When Slaves Go on Strike: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction 80 Years Later

When Slaves Go on Strike: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction 80 Years Later – Du Bois’s insistence on black people as a revolutionary proletariat during the Civil War pointed to a glaring hole in both Marxist theories surrounding slavery and the more general study of African Americans by professional academics. Yet even as he bemoaned the neglect of black people within the intellectual annals of modernity, Du Bois paradoxically worked outward from a deep grounding in German Romanticism, classic liberalism, and traditional political theory. As a seminal figure in what Columbia University Professor Robert Gooding-Williams has since branded “Afro-Modern Political Thought,” Du Bois’s general strike thesis continues to cast a long shadow over contemporary historiography and black intellectuals alike. It also represents a place where Du Bois’s often-bemoaned elitism seems to fizzle away into oblivion. Eighty years later lessons still abound in Black Reconstruction. This is true not only for scholars working on postemancipation America, but for today’s diverse cohort of intellectual historians who are constantly at risk of ignoring the next Du Bois in their midst.

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