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Souls of Black Folks: Reading DuBois in Ghana

By Larry H. Spruill
(Spring 2004)

But the hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is a dangerous thing. It leads some of the best of the critics to unfortunate silence and paralysis of effort, and others to burst into speech so passionately and intemperately as to lose listeners. Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched, — criticism of writers by readers, of governments by those governed, of leaders by those led, — this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.

W.E.B. DuBois
Souls of Black Folks
1903

We are about to celebrate the centennial of this important piece of 20th century literature. I have read it several times over the last 30 years. Reading it in Ghana gave Dr. DuBois’ spirit an opportunity to speak to me. He inspired me to see new things in his long standing treatise on black culture. This was my third time visiting his house, museum and grave site. Nothing has changed. There were no new artifacts. No new publications. In fact, I was a bit concerned with the continuous deterioration of the last earthly possessions of this giant mind.

It is so strange to see this homage to DuBois the ultimate mulatto and quintessential intellectual in Ghana, the sanctuary of Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism. Perhaps in the next world, he and Marcus Garvey are finally having tea and discussing ways to influence the living to seriously consider AU (African Union) in the context of political democracy and personal liberties. The African proclivity towards tyranny and political violence must be discussed. There must be an end to discussions about colonial and racial victimization as rationales for ethnic wars, fratricidal political conflicts and the lack of freedom in Africa.

These same tendencies appear in urban centers in America when people of African descent obtain political empowerment in local communities. Criticism of black politicians is considered treason. The black electorate is required to become passive sheep to new sable overlords. Democracy and Western-styled freedom are essential to accountability to the people who are not only the governed but the government. The right to criticize a government must not depend on the color of the governors, but an inalienable right to do so.