W.E.B. Dubois

In celebration of the life of W.E.B. DuBois on his 154th birthday, passing along some reflections on the still important aspects of his legacy.

First off, the Atlanta University Center Data Science Initiative is hosting a W.E.B. Du Bois Data Science Symposium this Friday (February 25th, 2022). Dr. DuBois taught at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) and would be a fitting way in which to honor his legacy of bringing all the resources possible to uplift the material condition of Black people.

Dr. DuBois’s innovations in data visualization are still worth studying for their clarity and expressiveness. I’m including below three info graphics that he and his students created — it’s ok to get lost in the full online collection at the Library of Congress

Land ownership of Black people in Georgia, W.E.B. Dubois,
Land owned by Black residents of Georgia, W.E.B. DuBois
Value of household goods owned by Black Georgians, 1875 – 1899, W.E.B. DuBois

You’ve probably seen the last chart — captivating aesthetically but also clearly tells the story of how the enslaved were able to literally pull hearth and home together after having been property. In those spirals I feel the tears, the labor, the joy of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s parents — their struggle and that of their neighbors in Covington, Atlanta, Oxford, Macon, Liberty County, Savannah and many other towns in south and central Georgia. These were spirals of hope and justice, openings to a world dreamed but never realized by their forebears. The infographics here were presented at the Negro Exhibit of the American Section at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. His book The Negro Landholder of Georgia, written in 1901 contains in depth discussion of the Finally, in 2022, there is a public discussion prison abolition.

DuBois in his 1904 Some notes on Negro crime, particularly in Georgia lays out unequivocally the relationship between the imprisonment of Black people, theft of their life and property, and capitalist accumulation. That it has taken until now to return to these points is a testament to the perverse foundational persistence of white supremacy in the united states.

The first two images tell a story that is still unresolved. My great grandparents and their many others like them made strides to build farms and create autonomous spaces of Black freedom — schools, churches, mutual aid societies, stores. DuBois writes in The Negro Landholder “It seems clear that the Georgia Negro is in the midst of an unfinished cycle of property accumulation. He has steadily acquired property since the war, and in fully 100 counties he has continued this steady increase in the last decade.” Those acres described by DuBois were systematically stolen, in many cases by force. In Newton County, the site of my great grandparent’s farm, DuBois documents over 4000 acres owned by Black farmers

The majority Black farmers — in Georgia and throughout the united states — are still fighting against a department of agriculture and system of farm credit that has been rife with racism for over a century. Their efforts in the courts are still being blocked as of this writing. Elora Lee Raymond at Georgia Tech describes how access to housing is being diminished for Black residents of Atlanta. Even the hearth has been recaptured.

DuBois returned to Atlanta in 1934. My grandfather, who came to Atlanta sometime around 1915, would tell of “old man DuBois” organizing community defense against the Klan and other white supremacist groups. It’s important to realize that for Black folk of my grandparent’s generation, DuBois was not a cloistered academic, but rather someone involved intimately on the ground with the struggle of the community. DuBois produced his monumental Black Reconstruction in America during this period. In Black Reconstruction, he lays out state by state how Black people won their freedom in and of themselves during the course of the american civil war, with each person who walked off the plantation, each mother who ruined a field of cotton, each daughter who set fire to stores, each community of the enslaved that staged deliberate work slow-downs:

The Southern worker, black and white, held the key to the war; and of the two groups, the black worker raising food and raw materials held an even more strategic place than the white.

W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America

They continue to call us lazy and slow, but resistance and rebellion take many forms. DuBois put this truth to page, and it should come as no surprise that the historians attacked his work for decades.

I had never heard DuBois speak until just now. This speech, given in 1960, is an uncompromising support of socialism and communism. It is still fire after 62 years.

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