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Notebook on: Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, and W.E.B. Du Bois (part 2 of 2)

For the first part of this special report on the implications of Michael Brown’s and Kajieme Powell’s deaths please see links at the end of the story. Part 2 begins now:

Dark crimson silhouette of noted human rights advocate W.E.B. Du Bois beside important names currently in the news in 2014.
Postered Poetics

“The alternative of not dying like hogs is not that of dying or killing like snarling dogs. It is rather, conquering the world by thought and brain and plan; by expression and organized cultural ideals.” –from The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois

Considering Du Bois and the Present Moment

W.E.B. Du Bois spent his entire adult life trying to reconcile racial, gender, and class differences not only in the United States but in nations across the globe. The oppressive conditions that stemmed from reactions to these differences were frequently as much blight upon the whole of humanity as they were upon a specific ethnic group or social demographic.

Consider the current unrest in Missouri, the estimated population of 1 million African Americans currently incarcerated or under some form of judicial supervision, the chronically higher rates of unemployment in black communities, and the blatantly overt attempts to disenfranchise African-American and Hispanic voters. These situations and actions have led many to conclude that any social and political gains made in regard to racial equality––the election of the country’s first African-American president notwithstanding––have been largely cosmetic.

The killing and imprisonment of black men and women has become so epidemic that most rappers seem to keep at least one recording on hand prophesying their anticipated end at the hands of either a policeman or one of their own. As contributors to the forthcoming Words and Violence Project contend, options other than murder to exist and have proven effective.

The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois

While Du Bois might not have been able to join his countrymen for the 1963 March on Washington, the considerable wisdom distilled from the many prolific years of his life and leadership helped to empower many who did. What follows below is a small selection of quotations from the book titled The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois and which provide substance for further reflection on the conditions discussed in this article:

“Racial slander must go. Racial prejudice will follow. Steadfast faith in humanity must come.”

“It is easy for us to lose ourselves in details in endeavoring to grasp and comprehend the real condition of a mass of human beings. We often forget that each unit in the mass is a throbbing human soul.”

“Oppression is oppression. It is our privilege in the world to relieve it.”

“…We still see that each nation has its dangerous flock of fools and rascals; but we also find most men have brains to be cultivated and souls to be saved.”

“Sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins.”

The source of the above quotes, The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois, was originally published in 2003 to commemorate the centennial of the publication of Du Bois’ own classic book The Souls of Black Folk, and re-released as an eBook in 2010. Du Bois’ voice remains a very important one because if the recent events involving Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, and far too many others tell us anything at all, it is that the 1963 March on Washington did indeed represent an amazing step forward on the path to social and racial equality for all Americans. It did not by any means, however, represent the end of the journey.

by Aberjhani
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and author of Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry

More Notes on Race and Justice in America

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