Last modified on 27 October 2014, at 17:02

W. E. B. Du Bois

The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (23 February 186827 August 1963) was an American civil rights activist, sociologist, educator, historian, author, editor, and scholar.


QuotesEdit

What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force? There are so many answers and so contradictory; and such differences for those on the one hand who meet questions similar to this once a year or once a decade, and those who face them hourly and daily.
The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world's need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get.
Believe in life! Always human beings will progress to greater, broader, and fuller life.
  • The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.
    • To the Nations of the World, address to Pan-African conference, London (1900). These words are also found in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), ch. II: Of the Dawn of Freedom
  • I insist that the object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men.
    • The Talented Tenth, published as the second chapter of The Negro Problem, a collection of articles by African Americans (New York: James Pott and Company, 1903)
  • The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.
    • John Brown: A Biography (1909): "The Legacy of John Brown"
  • Liberty trains for liberty. Responsibility is the first step in responsibility.
    • John Brown: A Biography (1909): "The Legacy of John Brown"
  • I believe that there are human stocks with whom it is physically unwise to intermarry, but to think that these stocks are all colored or that there are no such white stocks is unscientific and false.
    • As quoted in Fighting Fire with Fire: African Americans and Hereditarian Thinking, 1900-1942 by Gregory Michael Dorr (RTF document). Dorr dates this quote to 1910.
  • I do not laugh. I am quite straight-faced as I ask soberly:
    "But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?" Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!
    Now what is the effect on a man or a nation when it comes passionately to believe such an extraordinary dictum as this? That nations are coming to believe it is manifest daily. Wave on wave, each with increasing virulence, is dashing this new religion of whiteness on the shores of our time. Its first effects are funny: the strut of the Southerner, the arrogance of the Englishman amuck, the whoop of the hoodlum who vicariously leads your mob.
    • Darkwater (1920), Ch. II: The Souls of White Folk
  • The cause of war is preparation for war.
    • Darkwater (1920), Ch. II: The Souls of White Folk
  • How shall Integrity face Oppression? What shall Honesty do in the face of Deception, Decency in the face of Insult, Self-Defense before Blows? How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction, and Lies? What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force? There are so many answers and so contradictory; and such differences for those on the one hand who meet questions similar to this once a year or once a decade, and those who face them hourly and daily.
  • The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world's need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get. Without this — with work which you despise, which bores you, and which the world does not need — this life is hell.
    • To His Newborn Great-Grandson, address on his ninetieth birthday (1958)
  • Believe in life! Always human beings will progress to greater, broader, and fuller life.
    • Last message to the world (written 1957); read at his funeral (1963)
  • The most ordinary Negro is a distinct gentleman, but it takes extraordinary training and opportunity to make the average white man anything but a hog.
    • The Atlantic Monthly, interview with Ralph McGill (pub. November 1965)
  • The Soviet Union does not allow any church of any kind to interfere with education, and religion is not taught in public schools. It seems to me that this is the greatest gift of the Russian Revolution to the modern world. Most educated modern men no longer believe in religious dogma. If questioned they will usually resort to double-talk before admitting the fact. But who today actually believes that this world is ruled and directed by a benevolent person of great power who, on humble appeal, will change the course of events at our request? Who believes in miracles? Many folk follow religious ceremonies and services and allow their children to learn fairy tales and so-called religious truth, which in time the children come to recognize as conventional lies told by their parents and teachers for the children's good. One can hardly exaggerate the moral disaster of the custom. We have to thank the Soviet Union for the courage to stop it.
    • The Autobiography of W.E. Burghardt Du Bois (International publishers, 1968), ch. IV: The Soviet Union
    • Also in the Autobiography, ch. XVI: My Character: "I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools."

The Souls of Black Folk (1903)Edit

Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor, — all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked, — who is good? not that men are ignorant, — what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.
  • After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

    The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.

    • Ch. I: Of Our Spiritual Strivings
  • To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.
    • Ch. I: Of Our Spiritual Strivings
  • And yet this very singleness of vision and thorough oneness with his age is a mark of the successful man. It is as though Nature needs must make men narrow in order to give them force.
  • The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.
    • Ch. V: Of the Wings of Atalanta
  • The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.
    • Ch. V: Of the Wings of Atalanta
  • I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color-line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of the evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?
    • Ch. VI: Of the Training of Black Men
  • It is, then, the strife of all honorable men and women of the twentieth century to see that in the future competition of the races the survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the true; that we may be able to preserve for future civilization all that is really fine and noble and strong, and not continue to put a premium on greed and imprudence and cruelty.
    • Ch. IX: Of the Sons of Master and Man
  • Daily the Negro is coming more and more to look upon law and justice, not as protecting safeguards, but as sources of humiliation and oppression. The laws are made by men who have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have absolutely no motive for treating the black people with courtesy and consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would rather punish ten innocent Negroes than let one guilty one escape.
    • Ch. IX: Of the Sons of Master and Man
  • The Negro cannot stand the present reactionary tendencies and unreasoning drawing of the color line indefinitely without discouragement and retrogression. And the condition of the Negro is ever the cause for further discrimination.
    • Ch. IX: Of the Sons of Master and Man
  • Why was his hair tinted with gold? An evil omen was golden hair in my life. Why had not the brown of his eyes crushed out and killed the blue? — for brown were his father’s eyes, and his father’s father’s. And thus in the Land of the Color-line I saw, as it fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil.
    • Ch. XI: Of the Passing of the First-Born
  • Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live, — a Negro and a Negro's son. Holding in that little head — ah, bitterly! — the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand — ah, wearily! — to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty is a lie.
    • Ch. XI: Of the Passing of the First-Born
  • Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor, — all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked, — who is good? not that men are ignorant, — what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.
    • Ch. XII: Of Alexander Crummell
  • It was a bright September afternoon, and the streets of New York were brilliant with moving men.... He was pushed toward the ticket-office with the others, and felt in his pocket for the new five-dollar bill he had hoarded.... When at last he realized that he had paid five dollars to enter he knew not what, he stood stock-still amazed.... John... sat in a half-maze minding the scene about him; the delicate beauty of the hall, the faint perfume, the moving myriad of men, the rich clothing and low hum of talking seemed all a part of a world so different from his, so strangely more beautiful than anything he had known, that he sat in dreamland, and started when, after a hush, rose high and clear the music of Lohengrin's swan. The infinite beauty of the wail lingered and swept through every muscle of his frame, and put it all a-tune. He closed his eyes and grasped the elbows of the chair, touching unwittingly the lady's arm. And the lady drew away. A deep longing swelled in all his heart to rise with that clear music out of the dirt and dust of that low life that held him prisoned and befouled. If he could only live up in the free air where birds sang and setting suns had no touch of blood! Who had called him to be the slave and butt of all?... If he but had some master-work, some life-service, hard, aye, bitter hard, but without the cringing and sickening servility.... When at last a soft sorrow crept across the violins, there came to him the vision of a far-off home — the great eyes of his sister, and the dark drawn face of his mother.... It left John sitting so silent and rapt that he did not for some time notice the usher tapping him lightly on the shoulder and saying politely, 'will you step this way please sir?'... The manager was sorry, very very sorry — but he explained that some mistake had been made in selling the gentleman a seat already disposed of; he would refund the money, of course... before he had finished John was gone, walking hurriedly across the square... and as he passed the park he buttoned his coat and said, 'John Jones you're a natural-born fool.' Then he went to his lodgings and wrote a letter, and tore it up; he wrote another, and threw it in the fire....
    • Ch. XIII: Of the Coming of John

The Negro (1915)Edit

The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience.
Full text online
  • Present-day students are often puzzled at the apparent contradictions of Southern slavery. One hears, on the one hand, of the staid and gentle patriarchy, the wide and sleepy plantations with lord and retainers, ease and happiness; on the other hand one hears of barbarous cruelty and unbridled power and wide oppression of men. Which is the true picture? The answer is simple: both are true. They are not opposite sides of the same shield; they are different shields.
    • Ch. XI: The Negro in the United States
  • The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience.
    • Ch. XI: The Negro in the United States
  • Unfortunately there was one thing that the white South feared more than Negro dishonesty, ignorance, and incompetency, and that was Negro honesty, knowledge, and efficiency.
    • Ch. XI: The Negro in the United States

The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois (2003)Edit

Published by Citadel Press in 2003 to commemorate the centennial of the publication of The Souls of Black Folk by the renowned historian and educator W.E.B. Du Bois. It is composed of selected quotations from Du Bois's voluminous writings as well as original essays by the editor..
  • The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.
    • Du Bois (p. 74)
  • Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.
    • Du Bois (p. 10)
  • The world is shrinking together; it is finding itself neighbor to itself in strange, almost magic degree.
    • Du Bois (p. 11)
  • The Negro slave trade was the first step in modern world commerce, followed by the modern theory of colonial expansion. Slaves as an article of commerce were shipped as long as the traffic paid.
    • Du Bois (p. 104)
  • The cause of war is preparation for war.
    • Du Bois (p. 75)
  • I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty for Beauty to set the world right.
    • Du Bois (p. xi)
  • I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.
    • Du Bois (p. 132)

Quotes about W. E. B. Du BoisEdit

  • He [Du Bois] was at once a scientist in his skillful use of history as a tool for comprehending the present, and a prophet in the application of his gift for analyzing the present as an indicator of the future. Because he lived simultaneously firmly entrenched within his time and decades ahead of it, the light of his wisdom, like that of his great love for humanity, is one that never diminishes.
  • Completing the story of slavery meant acknowledging the many black abolitionists who advocated for the freedom of slaves. It further meant recognition of the thousands of African Americans who fought to free themselves during the Civil War as opposed to waiting for emancipation.
    • Aberjhani (p. 96)
  • Very possibly it washis hope that one day someone might have reason to say of him what he imagined at the end of his essay on Crummell that Christ must have said upon greeting the priest's weary spirit: "Well done!"
    • Aberjhani (p. 130)

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