Literary Birthday – 23 February – W.E.B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois was born 23 February 1868, and died 27 August 1963.


  1. The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.
  2. Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.
  3. I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the colour line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?
  4. Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which moulds and develops men.
  5. A classic is a book that doesn’t have to be written again.
  6. Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched,- criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, – this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.
  7. Ignorance is a cure for nothing.
  8. When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings.
  9. One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect man and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.
  10. There are certain books in the world which every searcher for truth must know: the Bible, the Critique of Pure Reason, the Origin of Species, and Karl Marx’s Capital.
  11. Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.
  12. But art is not simply works of art; it is the spirit that knows Beauty, that has music in its being and the colour of sunsets in its headkerchiefs; that can dance on a flaming world and make the world dance, too.

W.E.B. Du Bois was an American author. The first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard, he was the best known spokesperson for African American rights during the first half of the 20th century. He published his first novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece in 1911, and The Negro, a general history of black Africans, in 1915. The book rebutted claims of African inferiority, and would serve as the basis of much Afro-centric historiography in the 20th century.

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 23rd February 2013