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African American author, educator, and politic...

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 In the role of historian W.E.B. Dubois, in his 1935 monograph Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, began his analysis of the post-Civil War reconstruction period by linking the personal “attitude” of individuals with “theories” about Black Americans. He ended this massive volume (more than 700 pages) with the chapter entitled, “The Propaganda of History.” This statement could have easily been positioned as an introduction, because it is here that DuBois more fully elucidates the political uses of the discipline of history, thus giving rise to his own revisionist history of the reconstruction period. In doing so DuBois critiqued the whole of the discipline noting that, history “… paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.”[1] He described his work as, “…an arraignment of American historians and an indictment of their ideals.”[2] He reviews the practitioners of history, particularly those on the Reconstruction, including Rhodes, Burgess and Dunning by carefully detailing the training and education of these individuals, in addition to their political leanings. For DuBois political uses of racism produced a climate in the discipline of history (which was reflective of society at large) that perpetuated inferiority themes of Blacks as a nation. Not only were Blacks generally perceived as an ignorant and disreputable people, Black scholarship was disregarded, Black graduate students were virtually nonexistent because of racial segregation in higher education; white scholars “sympathetic” to Blacks and their history were alienated and marginalized, and the lives of poor whites during the Reconstruction was systematically ignored. DuBois’ analysis of the discipline of history was centered on his discussion of the uses of propaganda. As his main premise, DuBois asserted that the goal of history was to offer the truth. The nature of the propaganda was how racism impacted the discipline of history. According to DuBois, historians were people who promoted ideas they wanted people to purchase—primarily the attitudes and beliefs about Blacks emanating from the period of slavery. In this analysis, propaganda covers up the truth by stereotyping people and by continuing to serve as a tool of domination. In the process of advancing propaganda people are conditioned to believe the lies of history. DuBois went on to identify and distinguish between propaganda and attitude. The latter would approach the writing of African American history as an objective form of scholarship, but at the same time, demonstrate some appreciation for the subject matter.

Dr. Katherine Bankole-Medina

[1] W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, 1935. New York: The Free Press, 1998, p. 722.

[2] W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, 1935. New York: The Free Press, 1998, p. 725.