The heroic work of Martin Luther King, commemorated increasingly sporadically and superficially with a federal holiday on the anniversary of his birth, is historically and inextricably bonded to the heroic work of another American prophet, one who still remains largely without honor in the land of his birth. 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.E.B. DuBois, and next to nothing is being done nationally to commemorate this pioneering giant of the modern civil-rights and peace movements.
2018 also makes the 50th anniversary of the assassination of King, a watershed moment that opened the floodgates of unimpeded militarism, steadily leading to the endless wars and mindless threats of nuclear war today.
Both American prophets, DuBois and King, were leading voices of peace within the belly of a potent militaristic beast, and both paid the price for relentlessly and courageously speaking liberating truth to repressive power.
In his impassioned and inspired indictment of the Vietnam War and US militarism as well as capitalism and racism delivered at Riverside Church in NYC in 1967, King passionately called for a "true revolution of values" and warned - as if to clearly foresee the advent of a Trump regime - that "if we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion; might without morality; and strength without sight". One year later to the day, MLK was murdered.
The attempted murder and permanent silencing of DuBois took another form. As an octogenarian, DuBois, the Director of the NYC-based Peace Information Center, was indicted in 1951 by the federal government for allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent at a time when promoting the abolition of nuclear weapons, as DuBois so effectively did with the anti-nuke Stockholm Peace Appeal, was functionally equated with treason and sedition. A conviction, which undoubtedly would have resulted in his death behind bars, was avoided through mass mobilization of peace forces in his defense. Nevertheless, what was not accomplished physically was achieved through character assassination. DuBois, like his close associate Paul Robeson, was disappeared from the American scene during McCarthyism by the prevailing forces of militarism and massive war propaganda. First lauded as a "venerable and distinguished leader" , his name was totally deleted from subsequent editions of popular books like "Inside the USA", and all progressive organizations with which he worked were shut down. From 1952 until 1958, he was not permitted to leave the USA; even his attempt to travel to a peace conference in Canada during this bitter time resulted in his immediate deportation. In the midst of his confinement, he nevertheless repeatedly voiced, as best he could, his opposition to war, especially nuclear war, and his commitment to peace, as illustrated in this message to the 1955 World Peace Council meeting in Helsinki: "A number of Americans are painfully aware of the role that this nation is playing as a warmonger. We are bitterly opposed to it and are doing everything in our power to stem this tide, but we are at present largely powerless because the nation is under the control of the army and big industrial organizations." In 1961, he left the land of his birth and spent his last years in the newly liberated Ghana.
DuBois died in Africa on the very eve of the dramatic speech by MLK in America at the steps of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in 1963. The torch had been passed. Where is it shining today?
Written Jan. 8, 2018, by Werner Lange, author of "A Voice in the Wilderness: W.E.B. DuBois on Peace" Lambert Academic Publishing, 2013.