Race, Religion and Radicalism: King and Du Bois

Edward Carlson in Black Perspectives:

Du-Bois-and-MLKOn the occasion of a dual anniversary—the year we ponder the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and recognize the 150th anniversary W.E.B. Du Bois’s birth—the intersection of their legacy offers fertile ground for reflection.

King is largely remembered for having a dream. And while his “I Have a Dream” speech and other rhetorical flourishes stand at the pinnacle of what Americans know about him, his objectives remain unrealized. King articulated a radical socialist message, still unheard and often disputed, due to his anti-poverty, anti-materialism, and anti-war convictions, perspectives shaped within the framework of challenging American capitalism. Like Socrates, King’s teachings threatened the ruling class and the pervasive comfort of liberals. Today’s proclamation of King, witnessed recently in the appropriation of his words for a Super Bowl LII commercial, presents a revisionary tale. Months before King’s assassination, his assault on capitalism earned him a rebuke by many Black folks, who did not care for his evolving vision in challenging the economic inequalities promulgated by capitalism, and still more white folks, who expressed a disdain toward him.

Du Bois, on the other hand, was a global intellectual within a radical leftist framework; he fought for the liberation of peoples in the darker lands, as well as those occupied by the oppressive forces of capitalism. Du Bois persistently juxtaposed the American race problem with the endemic forces of global imperialism and capitalism. “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”: a recasting of that sentence’s inaugural iteration—most famously published in The Souls of Black Folk, but also the concluding sentence of the “To the Nations of the World,” collectively constructed by those attending the Pan-African Congress of 1900. We must also recognize that Du Bois’s radical evolution started with the Russian Revolution (1917). In seeking a solution to Black oppression, he became aware of his inner Bolshevism when and proclaimed, “I am a Bolshevik” after a 1926 visit to the Soviet Union. One must not attempt to recount Du Bois’s life and legacy just as a Pan-Africanist or civil rights activist, which society has done to King, but measure Du Bois and his internal struggles and maturation as an evolving radical and eventual member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). While King and Du Bois shared much in working for a reconfiguration of society, only Du Bois proclaimed in a pronounced fashion his full radicalness, leaving questions about King up for interpretation. Yet, both men had a dream and that dream was a society removed from capitalism’s despair.

More here. (Note: Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month)

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