W.E.B. Dubois at Fisk: A Discovery of The Beauty and Soul of Black Folks

For years my late father maintained a scrapbook he compiled from African American publications like Ebony,and The Chicago Defender. It was from his well kept book of black memorabilia that as an adolescent I learned about Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and Fisk University, the illustrious scholar’s beloved alma mater. A first rate scholar and among Harvard’s most esteemed Ph.d. graduates, among his classic, landmark books is The “Souls Of Black Folks” a masterful treatise on black leadership potential, intellectual contributions and cultural development.The book became a blue print for the concept of Negritude and expression of unassailed, unique contributions of the black arts movement and culture to the world entering the era of Harlem’s great Renaissance. From the fierce self-determination and talent of Fisk Jubilee Singers formed in 1866 whom he adored as well as the outstanding cultural contributions emerging from similar historically black colleges and arts groups to the era of Harlem’s fabled Renaissance unprecedented cultural production . In his classic book, “The Soul of Black Folks published in 1903 Dubois wrote:”

“Little of beauty has America given the world save the rude grandeur God himself stamped on her bosom; the human spirit in this new world has expressed itself in vigor and ingenuity rather than in beauty. And so by fateful chance the Negro folk-song — the rhythmic cry of the slave — stands to-day not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas. It has been neglected, it has been, and is, half despised, and above all it has been persistently mistaken and misunderstood; but notwithstanding, it still remains as the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people.”Chapter XIV The Sorrow Songs”Souls of Black Folks(1903)

Dubois was enamored with the beauty and power of Negro spirituals and work songs introduced to the world by his classmates The Fisk Jubilee Singers whose enormous contributions introduced black music to European audiences that radically changed perceptions of a nation first coming to realize the impact of black culture and black folk as purveyors of serious world art. Hence, Dubois was inspired to pen his classic book,”The Soul’s of Black Folks”, and it became the clarion voice of black intellectual and artistic aspiration of the 20th century.It was by reading and leafing through my father’s well kept compendia of articles and photographs as well as an old Smithsonian Folkways recording of the renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers I became inspired to matriculate at his beloved alma mater, Fisk University.Dubois throughout his career as an international scholar and public intellectual unfailingly attributes his deep appreciation of black culture and discovery of Fisks’ environment for intellectual and cultural development to his years as a student at Fisk University in Nashville. This historical fact is often marginalized but must not be forgotten.D.Day 2016

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