Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Du Bois and the emergence of identity
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $18.95 hb, 235 pp
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868–1963) forged one of the most remarkable careers of his generation. Starting in the 1890s, often considered the nadir of race relations in the United States, he became the first black man to hold a Harvard bachelor’s degree; emerged as Booker T. Washington’s most eloquent opponent on the issue of segregation; published pioneering work across many genres, including The Souls of Black Folk (1903); and after founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) went on to become the dominant voice of the Pan-African movement.
In this short but nuanced study, Kwame Anthony Appiah argues persuasively that it was Du Bois’s two fellowship-funded years amid the exciting intellectual milieu of the University of Berlin, over 1892–94, that most profoundly shaped his thinking on the issues he would wrestle with throughout his career.