Pioneering historian, sociologist, editor, novelist, poet, and organizer, W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the foremost African American intellectuals of the twentieth century. While Du Bois is remembered for his monumental contributions to scholarship and civil rights activism, the spiritual aspects of his work have been misunderstood, even negated. W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet, the first religious biography of this leader, illuminates the spirituality that is essential to understanding his efforts and achievements in the political and intellectual world.
Often labeled an atheist, Du Bois was in fact deeply and creatively involved with religion. Historian Edward J. Blum reveals how spirituality was central to Du Bois's approach to Marxism, pan-Africanism, and nuclear disarmament, his support for black churches, and his reckoning of the spiritual wage of white supremacy. His writings, teachings, and prayers served as articles of faith for fellow activists of his day, from student book club members to Langston Hughes.
A blend of history, sociology, literary criticism, and religious reflection in the model of Du Bois's best work, W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet recasts the life of this great visionary and intellectual for a new generation of scholars and activists.
Honorable Mention, 2007 Gustavus Myers Center Outstanding Book Awards
Introduction. Rethinking W.E.B. Du Bois, Rethinking Religion and Race
1. The Hero with a Black Face: Autobiography and the Mythology of the Self
2. Race as Cosmic Sight in The Souls of Black Folk
3. A Dark Monk Who Wrote History and Sociology: The Spiritual Wage of whiteness, the Black Church, and Mystical Africa
4. Black Messiahs and Murderous Whites: Violence and Faith in Literary Expression
5. Christ Was a Communist: Religion for an Aging Leftist
Epilogue. The Passing of the Prophet
"Edward Blum has offered us a remarkably fresh, provocative, and searching reading of Du Bois, one that places religion and spirituality at the center of his thought and sensibilities. But he has offered us something more as well: an important engagement with religion and the construction of race—of blackness and whiteness—in America."—Steven Hahn, author of A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
"Blum's work powerfully evokes both the spirit and substance of Du Bois's moral vision in ways that will greatly benefit students and scholars of American religious and intellectual history for years to come."—Journal of American History
"From comprehensive and original archival research, Blum reveals a Du Bois who from the beginning to the end of his career was obsessed with religion, its rhetoric, typologies, practices, and moral virtues. This book—really, an intervention—is long overdue."—Callaloo
"This book is a marvelous probing into the unknown and unexplored dimension of the great W. E. B. Du Bois's life and work: his self-styled religious and spiritual temperament. Edward Blum is to be congratulated for this grand contribution!"—Cornel West, Princeton University
"While W. E. B. Du Bois's many prescient ideas on race and the color line are often quoted, he is rarely characterized in the sacred prophetic sense. In this first comprehensive study of the religious meaning and biblical references in Du Bois's writings, Edward Blum brilliantly and movingly renders the complex soul of this intellectual giant, who demanded his people's deliverance from a sin-sick world of racial injustice."—Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, author of Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920
"In this eloquent and penetrating book, Edward Blum explores a crucial but neglected aspect of the life and times of W. E. B. Du Bois: the intersection of race and religion. . . . He gives us, as no one else has, a new Du Bois. It is a signal accomplishment and should be required reading for anyone interested in American protest literature and the role of religion in social reform."—John Stauffer, author of The Black Hearts of Men
"Blum illuminates the entire range of Du Bois's writings, showing him as a prophetic thinker at times, a deliverer of jeremiads, a composer of creeds, an appreciator of the spirituality of everyday folk, and a visionary who anticipated trends in black theology and womanist theology. A truly valuable contribution to African American and American religious history."—Paul Harvey, University of Colorado
"A greater tribute to the man cannot be found, even in the works of the most seasoned Du Bois scholars."—Church History
"With this book Edward J. Blum solidified his reputation as one of the most singular and innovative scholars writing on religion and race today."—Journal of Southern History