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