Title Reviewed:
W. E. B. DuBois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis

Author Reviewed:
Francis L. Broderick

Emma Lou Thornbrough


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 311-312

Article Type:
Book Review

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W. E. B. DuBois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis. By Francis L. Broderick. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1959. Pp. xiii, 259. Frontispiece, bibliographical note, notes, index. $5.00.)

In a volume of two hundred some pages, Francis L. Broderick has managed to trace the many facets of the career of the man, now over ninety years old, who, along with Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, is frequently referred to as one of the three most influential Negro leaders since the Civil War. The book is a biography of a complex individual of remarkable gifts and equally glaring weaknesses as well as an appraisal of DuBois' role as a race leader. In his own lifetime DuBois has become almost a mythical figure and has himself sedulously contributed to that myth. Although obviously fascinated by his subject, Broderick has not allowed himself to be so dazzled as to lose his objectivity. Instead he has done a penetrating job of separating the man from the myth. He has been fortunate in having at his disposal much material, both published and unpublished. His work is limited, however, by the fact that he was able to use DuBois' own personal papers only for the period before 1910.

DuBois' life has been a crusade for full equality for the American Negro and for colored people everywhere. The strategy employed in the crusade has changed many times; but in spite of his own inconsistencies and vagaries, DuBois has always been intolerant of those who have disagreed with him. As champion of the "Talented Tenth" and leader of the Niagara Movement he was loud in his denunciation of Booker T. Washington, but Broderick points out that the conflict between the two men was more over differences as to methods than over basic aims.

DuBois probably attained his greatest stature during the period from 1910 to 1934 when he was editor of Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In this position he had ample opportunity to use his brilliant talents as editor and propagandist. After the death of Washington in 1915 no one else spoke with as much authority and influence for American Negroes. But although to most people DuBois was the voice of the NAACP, the entire period of his editorship was marked by tensions and antagonisms, first with the white liberals who dominated the association in the early years and later with Negro leaders.

Dubois apparently had read little of Marx until about 1930 and never really assimilated Marxist dogma. Although he early displayed a sympathy for Communist Russia, he was scornful of the American Communist party for years, insisting that it sought to exploit Negroes for its own ends. But after the Second World War, when his own star was in eclipse and his influence had waned, he established an entente with the extreme left. He participated in various "peace movements," denounced American "imperialism," and ran for the United States Senate at the age of eighty-two on the American Labor ticket; nevertheless Broderick thinks DuBois retained his intellectual independence.

The lasting significance of DuBois' career lies first in his unwavering demand for full equality and his influence in persuading Negroes to settle for nothing less; secondly, his own life and writings have inspired younger Negroes to carry on the fight.

Butler University Emma Lou Thornbrough

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.