Preparing for Our Next All-Society Platform Part II
I hope you will join us on Zoom on Sunday, January 30, 2022, at 11 am Eastern Time for our All-Society Platform, “W.E.B. Du Bois: Will the Truth Set You Free?”
As we researched the connections between W.E.B. Du Bois and the Ethical Movement we found more instances of his interactions with the New York Society for Ethical Culture. For example, Dr. Du Bois first spoke at NYSEC on February 17, 1907 when the Society was meeting at Carnegie Hall. Here’s an excerpt from the address he gave:
But, above all, the thing the black man needs most is sympathy. I do not mean maudlin sympathy; not the goody-goody talk which supposes I am sorry I am a black and ashamed of being a negro, and they want to express as delicately as they can my shame in their words, forgetting that my shame lies not in my face, but in theirs, and that the complaint I have voiced is not that God made me black, but that He has made you blind. We want the sympathy which realizes our difficult task and tries to make the road we have to travel as smooth as possible.
What makes the words so poignant for me was that 41 years after that speech, little of the history that Dr. Du Bois spoke about had made it into the mainstream. The absence of respect and appreciation toward Black people in the United States was obvious as this behavior led to violence and oppression.
In 1946 U.S. President Harry Truman was a surprising ally in the fight against racism. He convened the President’s Committee on Civil Rights through Executive Order to “inquire into and to determine whether and in what respect current law-enforcement measures and the authority and means possessed by Federal, State, and local governments may be strengthened and improved to safeguard the civil rights of the people.” This led to the desegregation of the armed forces and federal employment in 1948 and bolstered efforts to address a host of civil rights issues.
Truman’s order was in response to the many violent attacks on African-American veterans upon their return from the Second World War and the concerted efforts to subdue Black people who showed any expectation of having their civil rights respected. Sadly, this is yet another example of history repeating itself. Black soldiers were crucial for the victory of the Union over the Confederacy, for the success of the Allied forces in World War I, and for the triumph of The Grand Alliance in World War II. But when Black soldiers returned from their instrumental role in the victories of these wars, rather than be celebrated they were attacked, and their return home triggered widespread oppression.
In 1948, a little over a year before Dr. Du Bois’s address at the New York Society, the AEU Assembly passed a resolution commending the efforts of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights and pledging to “support its recommendations for legislation against discrimination in employment and education. We welcome its urging of legislation against lynching, against the poll tax, and against exclusive primaries which are used to disfranchise millions.”
It’s almost 73 years since Dr. Du Bois’ 1949 address. What can we say about progress made in undoing systemic racism during that span? And what do we imagine will be said about our time 73 years from now?
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This post originally appeared at AEU.org.