Thursday 10 June 2010

W E B Du Bois on Benjamin Franklin

The Story of Benjamin Franklin by W E B Du Bois is little-known and generally regarded as little more than a curiosity. Published by the rather grand-sounding Secretariat of the World Council of Peace, Vienna during 1956, the work contains no original research by Du Bois , but in his Foreword he comments "My chief sources of information have been the celebrated Franklin `autobiography`, the monumental work by Carl van Doren, and the shorter work by Samuel Morse. My own social studies in Philadelphia and New England have given me some personal knowledge of Franklin`s environment."

The circumstances surrounding the publication are explained in the Preface;

"The 250th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin has been celebrated by the whole world.
The World Council of Peace included this anniversary among the great cultural anniversaries to be celebrated in 1956.
The choice was made to enable the peace movement to associate itself with the commemoration of a man who, by his own unaided efforts, became his country`s greatest journalist, a scientist of world renown who paved the way for all modern research on electricity, and a great citizen who worked for his country`s independence and strove to win it through negotiation."

Among other observations, the Preface notes that ;

"The end of his life was the culminating point in the ascending  development of a man who, from being a slave dealer became an opponent of slavery, from being a colonialist ended by drawing up his country`s Declaration of Independence." 

Shirley Graham Du Bois in His Day is Marching On ; A Memoir of W E B Du Bois, also comments on the circumstances surrounding publication of the booklet ; 

"Since 1951 Du Bois had received many invitations from abroad which the State Department had prevented him from accepting, never, however, for any occasion in which he was so deeply, and over so many years involved*. When he was invited to the People`s Republic of China to participate in the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin (an anniversary scarcely noted in the United States), he had met the passport refusal by writing a small, beautifully illustrated book on Benjamin Franklin and sending it to China. He had countered the State Department`s refusal to return his passport so that he could attend a World Festival of Youth and Students by publishing a scathing article in the National Guardian in which he quoted from his letter to the Passport Office : "My beliefs are none of your business. I repeat my demand for a passport in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the land, and the decision of the Courts."  

I am not so sure that I would have used the phrase "beautifully illustrated"(as distinct from just "illustrated"), but then again I`m not given to hyperbole ! It is a nice enough little booklet and I am quite proud of my copy. For the moment I won`t pen a review as I think the background story is interesting in it`s own right. We may return to this booklet in the fullness of time however.

* Here she refers to the rejection of passport applications by Mr and Mrs Du Bois, applications made in order to attend Ghana`s Independence Ceremony during March 1957. Shirley also quotes an editorial in the Accra Evening News, which pointed out the contradiction in the fact the "America is the very first nation outside the Commonwealth to establish full diplomatic relations with free Ghana" but had denied a passport to Dr Du Bois "to see the historic birth of Ghana" and commented "That the position remained unchanged after our Prime Minister`s personal intervention is the first serious slap in the face of Pan-Africanism since our emergence to Independence." (Evening News, Accra, Ghana, 13 March 1957).