Hubert H. Harrison responds to W.E.B. Du Bois infamous July, 1918 ‘Crisis’ editorial, ‘Close Ranks,’ in which he asks Black people to forget their ‘special grievances,’ and ‘close rank’ with the United States while the ‘war for democracy’ was waged.
‘The Descent of Du Bois’ (1918) by Hubert H. Harrison When Africa Awakes. Porro Press, New York City. 1920.
In a recent bulletin of the War Department it was declared that “justifiable grievances” were producing and had produced, not disloyalty, but an amount of unrest and bitterness which even the best efforts of their leaders may not be able always to guide.” This is the simple truth. The essence of the present situation lies in the fact that the people whom our white masters have “recognized” as our leaders (without taking the trouble to consult us) and those who, by our own selection, had actually attained to leadership among us are being reevaluated and, in most cases, rejected.
The most striking instance from the latter class is Dr. W.E. Du Bois, the editor of the Crisis. Du Bois’s case is the more significant because his former services to his race have been undoubtedly of a high and courageous sort. Moreover, the act by which he has brought upon himself the stormy outburst of disapproval from his race is one which of itself, would seem to merit no such stern condemnation. To properly gauge the value and merit of this disapproval one must view it in the light of its attendant circumstances and of the situation in which it arose.
Dr. Du Bois first palpably sinned in his editorial “Close Ranks” in the July number of the Crisis. But this offense (apart from the trend and general tenor of the brief editorial) lies in a single sentence: “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks, shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow-citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.” From the latter part of the sentence there is no dissent, so far as we know. The offense lies in that part of the sentence which ends with the italicized words. It is felt by all his critics, that Du Bois, of all Negroes, knows best that our ‘‘special grievances” which the War Department Bulletin describes as “justifiable” consist of lynching, segregation and disfranchisement, and that the Negroes of America can not preserve either their lives, their manhood or their vote (which is their political life and liberties) with these things in existence. The doctor’s critics feel that America can not use the Negro people to any good effect unless they have life, liberty and manhood assured and guaranteed to them. Therefore, instead of the war for democracy making these things less necessary, it makes them more so.
“But,” it may be asked, “why should not these few words be taken merely as a slip of the pen or a venial error in logic? Why all this hubbub?” It is because the so-called leaders of the first-mentioned class have already established an unsavory reputation by advocating this same surrender of life, liberty and manhood, masking their cowardice behind the pillars of war-time sacrifice? Du Bois’s statement, then, is believed to mark his entrance into that class, and is accepted as a “surrender” of the principles which brought him into prominence—and which alone kept him there.
Later, when it was learned that Du Bois was being preened for a berth in the War Department as a captain-assistant (adjutant) to Major Spingarn, the words used by him in the editorial acquired a darker and more sinister significance. The two things fitted too well together as motive and self-interest.
For these reasons Du Bois is regarded much in the same way as a knight in the middle ages who had had his armor stripped from him, his arms reversed and his spurs hacked off. This ruins him as an influential person among Negroes at this time, alike whether he becomes a captain or remains an editor.
But the case has its roots much farther back than the editorial in July’s Crisis. Some time ago when it was learned that the Crisis was being investigated by the government for an alleged seditious utterance a great clamor went up, although the expression of it was not open. Negroes who dared to express their thoughts seemed to think the action tantamount to a declaration that protests against lynching, segregation and disfranchisement were outlawed by the government. But nothing was clearly understood until the conference of editors was called under the assumed auspices of Emmet Scott and Major Spingarn. Then it began to appear that these editors had not been called without a purpose. The desperate ambiguity of the language which they used in their report (in the War Department Bulletin), coupled with the fact that not one of them, upon his return would tell the people anything of the proceedings of the conference—all this made the Negroes feel less and less confidence in them and their leadership; made them (as leaders) less effective instruments for the influential control of the race’s state of mind.
Now Du Bois was one of the most prominent of those editors “who were called.” The responsibility, therefore, for a course of counsel which stresses the servile virtues of acquiescence and subservience falls squarely on his shoulders. The offer of a captaincy and Du Bois’s flirtation with that offer following on the heels of these things seemed, even in the eyes of his associate members of the N.A.A. C.P. to afford clear proof of that which was only ‘a suspicion before, viz: that the racial resolution of the leaders had been tampered with, and that Du Bois had been privy to something of the sort. The connection between the successive acts of the drama (May, June, July) was too clear to admit of any interpretation’ other than that of deliberate, cold-blooded, purposive planning. And the connection with Spingarn seemed to suggest that personal friendships and public faith were not good working team-mates.
For the sake of the larger usefulness of Dr. Du Bois we hope he will be able to show that he can remain as editor of the Crisis; but we fear that it will require a good deal of explaining. For, our leaders, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion.
When Africa Awakes by Hubert H. Harrison. Porro Press, New York City. 1920.
Harrison’s uniquely important collection of writings from 1917-1920 published in various journals from the time, published by Porro Press (personally published).
Contents: Introduction, THE BEGINNINGS). Launching the Liberty League, Resolutions Passed at Liberty League Meetings, Petition to Congress, DEMOCRACY AND RACE FRICTION) The East St. Louis Horror, ‘Arms and the Man’, The Negro and the Labor Unions, Lynching Its Cause and Cure, THE NEGRO AND THE WAR) Is Democracy Unpatriotic?, Why Is the Red Cross?, A Hint of ‘Our Reward’, The Negro at the Peace Congress, Africa and the Peace, ‘They Shall Not Pass’, A Cure for the Ku-Klux, THE NEW POLITICS) The New Politics for the New Negro, The Drift in Politics, A Negro for President, When the Tail Wags the Dog, The Grand Old’ Party. THE PROBLEMS OF LEADERSHIP) Our Professional ‘’Friends’, Shillady Resigns, Our White Friends, A Tender Point, The Descent of Du Bois, When the Blind Lead, Just Crabs, THE NEW RACE CONSCIOUSNESS) The Negro’s Own Radicalism, Race First versus Class First, An Open Letter to the Socialist Party, ‘Patronize Your Own’, The Women of Our Race, To the Young Men of My Race, OUR INTERNATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS) The White War and the Colored World, U-need-a Biscuit, Our Larger Duty, Help Wanted for Hayti, The Cracker in the Caribbean, When Might Makes Right, Bolshevism in Barbados, A New International, The Rising Tide of Color, The White War and the Colored Races, EDUCATION AND THE RACE) Reading for Knowledge, Education and the Race, The Racial Roots of Culture, The New Knowledge for the New Negro, A FEW BOOKS) The Negro in History and Civilization, Darkwater, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. EPILOGUE: The Black Man’s Burden A Reply to Rudyard Kipling.
PDF of full book: https://archive.org/download/ldpd_13339574_000/ldpd_13339574_000.pdf