I wrote this article for a newsletter that is presently continuing under new leadership.
(When) Should Black People Voluntarily Segregate Themselves? W.E.B. Du Bois’ Battle With The NAACP In The Pages Of The Crisis Magazine
The 80th anniversary of one of the greatest intellectual discussions in the 20th century history of the Black American press came and went last year, with absolutely no fanfare or notice.
The 1934 Crisis magazine debate about voluntary Black self-segregation—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People couldn’t bear to call it Black nationalism—was almost as powerful in print as it was behind the scenes, in memos between the major players—W.E.B. Du Bois, the founder and editor of The Crisis, NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White and NAACP Chairman Joel Elias Spingarn, the latter a white man.
At the end of the six-month debate, Du Bois, the founder of The Crisis magazine, would resign from the NAACP organ. His often-fiery battles with White would be over. Roy Wilkins, a future NAACP Executive Secretary, would advance within White’s NAACP. And Marcus Garvey, one of the Du Bois’ greatest foes, would openly, and appropriately, gloat.
This article quotes from rarely seen carbons of then-confidential correspondence from the NAACP’s archived papers, located in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.
The year 1934 started with rumors of Du Bois leaving The Crisis and the NAACP. An open letter to the NAACP Board of Directors demanding answers at the next board meeting was sent to Mary White Ovington, the white woman who was one of the organization’s co-founders, board member Carl Murphy, the publisher of the powerful Afro-American newspaper chain, and even U.S. Senator Arthur Capper (R-Kan.). The letter was the product of a committee formed after Du Bois told some allies that the operation of the NAACP had been taken from him and given to Roy Wilkins and George Streator, two NAACP staffers. [i]
This issue was of great significance because Du Bois had set up a unique arrangement with the founders of the NAACP. Under the unwritten agreement, Du Bois would found, and then be given complete editorial control over, The Crisis. From the first issue in 1910 to the end of 1933, Du Bois was not interfered with in any way. The Crisis was simultaneously the organ of both the NAACP and Du Bois. But when Walter Francis White became the NAACP’s executive secretary in 1931, he and Du Bois began to clash, with each man testing the other’s power and resolve.
The letter emphasized that the NAACP and The Crisis “are the children of Dr. Du Bois’ brain and earlier efforts” and that he should not be voted out of the organization lest “catastrophe” develop. “Dr. Du Bois’s name, due partly to this fact, is indelibly associated in the minds of the colored people all over this broad land with the two organizations. They would soon think of the United States withouts [SIC] its Mississippi River as they would think of the two organizations without Dr. Du Bois” (Letter to NAACP Board Members).
Walter White, in a letter to one of the signatories, the suffragist Martha Gruening, explained the situation: Du Bois was temporarily at Atlanta University, and was still contracted by the NAACP to write editorials, while Wilkins and Streator were doing “the actual detail work” of getting out the magazine (White Letter to Gruening).
Proof positive that Du Bois was indeed writing the editorials came in the January issue, in the “Postscripts” signed editorial section, under the headline “Segregation,” the lead editorial:
The thinking colored people of the United States must stop being stampeded by the word segregation. The opposition to racial segregation is not or should not be any distaste or unwillingness of colored people to work with each other, to cooperate with each other, to live with each other. The opposition to segregation is an opposition to discrimination. The experience in the United States has been that usually when there is racial segregation there is also racial discrimination.
But the two things do not necessarily go together, and there should never be an opposition to segregation pure and simple unless that segregation does involve discrimination. Not only is there no objection to colored people if the surroundings and treatment involve no discrimination, if streets are well lighted, if there is water, sewerage and police protection, and if anybody of any color who wishes can live in that neighborhood. The same way in schools: there is no objection to schools attended by colored pupils and taught by colored teachers. On the contrary, colored pupils can by own contention be as fine human beings as any other sort of children, and we certainly know that there are no teachers better than trained colored teachers. But if the existence of such a school is made reason and cause for giving it worse housing, poorer facilities, poorer equipment and poorer teachers, then we do object, and the objection is not against the color of the pupils’ or teachers’ skins, but against the discrimination.
In the recent endeavor of the United States Government to redistribute capital so that some of the disadvantaged groups may get a chance for development, the American Negro should voluntarily and insistently demand his share. Groups of communities and farms inhabited by colored folk should be voluntarily formed. In no case should there be any discrimination against whites and blacks. But, at the same time, colored people should come forward, should organize and conduct enterprises, and their only insistence should be that the same provisions be made for the success of their enterprise that is being made for the success of any other enterprise. It must be remembered that in the last quarter of a century the advance of the colored people has been mainly in the lines where they themselves, working by and for themselves, have accomplished the greatest advance.
There is no doubt that numbers of white people, perhaps the majority of Americans, stand ready to take the most distinct advantage of voluntary segregation and cooperation among colored people. Just as soon as they get a group of black folk segregated, they use it as a point of attack and discrimination. Our counterattack should be, therefore, against this discrimination; against the refusal of the South to spend the same amount of money on the black child as on the white child for its education; against the inability of black groups to use public capital; against the monopoly of credit by white groups. But never in the world should our fight be against association without ourselves, because by that very token we give up the whole argument that we are worth associating with.
Doubtless, and in the long run, the greatest human development is going to take place under experiences of widest individual contact. Nevertheless, today such individual contact is made difficult and almost impossible by petty prejudice, deliberate and almost criminal propaganda and various survivals from prehistoric heathenism. It is impossible, therefore, to wait for the millennium of free and normal intercourse before we united, to cooperate among ourselves in groups of like-minded people and in groups of people suffering from the same disadvantages and the same hatreds.
It is the class-conscious workingman uniting together who will eventually emancipate labor throughout the world. It is the race-conscious black man cooperating together in his own institutions and movements who will eventually emancipate the colored race, and the great step ahead today is for the American Negro to accomplish his economic emancipation through voluntary determined cooperative effort (W.E.B. Du Bois, January, 1934, 20).
This Crisis editorial represented Du Bois’ growing socialism as well as his reaction to the New Deal’s failure (as of late 1933) to systematically include African-Americans in the national programs assisting the citizens of the nation. The editorial was a significant evolution in Du Bois’ public philosophy; in the pages of The Crisis, from 1910 to 1933, Du Bois raged against racial segregation, but had begun to question the goal of racial integration. [ii] As Henry Lee Moon explained of Du Bois’ earlier writing:
He recognized compulsory separation of the races as the most effective instrument to keep the Negro subjugated in a state of dependency upon the white population. In brilliant articles and searing editorials he bitterly assailed this substitute for slavery as the mainstay of white supremacy (Moon, 1972, Introduction, 31).
But that would change by the 1930s, Moon wrote: “Despairing of any early leveling of racial barriers, Du Bois began in the early thirties to embrace the doctrine of ‘fighting segregation with segregation’” (33). Du Bois’s idea, as he stated in the January editorial, was to push Blacks to form farming economic cooperatives—to be producers and consumers of what they produce.
With Du Bois’ initial intellectual Molotov cocktail thrown, White went immediately into damage-control mode. Spingarn suggests in a memo to White that he only express opinions as a person, not as an NAACP leader. The chair suggests to Secretary White—a very lightskinned Black man with European features—to tread carefully, since “hundreds of Negroes think you are really a white man whose natural desire is to associate with white men” (Spingarn to White, January 10).
In a telegram, White wrote Du Bois asking him to carry a rebuttal in the February Crisis. Du Bois told him that although next month’s issue is full, “I am going to contribute the discussion of segregation throughout the year and would be very glad to welcome from you or anyone else a contribution to the March CRISIS on the subject of segregation” (Du Bois to White, January 10). Du Bois sent a telegram to White the next day, with a more harsh rebuttal: “I will not allow your statement to be published in the February Crisis. It is untrue and unfair. You may publish your opinion in the March Crisis if you will” (Du Bois to White, January 11). White sent Du Bois a formal letter, explaining that certain conservative New Dealers were using the editorial to stop Blacks from getting services.[iii] In a formal letter to White acknowledging the receipt of White’s manuscript, Du Bois chided him, saying
you have no more right than I have to speak for the Association, and your statement that the Association has never budged on segregation is false. If and when the Association makes an official pronouncement as to its positon on segregation, a thing which it has never yet done, THE CRISIS will, of course, print it and give it the utmost prominence. But you are not the Board of Directors and you have no business to speak for them (Du Bois to White, January 11).
And that “official position” was just what White and Spingarn were exploring. In a January 12 letter, Spingarn discussed the following with White:
As to your suggestion that the board “define anew its position on segregation” and that “we should in no wise change our attitude,” this creates a more difficult problem than you appear to think. The Board has never “defined” its attitude on this subject; it has merely authorized certain concrete steps. The word has become a sort of shibboleth, and unthinking people may use it indiscriminately; but surely we cannot attack segregation in the abstract without attacking the Negro college, the Negro church, etc. To distinguish merely between voluntary and involuntary segregation is another way in which unintelligent people try to avoid the difficulty, but that raises more problems than it solves. I disagree with the direction in which Dr. Du Bois seems to be heading, but I think he is doing a service in trying to make the real meaning of the problem clearer than it has been and certainly a hot controversy on the subject will help to keep interest in the N.A.A.C.P. more lively than ever. I should be very glad to see whatever you may suggest as a proper action for the Board, but of course no action of the Board at this given time can prevent a member or officer from agitating further in favor of a future change of policy (Spingarn to White, January 12).
Meanwhile, White again clarified his position to Du Bois in a January 15 letter: “….[W]hile it may appear that the Association has not made specific pronouncements of segregation nevertheless position has been one of opposition to segregation.” He also asked Du Bois to tell him what was untrue in the statement so he could make revisions (White to Du Bois, January 15). In a January 17th response to White, Du Bois pointed out that White’s article assumed that it was the same as the NAACP’s first statement on the issue. Du Bois pointed out that the NAACP “advocated and strongly advocated a segregated Negro officer’s camp after we found that we were not allowed to enter the regular officer’s camp during the war. And in other cases where the opposition has been strong and the need for united segregated effort apparent, we have not hesitated.” The NAACP, then, Du Bois told White, does not want race separation, but has in the past accepted it. He said he would be very glad “to have you or any other officer of the Association in future numbers of THE CRISIS” to show the NAACP’s record on segregation and express “their own personal opinion” on the issue. “Of course, in my editorial and in your letter, it is manifest that we are not both speaking of the same thing. I am using segregation in the broader sense of separate racial effort caused by outer social repulsions, whether those repulsions are a matter of law or custom or mere desire. You are using the word segregation simply as applying to compulsory separations. Evidently the matter of difference here will require thought and explanation” (Du Bois to White, January 17).
White responded to Spingarn’s January 10th letter. He told Spingarn that if he desired to associate with whites, he would just pass as white and remain that way. As far as segregation was concerned,
If the Association’s attitude is not one opposition to segregation, then, I have misinterpreted it for nearly twenty years. I am frankly not interested in the Association unless that is its policy, not only because of the ideals involved but because all my experience has convinced me that whatever the Negro may do in his churches, lodges or private affairs he must continue to fight for integration in public matters and against segregation. Were any other course followed by the Association I could not with a clear conscience continue to work in its cause. I do not in any sense put this as an ultimatum but simply as an honest and frank discussion of opinion.
“Cultural nationalism” or “racialism” is in my opinion a vastly different thing from acceptance of segregation without protest from the United States government or the states. Right now we have to accept Jim Crow schools in the South but I do believe that they are an evil and eventually must go. You and I may never live to see it but I am convinced that we must continue to oppose them not only for our own sakes but for the sakes of white people and colored people of future generations (White to Spingarn, January 15).
Du Bois used up the entire two-page “Postscript” section in the February Crisis defending and explaining his philosophy of editing The Crisis, and explaining the NAACP’s complex relationship with racial segregation.
In the first item “A Free Forum,” Du Bois, writing in the second person, explained to his readers how he sought to allow a variety of opinions in The Crisis, including “radically antagonistic” ones. Most important of all, he continued, he
has sought not to make the N.A.A.C.P. responsible for his individual ideas.
To some this has seemed an anomaly. They have thought that the National Organ of an organization should always express officially what that organization thinks. But a moment of reflection will show that this is impossible. The thought of an organization is always in flux and is never definitely recorded until after long consideration. Meantime, a living periodical reflects opinions and not decisions. And it is for this reason that the editorials of THE CRISIS have always appeared as signed editorial opinions of the Editor and not as the recorded decisions of the N.A.A.C.P. This has given vividness and flexibility to the magazine and at the same time has allowed differences of opinion to be thoroughly threshed out (Du Bois, The Crisis, February, 52).
In the second item, “The N.A.A.C.P. And Race Segregation,” Du Bois reminds his readers—and the NAACP!—that it had “no general stand and adopted no general philosophy” on the segregation issue. The NAACP’s original mission included civil and human rights, and uplift, he recalled, using documents of the group’s founding. Segregation, argued Du Bois, “comes in only by implication.” The NAACP was clearly against “special rules which discriminated against the color of employees or patrons,” but not necessarily the rights of African-Americans to have, say, their own towns. The NAACP took stands on equality of education, the editor wrote, but not on whether Blacks should have their own schools. The organization, then, would attack “specific instances” without “a general rule.” The complex reality was this:
No matter what we may wish or say, the vast majority of the Negroes in the United States are born in colored homes, educated in separate colored schools, attend separate colored churches, marry colored mates, and find their amusement in colored Y.M.C.A.’s and Y.W.C.A.’s. Even in their economic life, they are gradually being forced out of the place in industry which they occupied in the white world and are being compelled to seek their living among themselves. Here is segregation with a vengeance, and its problems must be met and its course guided. It would be idiotic simply to sit on the side lines and yell: “No segregation” in an increasingly segregated world.
On the other hand, the danger of easily and eagerly yielding to suggested racial segregation without reason or pressure stares us ever in the face (Du Bois, The Crisis, February, 52-53).
At the end of the item and the section, Du Bois promised to continue to explore the issue during 1934. Much to the chagrin of Spingarn, White and the NAACP board, he kept his word.
On March 12, White sent a memorandum to the NAACP Board of Directors clarifying the relationship between The Crisis and the Association. The clarification was in response to charges within and without the Association that the NAACP was imposing itself on the magazine. The memo emphasized the independence that the magazine—and its editor—had, free of the interference of the NAACP and its board. White portrayed the NAACP and a compliant friend of Du Bois, ignoring complaints branches may have had about his charging fees to speak to them and the magazine’s content. “The motives of the Association and its attitude towards the Crisis have been persistently misinterpreted,” it said, with “resentment” from Du Bois as its reward for helping the magazine with its financial difficulties (“N.A.A.C.P Dictatorship”).
Meanwhile, The Crisis had a “symposium” on segregation in its March issue. (Du Bois continued to emphasize his segregation arguments in the “Postscript;” three of the four items—“Subsistence Homestead Colonies,” “Segregation And Self-Respect” and “History of Segregation Philosophy” [iv] –were about Black segregation.) The symposium’s contributors were: Spingarn; White; Leslie Pickney Hill, president of the Cheney Training School for Teachers; David H. Pierce of Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Clarke Foreman, U.S. Department of the Interior; Clarence E. Pickett, Division of Subsistence Homesteads of the Department of the Interior; S.H. Archer, president of Morehouse College and Dr. Will Alexander of the Commission on Inter-Racial Co-operation. In his article, Spingarn pointed out that the NAACP “never accepted the distinction between discrimination and segregation which Dr. Du Bois makes in his January editorial. That distinction was created, not by us, but by the Southern lawyers who wished to show that it was legal and constitutional to Jim Crow the Negro.” Segregation—an “evil,” with voluntary segregation begin a “necessary” one, Spingarn conceded—automatically meant discrimination in the eyes of the NAACP. The future of the Association, he postulated, would depend on how the NAACP would view that evil, pragmatically or uncompromisingly (Spingarn symposium, March, 79). Pierce wrote that Du Bois was not struggling, but retreating, and there had been too much compromise already. “The Negro has been altogether too respectful in the face of a social order which stacks the cards against him” (Pierce symposium, March, 79). White, in his piece, pointed out that segregation automatically means “inferior accommodations and a distinctly inferior position in the national and communal life” and “means spiritual atrophy for the group segregated.” Blacks must oppose segregation from without because if they don’t, it will permanently legalize second-class citizenship and resources. “Like cancer, segregation grows and must be, in my opinion, resisted whenever it shows its head….The Negro must, without yielding, continue the grim struggle for integration and against discrimination” (White symposium, March, 80;81). Pinckney Hill echoed Du Bois’ argument: that segregation of the races was a fact, and that Blacks should take that disadvantage and turn it into an advantage; segregated unity will prepare Blacks for a unity with others. “In place of the doctrine of inferiority and superiority, we may exemplify and teach a fundamental equality” (Pinckney Hill symposium, March, 82). Foreman talked about a solution not being Du Bois’ idea of agricultural economic cooperatives, but Black towns incorporating themselves, which would allow for both the relief of the New Deal’s Public Work Administration grants and a form of African-American economic power (Foreman symposium, March, 82). Pickett, part of the Interior Department’s division that gave small plots of land to families to farm to live, enjoyed Du Bois’s idea for a separate “Homesteads colony for Negroes.” In what seems like a letter to Du Bois instead of an article, Pickett says of the idea: “It now seems likely that we will establish one, and perhaps others, on this basis. Since, however, the fund is experimental, I am hoping that we can also develop some without the element of segregation involved” (Pickett, March, 82). Archer and Alexander congratulated Du Bois for his Black farm cooperative idea.
Du Bois continued to dedicate the vast majority of his “Postscript” signed editorial section to self-segregation. Five of the six items in the April issue were about segregation versus integration. In the lead item, he took issue with others bringing up his past statements. “I am talking about conditions in 1934 and not in 1910. I do not care what I said in 1910 or 1810 or in B.C. 700.” He went after his opponents—Walter White, the prominent scholar Kelly Miller and the journalist George Schuyler, all African-Americans—with great gusto. Miller and Schuyler’s views “are historically based on the amiable assumption that there is little or no segregation in the North, and that agitation and a firm stand is making this disappear; that obvious desert and accomplishment by Negroes can break down prejudice,” an idea Du Bois called “a fable.” As for his arch-foe White, Du Bois provided his most potent public venom since his fights with Marcus Garvey a decade earlier:
In the first place, Walter White is white. He has more white companions and friends than colored. He goes where he will in New York City and naturally meets no Color Line, for the simple and sufficient reason that he isn’t “colored;” he feels his new freedom in bitter contrast to what he was born to in Georgia. This is perfectly natural and he does what anyone else of his complexion would do.
In response to Spingarn’s idea that the NAACP should “change its attitude toward segregation. The point that he does not realize is that segregation has changed its attitude toward the N.A.A.C.P. The higher the Negro climbs or tries to climb, the more pitiless and unyielding the color ban.” Du Bois again called for Blacks to organize “our economic and social power, no matter how much segregation it involves” (Du Bois, April, 115).
Meanwhile, the NAACP Board passed a resolution condemning enforced segregation, the first time it had done that.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is opposed both to the principle and the practice of enforced segregation of human beings on the basis of race and color.
Enforced segregation by its very significance carries with it the implication of a superior and inferior group and invariably results in the imposition of a lower status on the group deemed inferior. Thus both principle and practice necessitate unyielding opposition to any and every form of segregation (as printed by Du Bois, May, 1934, 149).
Spingarn wrote White about the board’s action. The NAACP chairman said if he had to impose the logic of the board, he would do so immediately; therefore, he wrote that until the next meeting of the Board, all communication and collaboration between the NAACP and any Black school or college be immediately terminated (Spingarn to White, April 25).
Meanwhile, the anti-Du Bois sentiment was building within the Association. At the April Board meeting, Du Bois’ firing was brought up as a discussion item. Branches were writing into the national office, declaring their support or condemnation of Du Bois and passing their own resolutions—as did the Bloomington, Indiana branch, the Montgomery, West Virginia branch, and the Illinois State Conference, three which condemned him. [v]
The May issue of The Crisis was not subtitled “A Record of the Darker Races,” its cover subtitle since its premiere issue in 1910, but “Edited by W.E.B. Du Bois.” [vi] There were two “Postscript” items on segregation: the lead item, “Segregation,” in which Du Bois said, “I fight Segregation with Segregation, and I do not consider this compromise, I consider this common sense.” (Du Bois, May, 147) Item No. Six (of seven) of “Postscript” was headlined, “The Board Of Directors On Segregation.” After printing the board’s anti-enforced-segregation resolution, Du Bois, bringing up in public the argument Spingarn warned White of in private, asked if this meant that the Black church, Black colleges, the Black press, Black businesses and even Negro spirituals were all illegitimate in the board’s eyes? Does it believe in Black institutions? “And if it does believe in these things is the Board of Directors of the N.A.A.C.P. afraid to say so?” (149) With that italicized question, Du Bois had openly criticized the NAACP board in the NAACP’s organ.
Meanwhile, the Association had had enough internal wrangling on the issue. On May 14, the Board passed the following resolution:
On the motion of Dr. Wright, duly seconded, it was VOTED, That The Crisis is the organ of the Association and no salaried officer of the Association shall criticize the policy, work, or officers of the Association in the pages of The Crisis; that any such criticism be brought directly to the Board of Directors and its publication approved or disapproved (as quoted in Du Bois Memorandum, June 1).
In the June Crisis issue, Du Bois carried a harsh criticism of him and his segregation editorials. The article was written by Francis J. Grimke, a founder of the NAACP and a pastor of a major Washington, D.C. church. Grimke contended that if Du Bois believes Blacks should accept segregation, “then his leadership among us is at an end; we can follow no such leader” (Grimke, 1934, 173). The minister then emphasized, as White did in his symposium article, that Blacks must resist the malicious nature of segregation because, in theory and practice, it is synonymous with inferiority. In an attached post-script to Grimke’s article, Du Bois said he published Grimke’s article “with great pleasure.” He then argued that Grimke’s very own church—the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, with its congregation being what Du Bois called “a Who’s Who of Colored Washington and a roll of honor of the Negro in America”—is a successful segregated institution. Such successful Black establishments, Du Bois contended, are where “we are going to get into our hands a weapon which in the long run is bound to kill and discredit segregation if human reason lasts… In fine, we can only regret that Dr. Grimke sees in the 15the Street Presbyterian Church only the insult that caused its founding, and has no word for the magnificence of the opportunity which he has had in leading and developing it” (Du Bois, Untitled Grimke Postscript, The Crisis, June, 174).
All seven items in his “Post-Script” section defended his segregation posture. He would not back down, not one inch. To hell with White and the NAACP board.
So when Du Bois saw the success of the May vote of the NAACP board, he promptly resigned.
I regret to say that I am unable to comply with this vote. I do not for a moment question the right of the Board to take this action or its duty to do so whenever differences of opinion among its officers become so wide as to threaten the organization. Naturally, I seriously question the wisdom or right of any distinction between the opinions of salaried and unsalaried officials.
On the other hand, in thirty-five years of public service, my contribution to the settlement of the Negro problems has been mainly candid criticism based on a careful effort to know the facts. I have not always been right, but I have been sincere, and I am unwilling at this late day to be limited in the expression of my honest opinions in the way in which the Board proposes. In fact, THE CRISIS never was and never was intended to be an organ of the Association in the sense of simply reflecting its official opinion. I could point to a dozen actions of the Board confirming this. My ideal for THE CRISIS has always been that anyone’s opinion, no matter how antagonistic to mine, or to that of the Association, could to a reasonable extent, find there free and uncensored expression. I will not edit THE CRISIS unless that policy can be continued (Du Bois Memorandum, June 1).
There was a June 10 board resolution asking Du Bois to reconsider his action, saying that common ground should be attempted. White wrote a memo to Spingarn about this, upset that the board was trying to reverse its decision. “I am thoroughly nauseated at the lack of moral courage on the part of some members of the present Board” (White, June 12).
But it was over. Du Bois would now extend his stay at Atlanta University, and said he would “allow my nominal connection with THE CRISIS to extend to July 1” (Du Bois, June 26). By this time, White had already recommended in a memorandum to Board of Directors that The Crisis was given to Streator and Wilkins to run as managing editors (White to Board, June 19). [vii] On July 9, the Board accepted Du Bois’ resignation, and eventually Wilkins became The Crisis’ editor. [viii]
Reaction from NAACP leaders was swift and nationwide. Letters poured into the Association, pro and con. Board member Carl Murphy of The Baltimore Afro-American wrote White, telling the board not to worry about the situation. He let White know he supported the board.
Du Bois’ “new” position on Black economic segregation ringed familiar to the followers of the deported Marcus Garvey. Du Bois the integrationist and Garvey the nationalist battled in print over the future of Pan-Africanism during the 1920s. Du Bois famously called Garvey “a lunatic or a traitor” for his controversial Black nationalistic/Pan Africanist visions. (Du Bois, The Crisis, May 1924, quoted in Vincent, 105). Garvey scholar Tony Martin quotes Garvey’s response to the controversy: “It is no wonder Du Bois has resigned from the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People. He can go no farther. Can he continue abusing the white man when the American Negro is at the white man’s Soup Kitchen?” (Martin, 310) [ix] The irony of W.E.B. Du Bois, who battled hard to delegitimize Garvey among Black Americans in the 1920s, taking a public (and uncredited) Garveyite posture in the 1930s was not lost on Pan-Africanists and Black nationalists, then and now.
David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois’ premier biographer, wrote in the second volume of his masterwork biography of his subject, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919-1963: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, New York: Henry Holt, 2000, that perhaps Du Bois’ position on segregation was more practical than ideological. A main reason Du Bois took the pro-segregation stand, Lewis claimed, was to get institutional support from his now-permanent headquarters, the relatively conservative Atlanta University, to work on his seminal book, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. “Du Bois certainly did not see his manufactured controversy as motivated by Jesuitical opportunism, of course. He was simply taking the Negro race to another place, more congenial and better salaried, from which to continue to the battle for civil rights” (Lewis, 348).
With the university and its resources as a base, Du Bois launched himself into finishing what is now a 20th century classic of Marxist history. Black Reconstruction was published in 1935. So White’s victory became Du Bois’ as well. Wilkins, obviously, was a huge winner: he would go on to succeed White in 1955 and become a major leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
The dialogue between the two extremes of self-segregation (nationalism) and integration has been muted in the interdependent, worldwide 21st century because Black America, individually and collectively, constantly vacillates between the two philosophies, depending on its situational interests. Black Americans are both nationalistic (in cultural and political expression and personal lifestyles, whenever and in whatever ways they can) and integrationist (in desiring and acquiring professional and economic resources from White America, the undisputed world leader of an unapologetic white supremacist, capitalistic economy). Blacks have learned to live with both philosophies in an often-unhappy medium, forever warring in their individual bodies, no longer needing a magazine to debate the point.
Du Bois, W.E. B., “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “Segregation,” The Crisis, January, 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “A Free Forum,” The Crisis, February, 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “The N.A.A.C.P. And Race Segregation,” The Crisis, February 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “Segregation In The North,” The Crisis, April, 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “Segregation,” The Crisis, May, 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “The Board of Directors on Segregation,” The Crisis, May, 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” “The Board of Directors On Segregation,” The Crisis, May, 1934.
— “Postscript by W.E.B. Du Bois,” Untitled Post-Script to Grimke “Segregation” article, The Crisis, June, 1934.
— to NAACP Board of Directors, June 1, 1934. Memorandum.
— to NAACP Board of Directors, June 26, 1934. Memorandum.
— to Walter White, January 10, 1934. Telegram.
— to Walter White, January 11, 1934. Letter.
— to Walter White, January 17, 1934. Letter.
— to Walter White, Postal Telegraph cable, January 11, 1934.
Foreman, C. “Segregation—A Symposium” article, The Crisis, March, 1934, 82.
Grimke, F.J. “Segregation,” The Crisis, May, 1934.
Letter to NAACP Board Members, January 5, 1934.
Lewis, D.L. (2000). W.E.B. Du Bois, 1919-1963: The fight for equality and the American century. New York: Henry Holt.
Martin, T. (1986). Race first: the ideological and organizational struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Dover, Massachusetts: The Majority Press. Originally published by Greenwood Press in 1976.
[i] In a January 16, 1934 response letter to Harry E. Davis, who was asking clarification about “a movement under way to oust you from the N.A.A.C.P. and presumably from the editorship of The Crisis,” Du Bois responded: “The outline of the facts is that when the N.A.A.C.P. and The Crisis got in financial difficulties last year, I offered to ease the burden by teaching a part of the year at Atlanta University at half salary, and then again for this year I offered to reduce my salary further so that we could hire a business manager. I think we have got a good one in George Streator. But somehow while this legislation was being put together by the Board, I found to my surprise that they had put ‘sole and complete control’ of The Crisis in the hands of the Business Manager and Wilkins. I talked the matter over with frankly with the Spingarns, who seemed to have engineered the move, and refused to accept the arrangement and offered my resignation. They demurred and persuaded me to outline an acceptable vote by the Board. I did so and the Board passed it, so that I am still carrying on. Nevertheless, it has left a bitter taste, both in their mouths and mine. It all goes back to the fact that I have believed for two or three years that Walter White is not the proper person to head the Association. I have told the Board frankly this in his presence.” As quoted in Aptheker, H. (ed). The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973, 474.
[ii] Du Bois forecast his 1934 segregation editorials somewhat in an essay, “On Being Ashamed of Oneself: An Essay on Race Pride,” in the September, 1933 Crisis: “What are we really aiming at? The building of a new nation or the integration of a new group into an old nation? The latter has long been our ideal. Must it be changed? Should it be changed? If we seek new group loyalty, new pride of race, new racial integrity—how, where, and by what method shall these things be attained? A new plan must be built up. It cannot be the mere rodomontade and fatuous propaganda on which Garveyism was based. It has got to be far-sighted planning. It will involve increased segregation and perhaps migration. It will be pounced upon and aided and encouraged by every ‘nigger-hater’ in the land” (199). The essay ends: “We can refuse deliberately to lie about our history, while at the same time taking just pride in Nefertari, Askia, Moshesh, Toussaint and Frederick Douglass, and testing and encouraging belief in our own ability by organized economic and social action [my emphasis]. There is no other way; let us not be deceived. American Negroes will be beaten into submission and degradation if they merely wait unorganized to find some place voluntarily given them in the new reconstruction of the economic world. They must themselves force their race into the new economic set-up and bring with them the millions of West Indians and Africans by peaceful organization for normative action or else drift into greater poverty, greater crime, greater helplessness until there is no resort but the last red alternative of revolt, revenge and war (200).”
[iii] White also sent Du Bois a January 11, 1934 Western Union telegram explaining this.
[iv] Much of what Du Bois discusses in this large item—the establishment of free Black institutions in America in the 18th and 19th centuries—would be expanded in The shaping of Black America, New York: Penguin Books, 1993 reprint of 1991 revised ed., Lerone Bennett Jr’s classic Black history text detailing what he calls the “founding of Black America.”
[v] Nettie J. Asberry, Acting Secretary of the Takoma, Washington NAACP branch, in a May 8, 1934 letter, stated the issue thusly: “Our official organ must support the views of the N.A.A.C.P. or else we cease to publish it. We cannot have an independent editor. He must voice the sentiments of the organization or else resign and run a segregation magazine of his own. We are becoming a laughing stock.”
[vi] This subtitle would stay on The Crisis cover through July, the last issue Du Bois would edit. The August issue carried no subtitle.
[vii] Streator resigned from his Crisis post shortly after because of internal politics. He charged that his opposition to the way Du Bois was being treated was considered an act of disloyalty to White. In a July 11 memo from White to Spingarn, White said of the issue: “Mr. Wilkins and I had a long talk with Mr. Streator yesterday. I told him very frankly that I did not approve of many of his activities and of his attitude since he had been here. I told him what I said about him at the Board meeting on Monday (learning from him, however, that all of this had already been reported to him by the Board. I told him that despite these conditions I was willing to work with him provided he played the game squarely, fairly and honestly.” Wilkins was subsequently named the editor of The Crisis.
[viii] Du Bois’s June 26th resignation and the July 9th board resolution were published in the August Crisis, under the headline “Du Bois Resigns: The full text of his letter and the resolution of the N.A.A.C.P. board accepting his resignation,” 245-246.
[ix] Martin continues: “Du Bois, meanwhile, while steadfastly refraining from giving Garvey credit for his new position, sought to make his peace with the ghost of Booker T. Washington, claiming now that he had not opposed Washington on segregation grounds” (310).
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Thank you for this post! It gave me a new insight into Du Bois and Garvey. I am listening to your lecture on the subject right now, do you have a transcript, the audio is a bit scratchy. BTW, how were you able to get copies of The Crisis? I am taking a Black Studies class and of course, my library doesn’t have access to any decent databases with archival African American newspapers or magazines. Again thank you for your post, it was a revelation!
Glad you liked the post and audio! Yes, it is a bit scratchy. Sometimes the mike works with you, sometimes against, and that lecture definitely was the latter. Sorry, but there is no transcript.
I lived in Maryland when I did that article and lecture, and it was quite easy. The University of Maryland College Park’s McKeldin Library had The Crisis on microfilm, and the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division had all the letters and documents from which I quoted.
Hope this helps!
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