The Negro (Classics in Black Studies)

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9781573929608: The Negro (Classics in Black Studies)

This classic treatise by W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), the most important African American leader of the first half of the twentieth century and the cofounder of the NAACP, presents a brief history of Africa and people of African descent. To appreciate this pioneering work, published in 1915, it is important to recall the historical context of American society at the start of the last century. As historian Kenneth Goings points out in his introduction, during the first half of Du Bois's life, there were between 3000 and 5000 lynchings of African American men, women, and children; separation of the races was upheld by the Supreme Court (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896); the vast majority of black Americans lived in abject poverty; and bogus racial theories that invariably put African Americans at the bottom of a racial hierarchy were commonly accepted, even in educated circles.

Faced with this seemingly insurmountable wall of racism, Du Bois's stance against the injustice of the time takes on heroic proportions. Through his writings he hoped to educate America and thus to dispel the vast ignorance about black people that fed the racism of most whites. In writing The Negro he intended to create a "short general statement of the main known facts and their fair interpretation as shall enable the general reader to know as men a sixth or more of the human race." For in fact, outside of commonplace racist stereotypes and prejudicial notions, most whites had no real knowledge of African Americans as true human beings or as descendants of a continent with a very ancient and distinguished history of many cultures. So Du Bois was addressing a very real need at the time to enlighten most white Americans about the cultures and achievements of the African peoples.

More than eighty-five years after its first publication, The Negro is still well worth reading as a groundbreaking work. In a dark age of colonialism and blatant discrimination, Du Bois succeeded in proving that black people were inheritors of a proud cultural legacy and a long history. He thus laid the foundation for a later generation of scholars.

This new edition is complemented by an informative introduction by Kenneth W. Goings, professor and chair of African American Studies at Ohio State University.

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From the Publisher:

We are pleased to make this important book available once again with a specially commissioned afterword that indicates for readers and students how and where this book has influenced scholarship and historical research and why this book has more currency today than ever before.

From the Author:

The time has not yet come for a complete history of the Negro peoples. Archaeological research in Africa has just begun, and many sources of information in Arabian, Portuguese, and other tongues are not fully at our command; and, too, it must frankly be confessed, racial prejudice against darker peoples is still too strong in so-called civilized centers for judicial appraisement of the peoples of Africa. Much intensive monographic work in history and science is needed to clear mooted points and quiet the controversialist who mistakes present personal desire for scientific proof.

Nevertheless, I have not been able to withstand the temptation to essay such short general statement of the main known facts and their fair interpretation as shall enable the general reader to know as men a sixth or more of the human race. Manifestly so short a story must be mainly conclusions and generalizations with but meager indication of authorities and underlying arguments. Possibly, if the Public will, a later and larger book may be more satisfactory on these points. -- W.E. Burghardt Du Bois, New York City, February 1, 1915

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