chap) fears he may be the Last Man alive after he escapes from a closed vault to find Manhattan deserted after a Comet has devastated the city (see New York). Eventually he encounters a white woman, but their growing empathy (see Adam and Eve) is terminated when her father and other white survivors enter the scene. In a much later film, The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) directed by Ranald McDougall, a very similar situation ends differently: with the Black man and the white woman clearly about to become sexual partners, a relationship to be shared with a white survivor of the transformative Disaster.

Du Bois wrote several stories which remained unpublished during his lifetime. Perhaps the earliest of these is "The Princess Steel" (written circa 1908-1910; May 2015 PMLA), in which a "megascope" or Time Viewer gives sight of the origins of modern capitalist industry through theft of the "silvery hair" of the eponymous Princess from out of Africa, which is woven by white entrepreneurs into dark satanic mills. [JC]

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

born Great Barrington, Massachusetts: 23 February 1868

died Accra, Ghana: 27 August 1963

works (highly selected)

  • Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920) [coll: Austin Jenkins Co "subscription" issue printed simultaneously: hb/uncredited]
    • The Comet (New York:, 2001) [story: chap: first appeared in Darkwater above: pb/]


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