Lee Baker, "W.E.B. DuBois, Franz Boas, and 'the Real Race Problem'"
Please join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences and arts the opportunity to present their current research to their departmental (and interdepartmental) colleagues, students, and other interlocutors in their fields.
In 1905 W.E.B. DuBois asked Franz Boas to give a paper at his Atlanta University Conference on Health and Physique of the Negro and the ensuring commencement address the following day. In 1910, DuBois asked Boas to present the final lecture of a two-day conference that incorporated the N.A.A.C.P. Each speech demonstrated how W.E.B. DuBois leveraged anthropology to showcase advanced African civilizations of the past, which proved that people of African descent could participate in a civilized society and could create it. He also used anthropology to demonstrate that one race was not inferior to any other. In this lecture on DuBois and anthropology, I will outline the relationship between DuBois and Boas during the first decade of the 20th century and describe how DuBois pragmatically used anthropology in The Crisis and other publications to elevate and vindicate African Americans in the struggle for freedom, liberty, and justice for all. I will also highlight the racist anti-racism of American Anthropology because Boas sincerely believed that “the real race problem” was the slow pace of racial amalgamation. After all, he explained, “in a race of octaroons, living among whites, the color question would probably disappear.”
Lee Baker is Mrs. A. Hehmeyer Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, and African and African American Studies at Duke University. His books include From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954 (1998), Life in America: Identity and Everyday Experience (2003), and Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture (2010).