This year, the end of the 53rd Black History Month coincides with the 155th birthday of W. E. B. Du Bois–one of the most influential thinkers of the last century, whose ideas enter into every conversation about race in this country, whether the participants know it or not. This year also marks the 120th anniversary of the publication of one of his most well-known works, The Souls of Black Folk. In April, Rutgers University Press will publish the first-ever graphic version of this crucial book, making it accessible to yet another generation of political activists. We are pleased to present here one illustration and introduction from Paul Buhle, its co-editor . The book was made possible in part by a grant from the DSA Fund and can be pre-ordered here– Eds.
“Long before the rulers and leaders of thought in the United States grasped the essentials of the world in which they lived, Dr. Du Bois did, and to look upon him just as a great leader or a true son of Africa is to diminish their conceptions and mitigate the impact of one of the great citizens of the modern world.” C.L.R. James
The very subject of W.E.B. Du Bois is so large, and has expanded so greatly in recent years of scholarship and journalism, that no discussion of his first popular book, The Souls of Black Folks, can be free from the rest of the conversation. If there were nothing else, the famed two-word phrase “double consciousness” is today never out of the news, and it can be found in these pages. For the last few years in particular, that tragic and controversy-raising historical date “1619” immediately calls Du Bois back into the room, and raises doubts about whether he ever departed.
All that said, the adaptation of Souls above, in what may be described as a fusion of comic art and illustration, is itself startlingly new. Seen clearly, it throws light upon not only upon Du Bois’ singular book as well as its author, but on the larger meanings and impacts of Du Bois upon modern society, whether black, white, brown or yellow, US and otherwise.
Excerpted from W. E. B. Du Bois Souls of Black Folk, A Graphic Interpretation by Paul Buhle, Paul Peart-Smith, and Herb Boyd, to be published April 14, 2023, by Rutgers University Press. Copyright © 2023 by Paul Buhle and Paul Peart-Smith. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
The Souls of Black Folk
By (artist) Paul Peart-Smith
PAUL PEART-SMITH, an artist of Afro-Caribbean and British background, has been working in the comics industry since the early 1990s, when he worked on Judge Dredd. Co-curator of the comics exhibition Black Power, he now lives in Tasmania.
PAUL BUHLE has been a key creative force in the development of comics for more than fifty years, publishing one of the first alternative comics, as well as editing graphic novels on subjects ranging from the Wobblies to Che Guevara. He is the coeditor of Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson (Rutgers University Press).
HERB BOYD is a veteran journalist of African American life and culture, working frequently with artists.