An American Giant, David Levering Lewis’ W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography of a Race

An American Giant, David Levering Lewis’ W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography of a Race

W.E.B. Du Bois was a titan among African-American intellectuals and the central figure in black protest politics during the first half of the twentieth century. His record of achievements during his long life (he lived to be ninety-five) is astonishing in its diversity and significance. He was the first black American to do graduate work in Europe, the first to earn a doctorate from Harvard (or any other American university), and the first historian, white or black, to publish in the prestigious Harvard Historical Studies. (Almost forty years after publication of The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America in 1896, he produced his monumental Black Reconstruction [1935], a work that has come to be recognized as one of the classics of American historical writing.) His The Philadelphia Negro (1899) was not only the first significant sociological study of an African-American community, but also the first extensive, empirically based social-scientific investigation of any American population group. He later firmed up his position as the pioneer of African-American sociology by directing the eighteen-volume Atlanta University Studies, which surveyed virtually all aspects of black life in the United States in the early twentieth century. His collection of essays The Souls of Black Folk (1903) was of course a landmark in American and African- American thought and literature—as Henry James realized at the time, and as the efforts of recent scholars and critics to probe the depths of this extraordinarily rich and complex work have more than verified. His subsequent novels, essays, and autobiographies never quite duplicated the power and intensity of Souls, but they nevertheless solidified his preeminence as an African-American man of letters.


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