ACCRA, Ghana – I have been a W.E.B. DuBois fanatic since learning as a student at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. that he actively opposed the accommodationist views of Booker T. Washington.
I was excited when I found out that during last week's trip to Ghana, I would get a chance to visit the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture, which encompasses the grave and former home of my intellectual hero. Before the visit, Jesse Jackson urged me to brace myself for what I would see; he predicted that I would be disappointed with the condition of the memorial to DuBois.
He was correct. Even with lowered expectations, I was shocked at how much his former residence had been allowed to deteriorate. The front of the compound has dirt rather than grass; the long, one-story house resembles a section of Army barracks more than a dwelling; and the tin roof and dangling outside wiring do nothing to improve the esthetics.
A small, golden bust of DuBois rests atop a marble pedestal that stands about five feet tall. A plaque below bares the sparse inscription: "William Edward B. DuBois 1868-1963." That's all it says. Nowhere is there a clue of what he did between 1868 and 1963. It doesn't say that he was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. It doesn't say he was the father of Pan-Africanism. It doesn't say he received a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895. It doesn't say his "Philadelphia Negro" was the first scientific study of African Americans. It doesn't say that his "Souls of Black Folk" is still applicable today. It doesn't say that he was an uncompromising editor of The Crisis magazine and it doesn't say his own U.S. government harassed him for his uncompromising views.
No, all it says is, "William Edward B. DuBois 1868-1963."
DuBois had been invited to spend his final years in Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah, the nation's first president. It is not fitting that the grounds that he once walked are an embarrassing testament to him.
The inside of his former home, the center of the compound's activities, is equally unimpressive. DuBois, a native of Great Barrington, Mass., donated his papers to the University of Massachusetts. There are only a few mementos housed here. Various academic gowns are on display in one room, a signed copy of a book from Albert Einstein and original copies of The Crisis magazine, the feisty forerunner of Encore and Emerge magazines, are also there.
DuBois' study, filled with two walls of his books, does not have climate control or, on this day, air conditioning. The main hall, just outside DuBois' office, features a nondescript wall that carries a large photo of DuBois, two smaller ones of Nkrumah and two sheets of paper. They are hung against a long piece of Kente cloth under the heading, "The Influence of Pan-Africanism on Nkrumah and Ghana's Independence."
Outside, less than 30 yards from the main building, is a mausoleum that houses DuBois and the ashes of his wife, Shirley. DuBois is entombed under a granite rectangle slab that slopes at the lower end of the body.
Shaken by the conditions, Jesse Jackson agreed to buy a badly needed generator and help raise additional funds; and several of us made financial pledges and contributions. Jackson criticized both the Ghanaian government and Blacks for not doing more to preserve the center. (Contributions can be sent to the center at P.O. Box CT 975, Cantonments, Accra, Ghana. Her e-mail address is [email protected].)
Considering all that DuBois has done for us, the least we can do is properly preserve his memory.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.