Monday, October 15, 2007

Shirley Graham DuBois' Speech to the All-African Peoples' Conference in Ghana, December 1958

DuBois Speaks to Africa

My only role in this meeting is one of advice from one who has lived long, who has studied Africa and has seen the modern world. I had hoped to deliver this word in person, but this was not possible. I have therefore asked my wife, Shirley Graham, to read it to you. It is simple and direct.

In this great crisis of the world's history, when standing on the highest peaks of human accomplishment we look forward to peace and backward to War; when we look up to Heaven and down to Hell, let us mince no words. We face triumph or tragedy without alternative. Africa, ancient Africa has been called by the world and has lifted up her hands!

Which way shall Africa go? First, I would emphasize the fact that today Africa has no choice between private Capitalism and Socialism. the whole world, including Capitalist countries, is moving towards Socialism, inevitably, inexorably. You can choose between blocs of military alliance, you can choose between groups of political union, you cannot choose between Socialism and private Capitalism, because private ownership of capital is doomed.

But what is Socialism? It is disciplined economy and political organization in which the first duty of a citizen is to serve the state; and the state is not a selected aristocracy, or a group of self-seeking oligarchs who have seized wealth and power. No! The mass of workers with hand and brain are the ones whose collective destiny is the chief object of all effort.

Gradually, every state is coming to this concept of its aim. The great Communist states like the Soviet Union and China have surrendered completely to this idea. The Scandinavian states have yielded partially; Britain has yielded in some respects, France in part and even the United States adopted the New Deal which was largely socialistic, even though today further American Socialism is held at bay by 60 great groups of corporations who control individual capitalists and the trade-union leaders.

On the other hand, the African tribe, whence all of you sprung, was communistic in its very beginnings. No tribesman was free. All were servants of the tribe of whom the chief was father and voice. Read of the West Coast trade as described by Casely-Hayford: There is small trace of private enterprise or individual initiative. It was the tribe which carried on trade through individuals, and the chief was mouthpiece of the common will.

Here then, my brothers, you face your great decision: Will you for temporary advantage--for automobiles, refrigerators and Paris gowns--spend your income in paying interest on borrowed funds, or will you sacrifice present comfort and the chance to shine before your neighbors in order to educate your children, develop such industry as best serves the great mass of people and makes your country strong in ability, self-support and self-defense?

Such union of effort for strength calls for sacrifice and self-denial, while the capital offered you at high price by the colonial powers like France, Britain, Holland, Belgium and the United States, will prolong fatal colonial imperialism, from which you have suffered slavery, serfdom and colonialism.

You are not helpless. You are the buyers of capital goods, nations, former owners of the world, must sell or face bankruptcy. You are not compelled to buy all they offer now. you can wait. you can starve a while longer rather than sell your great heritage for a mess of Western capitalistic pottage.

You cannot only beat down the price of capital as offered by the united and monopolized Western private capitalists, but at last today you can compare their offers with those of socialistic countries like the Soviet Union and China, which with infinite sacrifice and pouring out of blood and tears, are at last able to offer weak nations needed capital on better terms than the West.

The supply which socialist nations can at present spare is small as compared with that of the bloated monopolies of the West, but it is larger and rapidly growing. Its acceptance involves no bonds which a free Africa may not safely assume. It certainly does not involve slavery and colonial control which is the price which the West has demanded, and still demands.

Today she offers a compromise, but one of which you must beware: She offers to let some of your smarter and less scrupulous leaders become fellow capitalists with the white exploiters, if in turn they induce the nation's masses to pay the awful cost. This has happened in the West Indies and in south America. this may yet happen in the Middle East and Eastern Asia. Strive against it with every fibre of your bodies and souls. A body of local private capitalists, even if they are black, can never free Africa; they will simply sell it into new slavery to old masters overseas.

As I have said, this is a call for sacrifice. Great Goethe sang, "Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren" -- "Thou shalt forego, shalt do without." If Africa unites it will be because each part, each nation, each tribe gives up a part of its heritage for the good of the whole.

This is what union means; that is what Pan-Africa means: When the child is born into the tribe the price of his growing up is to give over a part of the freedom to the tribe. this he soon learns or dies. When the tribe becomes a union of tribes, the individual tribe surrenders some part of its freedom to the paramount tribe.

When the nation arises, the constituent tribes, clans and groups must each yield power and much freedom to the demands of the nation or the nation dies before it is born. Your local tribal, much-loved languages must yield to the few world tongues which serve the largest numbers of people and promise understanding and world literature.

This is the great dilemma which faces Africa today; faces one and all: Give up individual rights for the needs of the nation; give up tribal independence for the needs of Mother Africa. Firget nothing but set everything in its rightful place: the Glory of the six Ashanti Wars against Britain; the wisdom of the Fanti Confederation; the unity of Nigeria; the song of the Songhay and Hausa; the rebellion of the Mahdi and the hands of Ethiopia; the greatness of the Basuto and the fighting of Chaka; the revenge of Mutessa, and many other happenings and men; but above all--Africa, Mother of Men.

Your nearest friends and neighbors are the colored people of China and India, the rest of Asia, the Middle East and the sea isles, once close bound to the heart of Africa and now long severed by the greed of Europe. Your bond is no mere color of skin but the deeper experience of wage slavery and contempt.

So too, your bond with the white world is closer to those like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, who support and defend China and help the slaves of Tibet and India, and not those who exploit the Middle East, the West Indies, and South America.

Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion, reject the meekness of missionaries who teach neither love nor brotherhood, but emphasize the virtues of private profit from capital, stolen from your land and labor. Africa awake, put on the beautiful robes of Pan-African Socialism.

You have nothing to lose but your Chains!

You have a continent to regain!

You have freedom and human dignity to attain!

* * * * *
Shirley Graham Du Bois (1907-1977), whom W. E. B. Du Bois married in 1951, after the death of his first wife, Nina Gomer Du Bois, Graham's His Day Is Marching On: A Memoir of W.E. B. Du Bois (1971) contains much anecdotal information about Du Bois' 1958-59 trip to Soviet bloc countries. See letter to Yolande.

Source: Leslie Alexander Lacy. The Life of W.E.B. Du Bois: Cheer the Lonesome Traveler. New York: The Dial Press, 1970.

* * * * *

Other Writings


The Conservation of Races (Washington, D.C.: American Negro Academy, 1897).

Africa: Its Geography, People and Products (Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius, 1930).

Africa: Its Place in Modern History (Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius, 1930).

Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Holt, 1939)

W.E.B. Du Bois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses, edited by Philip S. Foner (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970).

W.E.B. Du Bois: The Crisis Writing, editing by Daniel Walden (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1972).

The Emerging Thought of W.E.B. Du Bois: Essays and Editorials From "The Crisis," edited by Henry Lee Moon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972)

The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960, edited by Herbert Aptheker (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973.

Shirley Graham Du Bois (1896-1977): A Brief Biography

Place of Birth: Indianapolis, Indiana

Called enigmatic, controversial, gifted, crusader, and writer, Lola Shirley Graham Du Bois' full life stretched from the height of Jim Crow segregation to the administration of President Jimmy Carter. The daughter of a highly educated itinerate minister, Graham Du Bois was encouraged to speak out against injustice at an early age.

Denied access to the YWCA swimming pool because of her race, the young Graham Du Bois penned her first editorial to the local newspaper at age 13. She married at 21, gave birth to two sons, but soon thereafter divorced her husband. Leaving her children with her parents, Graham Du Bois embarked on an education that took her to the Sorbonne in Paris, Howard University, Morgan State University, and Oberlin College where she finished her bachelors and earned a master's degree in music history and fine arts.

Focusing her considerable writing and musical talents on raising public appreciation of Negro music, Graham Du Bois authored Tom-Tom in 1932, a musical play dramatizing African-American history and one of the first of its kind written by an African-American woman.

As Director of the Negro United part of the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago, she continued to write plays but commercial success eluded her. In 1942, Graham Du Bois became national field secretary for the NAACP and began writing biographies of luminous African-American figures such as Booker T. Washington and Phillis Wheatley for younger readers.

At age 54, she became the second wife of her NAACP mentor, 83 year-old W.E.B. Du Bois, the brilliant and influential black leader. The following year he was indicted by the U.S. government for "not having registered as agents of a foreign principal" because of his involvement with the Peace Information Center, a leftist organization the U.S. government accused of promoting Soviet propaganda.

In 1961 the couple renounced their U.S. citizenship and became nationals in pro-Communist Ghana, where they had been ardent supporters of President Kwame Nkrumah's revolutionary government. W.E.B. Du Bois died there two years later, but Graham Du Bois remained to create and manage the government television network.

After a military coup there in 1966, she moved to Cairo, Egypt. Denied permanent re-entry to the U.S. because of her affiliation with known subversive groups, Graham Du Bois was permitted to return temporarily in 1976. In 1977 she traveled to Beijing, Chin, seeking treatment for breast cancer and died there on March 27. She and her husband are interred in Ghana.

Publications: A Pictorial History of W.E.B. Du bois (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1978), His Day Is Marching On: A Memoir of W.E.B. Du Bois (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1971), Booker T. Washington Educator of Hand, Head, and Heart (New York: J. Messner, 1955), The Story of Phillis Wheatley (New York: J. Messner, 1949)

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