Monday, May 28, 2012

Pages From History: W.E.B. DuBois on A Proposed Conference on the Encyclopedia Africana

EAP History Archive
1962 December 18

Opening Address: A Proposed Conference on the Encyclopedia Africana

by W.E.B. Du Bois
Director of the Secretariat
Accra Ghana, West Africa
December 18, 1962

I wish first to express my sincere thanks to those of you here who have accepted the invitation of our Secretariat to participate in this Conference and thus assist us in the preparatory work which we have undertaken for the creation of an Encyclopaedia Africana .

You have noted, from letters cited in our Information Report, the most gratifying endorsement from scholars in all sections of the world of the general aims of this work. Some of you, however, ask if an Encyclopaedia Africana at this time is not premature. Is this not a too ambitious undertaking for African scholars to attempt? Is there enough scientifically proven information ready for publication?

Our answer is that an Encyclopaedia Africana is long overdue. Yet, it is logical that such a work had to wait for independent Africans to carry it our... It is true that scientific written records do not exist in most parts of this vast continent, but the time is now for beginning.

The Encyclopaedia hopes to eliminate the artificial boundaries created on the continent by colonial masters. Designations such as "British Africa", "French Africa", "Black Africa", "Islamic Africa" too often serve to keep alive differences which in large part have been imposed on Africans by outsiders. The Encyclopaedia must have research units throughout West Africa, North Africa, East, Central and South Africa, which will gather and record information for these geographical sections of the continent.

The Encyclopaedia is concerned with Africa as a whole...

Many of you who have gathered here from distant lands can, and I believe will, make valuable contributions to this undertaking. And you can assist us in finding capable African men and women who can carry the responsibilities of this work in their own country and to their people. For it is African scholars themselves who will create the ultimate Encyclopaedia Africana .

My interest in this enterprise goes back to 1909 when I first attempted to launch an Encyclopaedia Africana while still teaching history at Atlanta University in Georgia, U.S.A. Though a number of distinguished scholars in the United States and various Europeans countries consented to serve as sponsors, the more practical need of securing financial backing for the projected Encyclopaedia was not solved and the project had to be abandoned. Again, in 1931, a group of American scholars met at Howard University and agreed upon the necessity of preparing an Encyclopaedia of the Negro, using this term in its broadest sense. There was much organizational work and research done in the preparation, but once again, the undertaking could not be carried through because money could not be secured. Educational foundations had doubts about a work of this kind being accomplished under the editorship of Negroes.

We are deeply grateful to the President of Ghana and to the Government of this independent African state for inviting us to undertake this important task here where the necessary funds for beginning this colossal work have been provided.

After all, this is where the work should be done - in Africa, sponsored by Africans, for Africa. This Encyclopaedia will be carried through.

Much has happened in Africa in the last twenty years. Yet, something of what I wrote in the Preparatory Volume of the Encyclopaedia of the Negro, published in 1945, will bear repeating now. I quote:

"... Our knowledge of Africa today is not, of course, entirely complete; there are many gaps where further information and more careful study is needed; but this is the case in almost every branch of knowledge. Knowledge is never complete, and in few subjects does a time arrive when an Encyclopaedia is demanded because no further information is expected. Indeed, the need for an Encyclopaedia is greatest when a stage is reached where there is a distinct opportunity to bring together and set down a clear and orderly statement of the facts already known and agreed upon, for the sake of establishing a base for further advance and further study."

For these reasons and under these circumstances it would seem that an Encyclopaedia Africana is of vital importance to Africa as a whole and to the world at large.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

"When once the Blacks of the United States, the West Indies and Africa work and think together, the future of the Black man in the world is safe."

-- Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, Founding Director and Secretariat, Encyclopaedia Africana Project, April 1962

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