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Du Bois, W.E.B. - Writings

W.E.B. Du Bois


The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade • The Souls of Black Folk • Dusk of Dawn • Essays

"It is no exaggeration to say that [Du Bois] anticipated, and influenced, many of the events that led to the making of the modern world."
—Washington Post
Overview  |  Note on the Texts  |  Reviews  |  Table of Contents

The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, W.E.B. Du Bois's first book, was a revised version of his doctoral dissertation (Harvard University, 1895). It was published in 1896 by Longmans, Green, and Co. of New York as Volume I of the Harvard Historical Studies series. Only two other printings of the work appeared during Du Bois's life: a reprinting by Longmans, Green, and Co. in 1904 (no corrections or revisions were made in the plates) and a photo-offset version of the 1896 text published by The Social Science Press in New York City in 1954. Du Bois added a three-page "Apologia," which was inserted between Appendix D and the index, for the 1954 volume, but no changes were made in the text. The present volume reprints the Longmans, Green, and Co. 1896 text. The later "Apologia" is included in the notes.

Many of the chapters in The Souls of Black Folk are revised versions of essays that had appeared earlier in The Atlantic Monthly, The World's Work, The Dial, The New World, and Annals of the American Academy. One essay, "Of the Black Belt," had been commissioned but not printed by McClure's Magazine. Other essays, such as "Of the Passing of the First-Born" and "Of the Coming of John," though written earlier, had not previously been printed. Two essays, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others" and "The Sorrow Songs," were written expressly for The Souls of Black Folk. The book, published by A. C. McClurg and Co. of Chicago in 1903, went through at least 22 additional printings before 1938. By the ninth printing, published December 10, 1911, Du Bois had made one change: altering "a Yankee or a Jew" at 451.13-14 to "a Yankee or his like." This is the only change known to have been made before Du Bois purchased the plates from McClurg in January 1949. In October 1953, a Fiftieth Anniversary Jubilee Edition of 1000 copies, printed from these same plates, was published by the Blue Heron Press, established by Howard Fast. In a new preface, "Fifty Years Later," Du Bois wrote:

Several times I planned to revise the book and bring it abreast of my own thought and to answer criticism. But I hesitated and finally decided to leave the book as first printed, as a monument to what I thought and felt in 1903. I hoped in other books to set down changes of fact and reaction.

In the present Jubilee Edition I have clung to this decision, and my thoughts of fifty years ago appear again as then written. Only in a few cases have I made less than a half-dozen alterations in word or phrase and then not to change my thought as previously set down but to avoid any possible misunderstanding today of what I meant to say yesterday.

In the correspondence between Du Bois and the Blue Heron Press there is a list of specific revisions requested (page and line numbers are changed here to correspond to this volume):
March 16, 1953


p.448, line 9, capitalize "Negroes".


p.454, line 11, change to read "native and foreign, seized it. The returns of the"

p.480, 26 lines from bottom, change to read, "enterprising capitalist who sold it to him pocketed"


In the foregoing chapter, "Jews" have been mentioned five times, and the late Jacob Schiff once complained that this gave an impression of anti-Semitism. This at the time I stoutly denied; but as I read the passages again in the light of subsequent history, I see how I laid myself open to this possible misapprehension. What, of course, I meant to condemn was exploitation of black labor and that it was in this county and at that time in part a matter of immigrant Jews, was incidental and not essential. My inner sympathy with the Jewish people was expressed better in the last paragraph of page 520. But this illustrates how easily one slips into unconscious condemnation of a whole group.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and members of the Black Periodical Literature Project collated this 1953 printing against the earlier printings in preparing a new edition of The Souls of Black Folk (Bantam, 1989). They found that nine revisions were made in the work for the 1953 re-issue, including changes to all of the passages mentioned in Du Bois's list. Eight of the changes involved deletion or alteration of references that might be read as anti-Semitic in the later context. According to Gates's edition, the changes were as follows: "Claflin" replaced "Lincoln" at 432.2; "Immigrants are heirs" replaced "The Jew is the heir" at 450.5; "most failed, and foreigners fell heir" replaced "nearly all failed, and the Jew fell heir" at 450.11; "foreigner" replaced "Russian Jew" at 451.3; "an immigrant" replaced "his like" (which had previously replaced "a Jew" in this passage by the ninth printing in 1911) at 451.14; "poor relations and foreign immigrants" replaced "nephews and the poor whites and the Jews" at 454.10-11; "and unscrupulous immigrants" replaced "shrewd and unscrupulous Jews" at 479.23; "American" replaced "Russian Jew" at 480.15; and "peasants" replaced "the Jews" at 503.32. Possibly because the five references to "Jews" mentioned in the note to be added to Chapter VII had now been removed, the paragraph submitted by Du Bois was not included in the re-issued volume. The authorial changes made for the 1953 printing of The Souls of Black Folks are significant, but they were made fifty years after the work's composition and in response to changes in the political climate between the turn of the century and the post-World War II era. Since the present volume presents the works chronologically, covering Du Bois's entire lifespan, and since his later views are presented separately elsewhere in the volume, the text of The Souls of Black Folk printed here is that of the first printing by A. C. McClurg and Co., published in 1903.

Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept was published by Harcourt, Brace and Company of New York in 1940. No other printing of the work was made during Du Bois's lifetime; that text is printed here.

For the essays and articles, this volume prints the texts of their original periodical or book publication, with the exception of the three essays from Darkwater (1920). "Souls of White Folk" was made up of an essay in the Independent, August 18, 1910, and part of another essay, "Of the Culture of White Folk," in Journal of Race Development, April 1917; "The Hands of Ethiopia" was first published as "The African Roots of the War" in The Atlantic Monthly May 15, 1915; and part of "The Damnation of Women" appeared under the title "On Being Black" in The New Republic February 18, 1920. Since all of these essays were heavily revised for publication in the book Darkwater, the revised versions have been selected for inclusion here. Articles from The Crisis, with a few exceptions, are grouped together in a final section of this volume. The exceptions are the pieces that Du Bois printed as essays or addresses and for this reason they are included in the earlier section.

Although later versions of some of the essays included here form parts of The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (New York: International Publishers, 1968), the book versions of those essays have not been chosen as the texts to be printed because The Autobiography appeared five years after Du Bois died, and he did not have the opportunity to exercise authorial control. Collation has shown that the work is mainly made up of previously published material. For example, some two hundred pages are drawn from Dusk of Dawn; the account of the trial and acquittal comes from In Battle for Peace: The Story of My 83rd Birthday (New York: Masses & Mainstream, 1952); and the Postlude chapter is taken from "A Vista of Ninety Fruitful Years" in the National Guardian February 17, 1958. Therefore, only the chapter "My Character," which does not appear elsewhere, is selected from The Autobiography for inclusion in this volume.

The original indexes to The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade and Dusk of Dawn are reproduced here with a few necessary corrections. The numbers have been changed to refer to this volume. A new index was made for the Essays and Articles section.

This volume presents the texts of the original editions chosen for inclusion here. It does not attempt to reproduce features of the typographic design, such as the display capitalization of chapter openings. The texts are reproduced without change, except for the correction of typographical errors.

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