It was early in my tenure teaching the Great Books literature class when one evening, while relaxing in the basement of my parents’ home, I looked over on the shelf and discovered W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk. I had no idea what my eyes discovered until, the pages literally fell open to the essay “On the Education of Black Men.” Here is the one passage in this essay that has become my anthem on this journey:
I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls….I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land? (Du Bois, 1903/2005, p. 108)
When I read this, I felt as if this was Du Bois’ opus to the Great Books. Here he expresses why these books can be seen as relevant to the African-American. Since being brought to America as slaves, the African American has wrestled with inclusion and equality. DuBois found in these books a world where he was considered equal. He also discovered knowledge and understanding of the culture he was living in, because the language was no longer hidden from him. This passage drove me to want to unpack its relevance to my current study. It became my personal Polaris in my research, guiding me to a full understanding of why the Great Books are relevant to the African American people. It did not take me long to begin to delve into whatever Dubois had written on education and literacy for the African American, and as I read more from DuBois, I discovered a woman, his contemporary, that they call “The Female DuBois”, Anna Julia Cooper.
the future dr. nika