“All Art is Propaganda”: W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Crisis and the Construction of a Black Public Image

USAbroad – Journal of American History and Politics. Vol. 1 (2018)
ISSN 2611-2752

“All Art is Propaganda”: W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Crisis and the Construction of a Black Public Image

Martina MallocciUniversità di Bologna (Italy)
ORCID https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6179-3313

Martina Mallocci is a PhD Candidate in Global and International Studies at the University of Bologna. She specializes in African-American intellectual thought and is currently working on E. Franklin Frazier.

Submitted: 2017-07-24 – Revised version: 2018-01-05 – Accepted: 2018-02-02 – Published: 2018-03-01

This article explores W.E.B. Du Bois’s political thought through his use of rhetoric in his The Crisis writings (1910s–1930s). I argue that Du Bois used The Crisis to build an interracial dialogue on civil and political rights to draw support for federal intervention in favor of African Americans. Du Bois’s views on artistic expression were an organic part of his program to build a black public image for political purposes. As Du Bois’s political strategy started shifting after 1925, so did his position on the political use of interracial dialogue and, thus, his ideas on artistic expression.

Keywords: W.E.B. Du Bois; The Crisis Magazine; NAACP; Double Consciousness; Cosmopolitan Patriotism; Harlem Renaissance

In June 1926, the African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, editor of The Crisis, delivered a speech at the Annual Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), later published in the association’s magazine under the title “Criteria of Negro Art.” In this widely circulated article, Du Bois talked about the political standing of African American art in explicit political terms. Its most controversial passage stated:

All art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.1

“Criteria of Negro Art” came in the middle of a long and heated discussion about the political meaning of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. This debate opposed “pure” artistic expression—a representation of African Americans devoid of racial connotations—to “propaganda,” a pejorative term used to discredit black artists who depicted racism and/or exhibited racial dignity in their literary and artistic creations. Many studies about African-American art and its political implications focus on this decade, which saw Du Bois trying to reconcile artistic expression with political commitment during most of the 1920s, and heavily criticizing the Harlem Renaissance after 1925.2 Indeed, both Du Bois and The Crisis were at the front and center in the discussion, as the New Negro movement grew thanks to the monthly and its editor, and the magazine hosted most of the debate on its pages.3 Literary scholars, as well as historians who focus on the 1920s, largely agree that “at a time when some black intellectuals found safe harbor in the doctrine of art for art’s sake, The Crisis as an agent of black print culture pushed a confrontational aesthetics that revalued traditional categories of the beautiful.”4

However, this interpretation does not apply only to the 1920s. If we consider Du Bois’s work as editor of The Crisis from a long-term perspective, it is evident that he understood the political importance of cultural production and artistic expression since the first issues of the magazine. As early as 1911, Du Bois started encouraging and promoting writers through The Crisis, and he launched its first literary contest in 1917.5 Du Bois’s The Crisis also made a sophisticated use of visual arts to both challenge racial stereotypes and dignify blackness since the early 1910s.6 Hence, Du Bois’s ideas about artistic expression and his political commitment were strongly linked since the beginning of his editorial experience, and even earlier.7

In this context, the question raised by “Criteria of Negro Art” is not, then, whether Du Bois changed his mind about the political significance of artistic expression in the 1920s, but what caused him to talk about art by using an explicit political terminology and why. In fact, just a few years earlier, Du Bois had disputed the rhetoric connecting art and propaganda.8 As Kirschke, Alessandra Lorini, and others have argued, this does not mean that Du Bois did not see artistic expression as essentially political, but just that he avoided talking about the political role of art explicitly.9 According to Ross Posnock, Du Bois’s use of the term “propaganda” in 1926 was widely misunderstood by his contemporaries, as he tried to challenge the dichotomy between art and propaganda, and thus to turn “the aesthetic into a militant part of a political, economic, and cultural movement.” This misreading was caused by “a context of fiercely contested cultural politics, a climate that took a toll on the generosity of all the combatants.”10

While Posnock’s interpretation is correct, this essay argues that the reasons behind the rhetoric used in “Criteria of Negro Art” are not found exclusively in the contingencies of the debate about the Harlem Renaissance. “Criteria of Negro Art” also reflects a shift in Du Bois’s political strategy, a change that started during the mid-1920s. Before, Du Bois had understood art, literature, and culture both as an end in itself and as part of a multifaceted political program, whose realization was based on the construction of a black public image, and the engagement of a wide interracial audience. After World War I, as Du Bois struggled to see his political strategy succeed and searched for a solution, his commitment to interracial diplomacy gradually shifted and so did his ideas on artistic expression. This study will analyze how Du Bois employed his editorial role to address both his white and black readers, and thus will look at his 1926 statement on artistic expression as a turning point in Du Bois’s thought, connected to his elaborate rhetoric and evolving political strategy. In particular, three aspects will be analyzed: Du Bois’s editorial project and position within the NAACP, his political program for African Americans, and the connection between art and rhetoric, both of which he used to construct a positive black public image for political purposes in the historical context of the 1910s and 1920s.

1 Du Bois, The Crisis and His Political Program for Racial Equality

Du Bois’s role as editor of The Crisis is central to understanding the connection between art and politics, and between artistic expression and rhetoric in the development of his political program. Du Bois contributed to establishing the magazine in 1910, one year after the founding of the NAACP, and became its only editor after a few years.11 In 24 years of Du Bois’s editorship, the NAACP’s magazine reached a wide circulation, and hosted several articles penned by black and white progressive intellectuals, from social worker and NAACP co-founder Jane Addams to poet and writer Langston Hughes.12 From the very beginning, Du Bois fought within the NAACP to ensure his editorial autonomy, and his strong personal imprint on the magazine emerges from the very first issue, as he penned The Crisis manifesto. The document clearly stated the moral and political mission of The Crisis and its editor’s, by advocating for

the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempt to gain these rights and realize these ideals.13

As Daniel Levering Lewis’s biographical work has detailed, The Crisis was mostly shaped as Du Bois’s own personal project, and became a public platform for its editor’s ideas on African-American culture and politics.14 Du Bois’s stubbornness and provocative arguments often put him at odds with the board of the NAACP, and eventually prompted him to leave the association and the magazine.15 Specifically, after the market crash of 1929 The Crisis hosted a lengthy debate on Communism, while urging its readers to embrace a “new racial philosophy.”16 In 1934, Du Bois was in open conflict with the association, and—in an extreme attempt to raise a discussion within the ranks of the NAACP—he publicly advocated for auto-segregation as the only feasible way to both preserve the dignity of black culture and safeguard the African Americans’ economic interest during the Great Depression.17 However, until he started questioning the association’s political strategy in the second half of the 1920s, Du Bois’s outlook was mostly similar to the NAACP’s, and it included unconditional opposition to racial separation and a strong commitment to interracial dialogue and federal intervention. The magazine then became a powerful weapon in putting forward this agenda, but it also retained its editor’s personal take on the matter. For this reason, The Crisis is an essential source to trace the evolution of Du Bois’s thought and examine his ability to adapt his rhetoric and theoretical arguments to the contingencies of the moment.

As he had stated in The Souls of Black Folk, one of Du Bois’s cultural and political dilemmas was to find a way for African Americans both to retain pride in their blackness and to be recognized as full citizens of the United States. “He [the American Negro] would not Africanize America,” Du Bois wrote in 1903,

for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.18

On one hand, Du Bois’s lifelong commitment to reconcile the aspects of the “double consciousness” resulted in an attempt to redefine the concept of blackness (and of whiteness by contrast), by celebrating black culture and constructing a nationwide, positive, and unifying black identity. On the other, it meant exposing racial prejudice—and its practical consequences—as a powerful tool of social control and domination, and as a means of political exclusion.19 Until the second half of the 1920s, the cornerstone of Du Bois’s political strategy is explained by the concept of “cosmopolitan patriotism.” Historian Jonathan Hansen has used this expression to describe a heterogeneous group of progressive intellectuals, such as Jane Addams, socialist union leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, and Du Bois himself, who tried to push the boundaries of liberalism between 1890 and 1920, by challenging the link between liberalism and laissez-faire theories about economics and social regulation. During this period, social reform was widely discussed, and it was ultimately made possible through the growth of the role of the federal government.20 This was also a moment when the concepts of whiteness and citizenship were under revision. The arrival of millions of migrants from southern and eastern Europe pushed the boundaries of what being “white” meant, but ultimately prompted a series of immigration reforms, which employed a quota system based on ethnic and racial hierarchies.21 In the 1920s, Du Bois was increasingly influenced by these changes, as well as by the lack of recognition reserved to black troops who fought in World War I, and by the absence of federal commitment to racial equality. The latter aspect was especially reflected in the never-ending stalling of the anti-lynching bill in Congress, despite the numerous campaigns launched by the NAACP and other activists in favor of its passage.22

Even though it started to diminish after World War I, Du Bois’s commitment to cosmopolitan patriotism is visible at least until 1925, and is traceable through his writings in The Crisis. As a cosmopolitan patriot, Du Bois celebrated “individual autonomy and cultural diversity,” while exhorting “Americans to embrace a social-democratic ethic that reflected the interconnected and mutually dependent nature of life in the modern world.” Firmly believing that “Americans could best secure the blessings of liberty and property by ensuring their universal distribution,” Du Bois openly advocated for federal support to public education, as well as federal intervention against racial segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching.23 However, as much as Du Bois believed in the right to equal opportunity and universal access to citizenship, for example by supporting the women’s right to vote, he was—very practically—aware that a broad political alliance was needed in order to push the federal government to take a stand in favor of African Americans. During the 1910s and 1920s, the majority of African Americans held no political power where segregation was institutional, a situation only slightly improved by the increasing numbers of African Americans living in northern cities during the Great Migration.24 Hence, Du Bois used his editorship of The Crisis to build an interracial dialogue on political and civil rights, and to construct a wider political alliance, composed of other discriminated groups and northern liberal whites. In order to achieve this goal, he employed an elaborate rhetoric, which encompassed a variety of political and social issues—like distribution of taxation and Congress representation—and linked them directly with the fight against racial prejudice.

2 Black Artistic Expression as a Multilayered Political Discourse

In the context of Du Bois’s editorship of The Crisis, artistic representation of black subjects emerges as instrumental to his political program for racial equality. At a time when African Americans were rarely featured in mainstream magazines—and when they were it was often in racist terms—promoting a black art was more than just a way to build a strong cultural identity for African Americans.25 In Du Bois’s view, reaffirming the dignity of African Americans as artistic subjects was also a powerful political weapon. It was a means to reinforce their public image as both citizens and individuals in the eyes of the American nation, while directly challenging the power relationship implicated by the concepts of blackness and whiteness regarding access to citizenship. Through The Crisis, artistic expression was theorized and employed to dignify the image of African Americans as humans, and their contribution to society and history.

During this period, Du Bois’s belief in the political significance of art and his commitment to interracial dialogue is well represented by his pageant The Star of Ethiopia. Written between 1911 and 1913, The Star of Ethiopia debuted at the New York Emancipation Exposition, set to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though staged only four times between 1913 and 1923, the pageant was widely publicized in The Crisis, and Du Bois used it to explain his views about the political role of art. Written with the purpose of celebrating “the gifts of black men to this world,”26 The Star of Ethiopia implicitly expressed “Du Bois’s concept of art as propaganda—that is, an art conveying a message of racial uplifting and equality.”27 The dual and equally important cultural and political role artistic expression occupied in Du Bois’s thought is summarized in a 1916 article in The Crisis titled “The Drama among Black Folk.” In this text, Du Bois referred to The Star of Ethiopia as a demonstration that “pageantry among colored people is not only possible, but in many ways of unsurpassed beauty and can be made a means of uplift and education … .”28

On one hand, Du Bois thought that The Star of Ethiopia showed his commitment to the development of an authentic black art, consecrated to an original ideal of “beauty” not conforming to white standards. On the other, by showing that people of African descent could be both artists and artistic subjects, as well as agents—and not merely objects—of history, The Star of Ethiopia was bound to reinstate the African Americans’ role in Western civilization and, thus, to legitimate their claims to equal citizenship. On this last matter, the people who needed to be “educated” were the white readers of The Crisis.

“We should set the black man before the world as both a creative artist and a strong subject for artistic treatment,” Du Bois wrote in an article in The Crisis titled “The Immediate Program of the American Negro,” as he listed artistic development alongside the fight for political and civil rights.29 The editor also emphasized the need to “bring into closer contact and mutual knowledge the white and black people of this land” and, thus, to fight prejudice with direct knowledge.30 It is no coincidence that this piece was published in 1915, only a few months after D. W. Griffith’s transposition of Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman was released, prompting the Ku Klux Klan to be refounded in its wake. Set during the Civil War and Reconstruction, The Birth of a Nation highly glamourized the KKK, and it featured actors in blackface who played the African-American characters.31 Most of all, the movie reiterated the widely accepted idea that Reconstruction represented “a tragic time when white Southern rights were compromised by a corrupt and overbearing federal government supported by the votes of African Americans who were ignorant and easily manipulated.”32 The NAACP launched a boycott campaign against the movie, but The Birth of a Nation was a huge cinematic success and was the first full-length movie to be screened at the White House.33 In this context, if art and literature painted a multifaceted image of African-American society and culture, Du Bois thought, they also served as a means to strengthen an interracial alliance and advance the cause of civil rights.

4 Forging a New Political Alliance through Artistic Expression: Du Bois’s Criteria of Negro Art

As Du Bois looked for a new political strategy, his ideas about artistic expression as a way to bridge the gap between black and white Americans changed as well. This emerges clearly if we look at his rhetoric about art as propaganda. As Daria Frezza has noted, the war boosted the debate about the negative use of propaganda by enemy forces. After the end of the conflict, propaganda was discussed in popular magazines, and the word “came to have a substantially negative meaning that included the diffusion of false and misleading news, similar to the appeals put out by the enemy powers.”59 In 1921, Du Bois confronted the topic head-on, and penned an editorial with the purpose of distancing African-American artistic expression from a pejorative notion of propaganda. “Negro art is today plowing a difficult row,” Du Bois wrote,

chiefly because we shrink at the portrayal of the truth about ourselves. We are so used to seeing the truth distorted to our despite, that whenever we are portrayed on canvas, in story or on the stage, as simply human with human frailties, we rebel. We want everything that is said about us to tell of the best and highest and noblest in us. We insist that our Art and Propaganda be one. This is wrong and in the end it is harmful. We have a right, in our effort to get just treatment, to insist that we produce something of the best in human character and that it is unfair to judge us by our criminals and prostitutes. This is justifiable propaganda. On the other hand we face the Truth of Art. We have criminals and prostitutes, ignorant and debased elements just as all folk have. When the artist paints us he has a right to paint us whole and not ignore everything which is not as perfect as we would wish it to be.60

In this editorial, Du Bois tried to distinguish between a “positive” propaganda, that is a truthful portrayal of African-American society, and a “negative” propaganda, which was harmful, because it was partial and misleading. Even though there was a first attempt to reconceptualize the word “propaganda,” the tone of the article profoundly differs from “Criteria of Negro Art.” By advocating for a realistic and diverse representation of African-American society, Du Bois was still tied to the ideas he expressed in The Immediate Program of the American Negro, about the need of increasing interracial contacts and improving the dialogue between the two races.

Notwithstanding Du Bois’s efforts, the use of the word “propaganda” as a pejorative term spilled into the debate about the Harlem Renaissance, and it served as a weapon to discredit a part of the movement. By the mid-1920s, as Watts put it,

Harlem artists who dared to paint images of dignified racial difference were branded as ‘propagandists’ precisely because their stories undermined or indicted (racist) conventional wisdom promoted by ‘pure art.’61

In this context, it is correct to say that Du Bois’s sharp language and his use of the word “propaganda” in “Criteria of Negro Art” were a direct response to what he perceived to be dangerous drifts of the movement. Specifically, in January 1926 Du Bois warned Alain Locke that his commitment to “a search of disembodied beauty” devoid of political purpose was detrimental to cultural advancement as well as political attainments for African Americans. He added that, if Locke’s thesis was “insisted too much,” it was going to “turn the Negro renaissance into decadence.”62 The editor of The Crisis was also critical of the depiction some artists of the Harlem Renaissance gave of African-American neighborhoods, because he thought that they merely confirmed racist prejudices and catered exclusively to a white audience. This issue is evident in the negative reviews Du Bois wrote about Carl Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven in 1926 and Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem in 1928.63

Nonetheless, when Du Bois penned “Criteria of Negro Art,” it is highly unlikely that he was unaware of the wider public debate surrounding the word “propaganda” in the 1920s. Even if, as Ross Posnock has argued, Du Bois was trying to change the meaning of the term “propaganda” to get rid of its negative implications, he knew that the language he used to appropriate the word was going to have a shocking effect on his audience. As someone who had always constructed his arguments with care and used elaborate rhetoric to engage in a multilayered discourse about race, citizenship, and identity, it seems simplistic to sustain that Du Bois did not expect to be misunderstood at least by a part of his audience. This was especially true for the ones not directly involved in the debate about the Harlem Renaissance. If we look at an article like “Criteria of Negro Art” from this point of view, his 1926 speech says as much about Du Bois’s position within the Harlem Renaissance as it does about his changing political plan for African Americans and its consequent rhetoric. Until then, Du Bois’s political program included engaging with a wide interracial audience and building a positive public image of African Americans, in order to draw action from the federal government. Even when he advocated for freedom and truth in art, Du Bois did so partly because he hoped that an honest depiction of the daily lives of African Americans could help to tear down racial barriers. As we have seen before, Du Bois had always supported African-American artists, and encouraged them to feature black subjects in their work. Du Bois’s commitment to interracial dialogue never meant that his white audience had a say in what black art should be about. They could, though, participate in its beauty and, through it, improve their understanding of African-American culture and society. Hopefully, this knowledge would foster their support for civil rights.

What changed after 1926 was that, as the political climate shifted, art assumed a different political purpose: forging a pact of political alliance solely among African-American citizens. Just a month after he pronounced his speech, and before its publication as “Criteria of Negro Art,” Du Bois published the manifesto of the Crisis Guild for Writers and Artists (KRIGWA). First founded in 1924, this group called for a new black artistic production catering exclusively to an African-American audience.64 Its message excluded, then, the white audience who had been part of the readership of The Crisis and of the NAACP from the founding of the Association. “The plays,” it stated,

must be: 1. About us. That is, they must have plots which reveal Negro life as it is. 2. By us. That is, they must be written by Negro authors who understand from birth and continual association just what it means to be a Negro today. 3. For us. That is, the theatre must cater primarily to Negro audiences and be supported and sustained by their entertainment and approval. 4. Near us. The theatre must be in a Negro neighborhood near the mass of ordinary Negro people.65

This detachment from the magazine’s previous editorial policy was increasingly reflected in Du Bois’s writings concerning education, lynching as well as federal elections, and it finally reached a peak in the 1930s, when Du Bois put forward his new political strategy.66 As Joy Carew has noted, since the mid-1920s Du Bois increasingly dedicated himself to the study of Marx, and he took his first trip to Soviet Russia in 1926.67 The editor gave a positive account of his journey in The Crisis, whereas he had expressed skepticism towards the Russian political experiment in the first half of the 1920s.68 “I stand in astonishment and wonder at the revelation of Russia that has come to me,” he stated in his November 1926 editorial:

I may be partially deceived and half-informed. But if what I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my ears in Russia is Bolshevism, I am a Bolshevik.69

Just two years after “Criteria of Negro Art” appeared in The Crisis, Du Bois admitted the failure of his political program in a two-part article titled “The Possibility of Democracy in America,”

For several years after the World War I used to talk concerning the results of the War, and to say that notwithstanding the slaughter and the upheaval that always accompany war we were going to have in the world an extension of democracy as a result of the fighting …. But I write today to apologize and change my thesis. I was wrong in what I was predicting. I see today without any doubt that instead of the great question of democracy being an extension of democratic control into further territory, the problem that faces us in America and faces the world is the question as to whether we can keep the territory which we thought democracy had already conquered; … here in the United States, here where we have essayed the greatest experience in democracy, we have perhaps the greatest failure.70

In the same issue of The Crisis, he called for a protest vote in the next federal election.71 By the turn of the decade, Du Bois’s disenchantment towards a federal strategy was strengthened by the economic crisis, and it became evident as he started advocating for self-help and grew weary of the NAACP, finally leaving his editorial position in 1934.72 However, Du Bois’s work for The Crisis reveals that his political position started shifting before the 1930s and that this change is closely linked to Du Bois’s views on artistic production as a means to strengthen the public image of African Americans. From this point of view, the multilateral nature of Du Bois’s rhetoric—carefully adapted by the editor to the contingencies of the moment—opens up many research possibilities about the wider political implications of cultural production in black political thought. Specifically, a focus on the relationship between African-American public intellectuals and their audience, the composition of this audience, and its evolution over time and geographical context can provide useful insights into the public discourse about black identity, citizenship, and representation, especially during the pre-Civil Rights era.

References

——. “‘Krigwa Players Little Negro Theatre’. The Story of a Little Theatre Movement.” The Crisis 32, no. 3 (July 1926): 134-6.

Addams, Jane. “Social Control.” The Crisis 1, no. 3 (January 1911): 22-3.

Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Boas, Franz. “The Real Race Problem.” The Crisis 1, no. 2 (December 1910): 22-5.

Bone, Robert. Down Home: A History of Afro-American Short Fiction from Its Beginning to the End of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Putnam, 1975.

Campbell, Ballard C. The Growth of American Government: Governance from the Cleveland Era to the Present. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Campbell James M., and Fraser, Rebecca J. “Introduction,” in Reconstruction: Peoples and Perspectives, edited by James M. Campbell and Rebecca J. Fraser, xi-xxii. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

Carew, Joy Gleason. Blacks, Reds and Russians. Sojourners in the Search of the Soviet Promise. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

Castronovo, Russ. “Beauty along the Color Line: Lynching, Aesthetics, and the ‘Crisis’.” PMLA 121, no. 5 (October 2006): 1443-59.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. New York: The Free Press, 1998 [1st ed.1935].

——. “Books.” The Crisis 32, no. 2 (December 1926): 81-2.

——. “Close Ranks.” The Crisis 16, no. 3 (July 1918): 111.

——. “Criteria of Negro Art.” The Crisis 32, no. 6 (October 1926): 290-7.

——. “Disfranchisement.” The Crisis 27, no. 1 (November 1923): 9.

——. Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002 [1st ed. 1940].

——. “How Shall We Vote?” The Crisis 35, no. 10 (October 1928): 346.

——. “Logic.” The Crisis 6, no. 2 (June 1913): 81.

——. “Negro Art.” The Crisis 22, no. 2 (June 1921): 55-6.

——. “Races.” The Crisis 2, no. 4 (August 1911): 157–8;.

——. “Reconstruction and its Benefits.” The American Historical Review 15, no. 4, (July 1910): 781-99.

——. “Russia, 1926.” The Crisis 33, no. 1 (November 1926): 8.

——. “Segregation.” The Crisis 41, no. 1 (January 1934): 20.

——. “Social Equality.” The Crisis 12, no. 1 (May 1916): 30.

——. “Socialism and The Negro.” The Crisis 22, no. 6 (October 1921): 245.

——. “Taxation Without Representation plus Theft.” The Crisis 7, no. 5 (March 1914): 240.

——. “The Ballot.” The Crisis 17, no. 2 (December 1918): 62.

——. “The Best Summer.” The Crisis 14, no. 3 (July 1917): 111.

——. “The Class Struggle.” The Crisis 22, no. 4 (August 1921): 151-2.

——. “The Cost of Education.” The Crisis 3, no. 2 (December 1911): 69.

——. “The Crisis.” The Crisis 1, no. 1 (November 1910): 10.

——. “The Drama among Black Folk.” The Crisis 12, no. 4 (August 1916): 169-73.

——. “The Immediate Program of the American Negro.” The Crisis 9, no. 6 (April 1915): 310-12.

——. “The Macon Telegraph.” The Crisis 19, no. 3 (January 1920): 110-1.

——. “The Negro and Radical Thought.” The Crisis 22, no. 3 (July 1921): 102-4;

——. “The Negro College.” The Crisis 40, no. 8 (August 1933): 175-7.

——. “The New Negro.” The Crisis 31, no. 3 (January 1926): 140-1.

——. “The People of Peoples and Their Gifts to Men.” The Crisis 7, no. 1 (November 1913): 339-41.

——. “The Possibility of Democracy in America.” The Crisis 35, no. 10 (October 1928): 336 & 353-55.

——. “The Right to Work.” The Crisis 40, no. 4 (April 1933): 93–4.

——. The Souls of Black Folk. Rockville: Manor, 2008 [1st ed. 1903].

——. “The South and the Saddle,” The Crisis 7, no. 4 (February 1914): 188.

——. “The Spread of Socialism.” The Crisis 22, no. 5 (September 1921): 199–200.

——. “The Sterling Discrimination Bill.” The Crisis 27 no. 5 (March 1924): 199-202.

——. “The Talented Tenth,” in The Negro Problem, edited by Booker T. Washington, 11-25. Redford: Wilder Publications, 2008 [1st ed. 1903].

——. “The White Primary.” The Crisis 1, no. 5 (March 1911): 20-21.

——. “The World and Us.” The Crisis 23, no. 6 (April 1922): 247.

——. “To Our Young Poets.” The Crisis 9, no. 5 (March 1915): 236.

——. “Toward a New Racial Philosophy.” The Crisis 40, no. 1 (January 1933): 20–2.

——. “Triumph.” The Crisis 20, no. 6 (October 1920): 261.

——. “Two Books.” The Crisis 35, no. 5 (June 1928): 202.

——. “Votes for Women.” The Crisis 4, no. 5 (September 1912): 234.

——. “Woman’s Suffrage.” The Crisis 6, no. 1 (May 1913): 29.

Ellis, Mark. “‘Closing Ranks’ and ‘Seeking Honors’: W. E. B. Du Bois in World War I.” The Journal of American History 79, no. 1 (June 1992): 96–124.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: Perennial Classics, 2011 [1st ed. 1988].

Frezza, Daria. The Leader and the Crowd: Democracy in American Public Discourse, 1880–1941. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

Gaines, Kevin K. Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Guglielmo, Thomas. White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hahn, Steven. A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Hansen, Jonathan M. The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Debating American Identity, 1890–1920. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Harris, Lorenzo. “American Logic.” The Crisis 6, no. 2 (June 1913): 80.

Harrison, Alferdteen, ed. Black Exodus: The Great Migration of from the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Hewett, Rebecca. “‘Looking at One’s Self through the Eyes of Others’: Representations of the Progressive Era Middle Class in W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Star of Ethiopia.” Theatre History Studies 30 (2010): 187–201.

Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Harlem Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Hughes, Langston, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” The Nation June 23, 1926, 692–4.

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Kirschke, Amy Helene. Art in Crisis. W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

——. “DuBois And ‘The Crisis’ Magazine: Imaging Women And Family.” Notes in the History of Art 24, no. 4 (Summer 2005): 35-45.

Lewis, David Levering. W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a race, 1868-1919. New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1993.

——. W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and The American Century, 1919-1963. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2000.

Lorini, Alessandra. “‘The Spell of Africa is Upon Me’: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Notion of Art as Propaganda,” in Temples for Tomorrow: Looking back at the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Geneviève Fabre and Michel Feith, 159-76. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Morris, Aldon D. The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.

NAACP. “Sixth Annual Report, 1915, § 12: The Talented Tenth.” The Crisis 11, no. 5 (March 1916): 254.

Pauley, Garth E. “W.E.B. Du Bois on Woman Suffrage: A Critical Analysis of His Crisis Writings.” Journal of Black Studies 30, no. 3 (January 2000): 383-410.

Posnock, Ross. “The Distinction of Du Bois: Aesthetics, Pragmatism, Politics.” American Literary History 7, no. 3 (Autumn 1995): 500–24.

Proctor, L. A. “My Sweet Love Salome.” The Crisis 2, no. 1 (May 1911): 34.

Provenzo, Eugene F. Jr. “Does the Negro Need Separate Schools?,” in Du Bois on Education, edited by Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., 133-134. Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Roediger, David R. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of American Working Class, New York: Verso, 1991.

Rogin, Michael. “The Sword Became a Flashing Vision: D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,” in The Birth of a Nation: D. W. Griffith, Director. edited by Robert Lang, 250-93. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Rudwick, Elliott M. “W.E.B. Du Bois in the Role of Crisis Editor.” The Journal of Negro History 43, no. 3 (July 1958): 214-40.

——. “Du Bois’ Last Year as Crisis Editor.” The Journal of Negro Education 27, no. 4 (Autumn 1958): 526–33.

Silkey, Sarah. Black Woman Reformer: Ida B. Wells, Lynching, and Transatlantic Activism. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015.

Sundstrom, William A. “Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression.” The Journal of Economic History 52, no. 2 (June 1992): 415–29.

Walker, Ethel Pitts. “Krigwa, a Theatre by, for, and about Black People.” Theatre Journal 40, no. 3 (October 1988): 347–56.

Watts, Eric K. “Cultivating a Black Public Voice: W.E.B. Du Bois and the ‘Criteria of Negro Art’.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 181-201.

Wiebe, Robert. The Search for Order, 1877–1920. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967.

Wolters, Raymond. Du Bois and His Rivals. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

Woodley, Jenny. Art for Equality: The NAACP’s Cultural Campaign for Civil Rights. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014.

Yudell, Michael. Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Zangrando, Robert L. The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1900-1950. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.


  1. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art,” The Crisis, 32 (1926): 295.

  2. Eric K. Watts, “Cultivating a Black Public Voice: W.E.B. Du Bois and the ‘Criteria of Negro Art,’” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 4 (2001): 181-201. David Levering Lewis has also suggested that Du Bois’s decision to publish the article was influenced by Langston Hughes’s essay on artistic freedom, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” which appeared in The Nation in June 1926. See David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois. The Fight for Equality and The American Century, 1919-1963 (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 2000), 179; Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” The Nation, June 23, 1926, 692–4.

  3. Nathan Irvin Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 56–7; Robert Bone, Down Home: A History of Afro-American Short Fiction from Its Beginning to the End of the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Putnam, 1975), 109–38.

  4. Russ Castronovo, “Beauty along the Color Line: Lynching, Aesthetics, and the ‘Crisis,’” PMLA, 121 (2006): 1443.

  5. See L. A. Proctor, “My Sweet Love Salome,” The Crisis, 2 (1911): 34; W.E.B. Du Bois, “To Our Young Poets,” The Crisis, 9 (1915): 236; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Best Summer,” The Crisis, 14 (1917): 111.

  6. Amy Helene Kirschke, Art in Crisis. W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 2. See also Jenny Woodley, Art for Equality. The NAACP's Cultural Campaign for Civil Rights (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014).

  7. Ross Posnock, “The Distinction of Du Bois: Aesthetics, Pragmatism, Politics,” American Literary History, 7 (1995): 500–24.

  8. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Negro Art,” The Crisis, 22 (1921): 55.

  9. Kirschke, Art in Crisis; Alessandra Lorini, “‘The Spell of Africa is Upon Me’: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Notion of Art as Propaganda,” in Temples for Tomorrow: Looking back at the Harlem Renaissance, eds. Geneviève Fabre and Michel Feith, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 159–76.

  10. Posnock, “The Distinction of Du Bois,” 520–1.

  11. Daniel Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois. Biography of a race, 1868-1919, 466–500.

  12. Elliott M. Rudwick, “W. E. B. Du Bois in the Role of Crisis Editor,” The Journal of Negro History, 43 (1958): 214–40.

  13. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Crisis,” The Crisis, 1 (1910): 10.

  14. Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868-1919, 466–500.

  15. Elliot M. Rudwick, “Du Bois’ Last Year as Crisis Editor,” The Journal of Negro Education, 27 (1958): 529–31; Raymond Wolters, Du Bois and His Rivals (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 78; Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868–1919, 477.

  16. Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois, 1919-1963, 265; W.E.B. Du Bois, “Toward a New Racial Philosophy,” The Crisis, 40 (1933): 20–2.

  17. See for example W.E.B. Du Bois, “Segregation,” The Crisis, 41 (1934): 20.

  18. W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Rockville, 2008, 1st ed. 1903), 12–3.

  19. See for example W.E.B. Du Bois, “Logic,” The Crisis, 6 (1913): 81.

  20. Jonathan M. Hansen, The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Debating American Identity, 1890–1920, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), i–xxii.

  21. See Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color. European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998); Thomas Guglielmo, White on Arrival. Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

  22. See Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1900-1950 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980); Sarah Silkey, Black Woman Reformer: Ida B. Wells, Lynching, and Transatlantic Activism (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).

  23. Hansen, The Lost Promise of Patriotism, xiv.

  24. See Alferdteen Harrison, ed., Black Exodus: The Great Migration of from the American South (Jackson, MS, 1991); Steven Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet. Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).

  25. Jenny Woodley, Art for Equality, 63; Kirschke, Art in Crisis, 2.

  26. In 1913, The Star of Ethiopia was published under the title The People of Peoples and Their Gift to Men. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The People of Peoples and Their Gifts to Men,” The Crisis, 7 (1913): 339. See also Rebecca Hewett, “‘Looking at One’s Self through the Eyes of Others’. Representations of the Progressive Era Middle Class in W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Star of Ethiopia,” Theatre History Studies, 30 (2010): 187–201.

  27. Lorini, “‘The Spell of Africa is upon me’,” 167.

  28. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Drama among Black Folk,” The Crisis, 12 (1916): 173.

  29. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Immediate Program of the American Negro,” The Crisis, 9 (1915): 312.

  30. Du Bois, “The Immediate Program,” 311.

  31. Michael Rogin, “The Sword Became a Flashing Vision: D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,” in The Birth of a Nation: D. W. Griffith Director, ed. Robert Lang, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 250–93.

  32. James M. Campbell and Rebecca J. Fraser, “Introduction,” in Reconstruction: Peoples and Perspectives, James M. Campbell and Rebecca J. Fraser (eds.), (Santa Barbara, CA, 2008), xix. About Reconstruction, see Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Perennial Classics, 2011, 1st ed. 1988).

  33. Rogin, “The Sword became a Flashing Vision,” 240.

  34. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its Benefits,” The American Historical Review, 15 (1910): 795.

  35. See for example W.E.B. Du Bois, “Social Equality,” The Crisis, 12 (1916): 30. Du Bois also referred to his political program as a “coming Reconstruction.” W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Ballot,” The Crisis, 17 (1918): 62. In 1935, Du Bois published his major work about Reconstruction, Black Reconstruction. See W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (New York: The Free Press, 2011, 1st ed. 1935).

  36. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth,” in The Negro Problem, ed. Booker T. Washington, (Redford, VA, 2008, 1st ed. 1903), 11-25; NAACP, “Sixth Annual Report, 1915, § 12: The Talented Tenth,” The Crisis, 11 (1916): 254.

  37. Furthermore, Du Bois’s own purpose as editor was to contribute to the education of the Talented Tenth of the future, and The Crisis published special issues dedicated to children. See The Crisis, 4 (1912): 261–312.

  38. Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 9.

  39. Ibid.

  40. Du Bois’s work as a sociologist in Atlanta in the early 1900s played a major part in challenging scientific arguments about racial inferiority. See Michael Yudell, Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014): 95–109; Aldon D. Morris, The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

  41. Franz Boas, “The Real Race Problem,” The Crisis, 1 (1910): 22-23; W.E.B. Du Bois, “Races,” The Crisis, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Aug., 1911): 157–8; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Macon Telegraph,” The Crisis, 19 (1920): 110–1.

  42. Kirschke, Art in Crisis, 168.

  43. Lorenzo Harris, “American Logic,” The Crisis, 6 (1913): 80.

  44. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Sterling Discrimination Bill,” The Crisis, 27 (1924): 200.

  45. See W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Cost of Education,” The Crisis, 3 (1911): 69; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Macon Telegraph,” 19 (1920): 110–1.

  46. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Taxation Without Representation plus Theft,” The Crisis, 7 (1914): 240.

  47. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The South and the Saddle,” The Crisis, 7 (1914): 188. See also W.E.B. Du Bois, “Disfranchisement,” The Crisis, 27 (1923): 9.

  48. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The White Primary,” The Crisis, 1 (1911): 20.

  49. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Woman's Suffrage,” The Crisis, 6 (1913): 29. In another occasion, Du Bois had described the struggle for woman’s suffrage as a “great human question”. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Votes for Women,” The Crisis, 4 (1912): 234. See also: Garth E. Pauley, “W.E.B. Du Bois on Woman Suffrage: A Critical Analysis of His Crisis Writings,” Journal of Black Studies, 30 (2000): 406; Amy Helene Kirschke, “DuBois And ‘The Crisis’ Magazine. Imaging Women And Family,” Notes in the History of Art, 24 (2005): 40.

  50. He was not the only NAACP member who wanted these two issues united: for example, the Crisis hosted articles on this topic penned by Jane Addams. See Jane Addams, “Social Control,” The Crisis, 1 (1911): 22–3.

  51. Du Bois, “Votes for Women,” 234.

  52. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Triumph,” The Crisis, 20 (1920): 261.

  53. Ballard C. Campbell, The Growth of American Government. Governance from the Cleveland Era to the Present (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995): 4. See also Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877–1920 (New York, 1967).

  54. # Daria Frezza, The Leader and the Crowd Democracy in American Public Discourse, 1880–1941 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010, 1st Italian Ed. 2001), 136.

  55. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Close Ranks,” The Crisis, 16 (1918): 111.

  56. Mark Ellis, “‘Closing Ranks’ and ‘Seeking Honors’: W. E. B. Du Bois in World War I,” The Journal of American History, 79 (1992): 96–124.

  57. See David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness. Race and the Making of American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color.

  58. See Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., “Does the Negro Need Separate Schools?,” in Du Bois on Education, Eugene F. Provenzo Jr. (ed.), (Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2002), 133–34; W.E.B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002, 1st ed. 1940), 264; James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 266–7.

  59. Frezza, The Leader and the Crowd, 126.

  60. Du Bois, “Negro Art,” 55.

  61. Watts, “Cultivating a Black Public Voice,” 182.

  62. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The New Negro,” The Crisis, 31, (1926): 141.

  63. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Books,” The Crisis, 32 (1926): 81–2; W.E.B. Du Bois, “Two Books,” The Crisis, 35 (1928): 202.

  64. Ethel Pitts Walker, “Krigwa, a Theatre by, for, and about Black People,” Theatre Journal, 40 (1988): 347–56.

  65. “‘Krigwa Players Little Negro Theatre’. The Story of a Little Theatre Movement,” The Crisis, 32 (1926): 134.

  66. In a 1933 article, with which he presented his new program for economic self-help and black education, Du Bois looked back to the Harlem Renaissance and described it as “a literature written for the benefit of white people and at the behest of white readers, and starting out privately from the white point of view. It never had a real Negro constituency and it did not grow out of the inmost heart and frank experience of Negroes; on such an artificial basis no real literature can grow”. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Negro College,” The Crisis, 40 (1933): 176. See also: Du Bois, “Toward a New Racial Philosophy,” 20–2.

  67. Joy Gleason Carew, Blacks, Reds and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 49–64.

  68. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Negro and Radical Thought,” The Crisis, 22 (1921): 104; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Class Struggle,” The Crisis, 22 (1921): 151; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Spread of Socialism,” The Crisis, 22 (1921): 199–200. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Socialism and The Negro,” The Crisis, 22 (1921): 245; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The World and Us,” The Crisis, 23 (1922): 247. See also: Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 195–6.

  69. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Russia, 1926,” The Crisis, 33 (1926): 8.

  70. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Possibility of Democracy in America,” The Crisis, 35 (1928): 336.

  71. W.E.B. Du Bois, “How Shall We Vote?,” The Crisis, 35 (1928): 346.

  72. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Negro College,” 175–7; W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Right to Work,” The Crisis, 40 (1933): 93–4. On black unemployment during the Depression, see William A. Sundstrom, “Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression,” The Journal of Economic History, 52 (1992): 415–29.

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


Copyright (c) 2018 Martina Mallocci

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.