The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: Great Barrington Edition (Paperback)
This edition of The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois is the first to be arranged and dedicated in accordance with Du Bois's manuscript notes. It begins with these words: "I was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation which began the freeing of American Negro Slaves." Du Bois was born in the town where Berkshire Publishing Group is located. His autobiography tells the story of a little boy, the only Black boy in his school, who became the first African American PhD at Harvard, an educator, editor, and activist, and a writer of expressive, lyrical, and accessible prose. In this book, he explains why he chose to become a communist. While the communism he praised did not turn out to offer the utopia so many hoped for, the problems he identified are still with us. His reasoning will resonant with modern readers who share his frustration with the continued inequities in our society.
The Autobiography is a fascinating and often horrifying look at the experience of a Black man in America. Literary critic Irving Howe called it "a classic of American narrative, . . . packed with information and opinion about the early years of Negro protest." But, like many, he found the later chapters, in which Du Bois reflects the official Communist views of the times, to read "as if they came from the very heart of a mimeograph machine." But these chapters, too, are part of US history. The short essay on Communism is especially worth reading it speaks to issues on our minds today, and puts Du Bois's communism in context. His reasoning, and emotion, will resonant with modern readers who share his frustration with the continued inequities in our society. While the Communism he praised did not turn out to offer the utopia so many hoped for, the problems he identified are still with us.
And now that the chapters about his early life are in their proper place, we hope readers will note the personal and revelatory tone of the chapter "My Character." Along with an analysis of his own character, not always favorable, he discusses his sexual experience, including early ignorance, being raped as a young man by an unhappy landlady, and never convincing his wife that sexual relations were "the most beautiful of human experiences."
Berkshire Publishing Group was founded in Great Barrington, the small western Massachusetts town where Du Bois was born and educated. He wrote eloquently about the town and its people, and he is remembered today as the most influential graduate of the town's schools. Berkshire is known for its focus on international issues, especially world history. We were thrilled when we learned that Du Bois had wanted to create an Encyclopedia Africana since we have specialized in similar projects. Equally relevant was hearing from Thomas Bender, a leading scholar of transnational history, that Du Bois's Harvard dissertation on the Atlantic slave trade was one of the first publications that could truly be called transnational history.