CAU on a yearlong journey into the "Soul" of Du Bois

Under normal circumstances, the 1937-38 academic year that Evelyn Jenkins Carroll spent at Atlanta University, could have just been a blip on her extensive resume.

The 21-year-old Carroll was getting her master’s degree, but after only a year, illness drove her home to Arkansas. But for that one year, she and 10 other students -- part of his "Talented Tenth" -- sat in Harkness Hall being taught in the private library of one of the fathers of African-American studies -- W.E.B. Du Bois.

“It was comparative anthology. I will never forget it,” said Carroll, 95, holding an autographed copy of Du Bois' 1911 "The Quest of the Silver Fleece," his first novel. “He was just an extraordinary lecturer and we were in awe of him. He encouraged us to study and to write and his knowledge impressed all of us.”

Carroll, a former Spelman College professor and one of Du Bois’ few remaining former students, was back on campus last month when Clark Atlanta University kicked off a yearlong examination of his life and works, particularly the 23 years he spent in Atlanta, where he wrote some of his most important works.

The monthly reading seminars, “Journey into the Soul of Dr. Du Bois” will bring scholars to campus to build momentum for 2013’s “On the Wings of Atlanta” conference, which will mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

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This Friday at noon, the discussion will include Du Bois’ “Study of the Negro Problems,” and “The Philadelphia Negro.”

“This is a reclamation of a legacy,” said CAU president Carlton Brown. “We are trying to draw the attention of the scholarly community to where he did his most prolific work. While we can’t hope to increase our holdings, we can increase the scholarship of his work.”

The idea of the seminars and conference came from CAU history professor Stephanie Evans, who got her Ph.D. from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and where Du Bois’ papers are housed.

But when Evans studied Du Bois, she said she read him from a Northern lens.

“Though I visited Great Barrington [where he was born] and Harvard [where he was the first black Ph.D. and an institute is named for him], I feel as if I am just getting to know Du Bois by being at CAU," Evans said. “It was striking to me how much living in the South impacted my sense of black identity. It was a culture shock and I began to understand Du Bois from a totally different vantage point.”

At the beginning of the last century, when he famously wrote, “The problem of the 20th Century is the problem of the color line,” Du Bois emerged as one of the leading black voices in the country – second only to Booker T. Washington.

A lot of his key works were done during his two stints at AU -- from 1897-1910 and from 1934-1944.

“Du Bois chose the South as a location to work because he saw this as the most valuable and viable location to conduct race research," Evans said. "He came into his black identity here and saw this as a critical location to launch research that could impact issues of social justice for black people in the nation and world.”

When he was initially hired in 1897 to teach history and economics, he produced some of his most important works, including the groundbreaking, “Souls of Black Folk” in 1903.

During that period, he was also one of the founders of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. He left AU in 1910 to edit the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s magazine, The Crisis.

“His influence is great in terms of a general appreciation of his work,” Evans said. “However, there is still much work to be done to adequately excavate his intellectual legacy.”

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