Du Bois Legacy Celebrated

Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka and President Neil L. Rudenstine all praised W.E.B. Du Bois yesterday in what speakers said was a long overdue recognition of the pioneering scholar.

The event, sponsored by the Afro-American Studies Department and the Du Bois Institute, marked the 125th anniversary of Du Bois' birth and the 90th anniversary of the publication of his landmark collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Du Bois professor of the humanities and chair of the Afro-American Studies Department, welcomed the audience of 200 to Memorial Church to "celebrate the life and works" of W.E.B. Du Bois.

"All intellectuals are his heirs, because he shaped our intellectual history," Gates said.

President Neil L. Rudenstine unveiled a bust of Du Bois which will be the first likeness of an African American to be placed in Memorial Hall.


Among those reading from Du Bois' work were Dove, Professor of Afro-American Studies and Philosophy K. Anthony Appiah, author Jamaica Kincaid, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and Princeton's Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature Arnold Rampersad.

Soyinka, who had been both Appiah and Gates' professor at Cambridge University in 1973, made a surprise appearance at Gates' request.

The program opened and closed with a prayer and alternated between readings and four spirituals, which Du Bois referred to as "Sorrow Songs."

Gates explained that he had designed theprogram this way because, in The Souls of BlackFolk, Du Bois concerned himself with both thespiritual and the secular and was the firsthistorian to canonize African American Spirituals.

Du Bois, who was born in 1868, received an A.B.from Fisk University and, at the age of 20, becamethe seventh African American to attend HarvardCollege. He was the first Black student to receivea Ph.D from Harvard.

Du Bois co-founded the National Association forthe Advancement of Colored People, and taught atWilberforce University, the University ofPennsylvania and Atlanta University. The U.S.government forced him to flee to Ghana at the ageof 93 because of his left-wing political views.

Rudenstine described Du Bois as a pioneeringfigure in African-American historiography. He saidthat though it is too late to reverse either theUnited States' intolerance toward Du Bois or theUniversity's failure to hire the noted sociologistand historian, Harvard "welcome[s] him, alas toolate, back home."

The bust was cast in plaster by sculptor WalkerHancock, whose work includes the figures of RobertFrost and Hubert Humphrey at the U.S. Capitol.

"The fact that the dean and the president wereinvolved shows the commitment of the College todiversity and excellence," said Gates. "The factthat all Harvard students will walk past [the bustof an African American in Memorial Hall] issubtle, but important."

Speakers praised the ceremony and Du Bois'legacy.

The ceremony was "profoundly moving, not onlybecause of the circumstances of his period here atHarvard and the appropriateness of having himhonored in Memorial Church and with a bust inMemorial Hall," Dove said.

"That so many eminent scholars and artists camefrom all over the world demonstrates how deeply DuBois has affected the intellectual community, andmore than that, all communities," he said

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