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Archive: 14/12/2017

Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Brittany Frederick

Brittany Frederick

Du Bois, Education, and Social Justice

For Brittany Frederick G’22, knowledge and access to learning opportunities mean everything.

“I am a big champion of education,” she stated.

Frederick, a second-year PhD student in the History Department at UMass Amherst, has actually made education the subject of her own scholarship in a project entitled “Expanding the Talented Tenth”: Du Bois and the Educational Evolution of UMass Amherst.

“Since high school, I knew I wanted to study history and English,” Frederick recalled, noting with a smile that her passion for the former began in earnest after watching the 2004 blockbuster, National Treasure.

Now studying modern US, public, and African American history, Frederick is on a historical treasure hunt of her own, using her Du Bois Fellowship to comb through various papers in the Du Bois Center and provide a deeper understanding of the relationships between the UMass Amherst Libraries, the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, Special Collections and University Archives, and of course, W. E. B. Du Bois himself.

“I’m interested in student protests, civil rights, and the role of universities and protest in social and cultural change,” said Frederick. “There are a lot of things centered on Du Bois here [at UMass]; I’ve never heard of an educational space to tailor its mission to fit the philosophy of a person. I wanted to pursue that as a research topic.”

According to her findings, that philosophy promotes a surprisingly direct link between education and Frederick’s current fields of study.

“I never realized how much Du Bois championed the connection between education and social justice,” Frederick said. “Reading his correspondence and publications, I see an inherent connection between education as social and racial uplift for black people in America and the role universities play in that mission and in social justice.”

As far as disseminating her research to the public, Frederick said that she hopes people will realize that education in and of itself is a national treasure.

 “Knowledge is power,” she affirmed. “Period. End of sentence.”

 

Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community. For application information, please follow this link.

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: E. Howard Ashford

E Howard Ashford

Du Bois and the Southern Experience

For E. Howard Ashford, research begins with one rule: “Study the condition of the people before you assume what the condition was.”

This tenet has guided him since he began studying history in earnest at age 11, when a school ancestry project piqued his curiosity about his family.

“I was intrigued as to how they lived under historical eras – slavery, Jim Crow – and it ballooned to me uncovering the history of the area of Mississippi in which I lived,” Ashford explained. “I researched and found that the records pertaining to black people did not fit with the narrative we were taught in school.”

What began as a self-professed hobby of historical scholarship ultimately led Ashford to three Master’s degrees and his current pursuit of a dual doctorate – part of which is in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“The Department of Afro-American Studies is heavily linked to the group here,” Ashford said of the Du Bois Center. “It is important for the department and students to be active supporters of what’s going on here.”

Ashford recalled some early visits to the Center with a class last spring, where his findings brought him full-circle.

“I was not aware that Du Bois had much contact with my state of Mississippi,” he recalled. “He was actively looking for statistics and data on black schools and voting in the early/late ’20s; it shows that he really did believe in learning what everyday people were experiencing… and it affirmed my own research that Du Bois didn’t assume about the South and black experience in the South; he wanted evidence to support what he wrote.”

Ashford is now analyzing this evidence – Du Bois’s documentation of both the historical and contemporary South – for a comparative study of the former Confederacy states in the 19th and 20th centuries, Understanding the Southern Experience: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Southern Investigation.

For Ashford, the discovery that he and Du Bois have adhered to the same research standards is both validating and motivational.

“Du Bois was trying to understand exactly the conditions before he wrote anything on the South,” said Ashford. “I found that inspiring as opposed to assumption research.”

 

Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community. For application information, please follow this link.

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Charisse Burden-Stelly

Charisse Burden Stelly 2

Radical Du Bois

Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Associate Charisse Burden-Stelly knows that for many, familiarity with W. E. B. Du Bois begins and ends with The Souls of Black Folk.

“He wrote a letter in the 1930s where he said people seem to think that he stopped contributing to the intellectual ethos in 1915,” Burden-Stelly said. “People think that The Souls of Black Folk is his most important or his seminal text, but he was writing for sixty years after that.”

For Burden-Stelly, it is Du Bois’s later, more radical scholarship that provides the basis for her manuscript, The Radical Horizon of Black Betrayal: Toward a Theory of Antiradical/Antiblack Subjacency.

“I began studying the Cold War, McCarthyism, Marxism, structural critique, and Black Studies when it was institutionalized,” she explained. “I’m looking at anti-Marxism and anti-structuralism, and the connections between antiblack and antiradicalism and the way the two technologies use interacting forms of repression.”

Having taught “The Multidisciplinary Works of W. E. B. Du Bois,” a 2014 introductory writing course at Berkeley, Burden-Stelly was already familiar with Du Bois’s scholarship post-Black Reconstruction.

 “[The Cold War Period] is often erased from Du Bois’s life, or not mentioned as much,” Burden-Stelly said. She also noted that for Du Bois, “joining the Communist Party was not an aberration; it was the logical development of his ideology, which had been moving left since at least 1935, and it was a really important era of his life.”

As such, Burden-Stelly immediately recognized the value in working in the Du Bois Center. “I saw the fellowship as a great opportunity to get into the archives. They are digitized, but there is a lot that is not online, and I knew the materials here could help with primary research for my manuscript.”

Although she initially came specifically for the Du Bois papers, Burden-Stelly has found generative content in the Center’s related collections, including the papers of Bernard Jaffe, Du Bois’s lawyer after his indictment in 1951, and the leftist interviews done by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Du Bois, David Levering Lewis.

“I didn’t know they were here,” Burden-Stelly said. “A colleague was using them and pointed them out to me. They’ve been very helpful.”

She hopes that this content and her manuscript will inspire people to look beyond Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk era and realize how strong his influences have been in shaping social activism. “He lived so long and did so much. You can learn about the black radical movements if you study him, his interactions, and his affiliations.”

 

Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community. For application information, please follow this link.

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Gaidi Faraj

Gaidi Faraj

“’The attempt of a stranger to sum up in a half hour the experience which another has spent 80 years in accumulating is invariably a mess which neither likes.’”

          To Benjamin A. Brown, December 2, 1949; microfilm reel no. 63, frame no. 1122;

                    W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

 

Although W. E. B. Du Bois made clear his opinion on interviews, we nevertheless could not miss the opportunity to sit down with some of the Visiting Scholars and Graduate Student Fellows as they delved into their research in the Du Bois Center at the UMass Amherst Libraries.

 

Gaidi Faraj: Du Bois and Black Power

“I first learned about Du Bois as an undergraduate sociology major,” said Gaidi Faraj, an independent Visiting Scholar with a PhD in African American Studies from the University of California Berkeley. “I have always been fascinated by his range of scholarship and how he was able to write about all different subjects, including history, politics, and economy.”

Faraj’s project, Unearthing the Underground: A Study of Radical Activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, is a timely manuscript-length revision of his dissertation. “My work is on the underground and extralegal protest tactics of the Black Power Movement, and the contemporary rise of social activism that hearkens back to the same issues,” he explained. “I thought it was a good time to work on revising it into a manuscript, and I came here to do research for the revisions.”

In Unearthing the Underground, Faraj examines “the radical elements of the Black Power Movement,” as well as a continuum of social and political activism addressed in Du Bois’s works on the role of self-defense and armed resistance.

For Faraj, the Du Bois Fellowship has been instrumental in advancing his project. “When you do online research, you have easy access that makes people forget about the value of going through archives and how archives could lead you in directions you never thought about.”

With the support of the Special Collections and University Archives, he was able to access the trial transcripts and personal papers of United Freedom Front co-founder Raymond Luc Levasseur.

“The Levasseur trial transcripts and personal papers – letters and correspondence of his time in prison and other miscellaneous literature he collected – led me to the letters of several other activists and political prisoners I wouldn’t know about otherwise, such as Stanley Bond,” Faraj said. “My work is about understanding the political motivation for people to take up arms and participate in extralegal activities. Looking at their personal papers and seeing what they write to their wives, children, etc. is interesting to see how they justify their actions…it gives a personal look inside their minds.”

 

Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community. For application information, please follow this link.

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