We return…we return from fighting…we return fighting*W. E. B. Du Bois, “Returning Soldiers” (May, 1919)
The forecast called for snow and ice on February 23, the date of the 28th Annual Du Bois Lecture and also the birthday of W. E. B. Du Bois. UMass Amherst announced that it would close for the day, and our speaker, Chad L. Williams, PhD, let us know he wanted to reschedule in-person, rather than lecture on Zoom. The reason became apparent from the opening line of his lecture, delivered one month later to a rapt live audience as well as many online viewers: The story of his book, The Wounded World: W. E. B. Du Bois and the First World War, originated in the W. E. B. Du Bois Library itself. Just over a week before the publication of his book on April 4, Williams wanted to visit the spot where it all began when he discovered six reels of microfiche hiding in the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers. These contained 700-plus scanned pages of Du Bois’s never-finished history of Black soldiers in the First World War. Williams’s discovery in the Du Bois Library would lead him to the original files and supporting documents at Fisk University and to the subject of his book and lecture. In the lecture, Williams traced Du Bois’s lifelong, but ultimately unsuccessful, efforts to complete what would have been one of his most significant works, and how the unpublished manuscript offers insight into Du Bois’s personal and professional struggles to reckon with both the history and the troubling memory of the war, along with the broader meanings of race and democracy for Black people in the twentieth century. This story, and that of Williams’s book, emphasizes the continued importance of the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers as a vibrant source of new information on this seminal scholar 60 years after his death.
Gifts to the W. E. B. Du Bois Center connects students, educators, scholars, and the public through lectures, symposia, scholarships and collaborations, to share the vast intellectual resources associated with the sociologist, historian, civil rights activist and author W. E. B. Du Bois.