Today, I took some time to do a little tourism. One place I really wanted to visit was the Ghana home and burial place of W.E.B. DuBois. So this morning I went out there. The home is located right across the street from the American Embassy, though as a matter of fact I know from my earlier visit to Ghana that the American Embassy in Accra was only recently relocated to this neighborhood (after our downtown embassies in Tanzania and Kenya got blown up by Al Quaeda) and so it is not like DuBois wanted to be close to the Americans. In fact, he came to Ghana to get away from Americans.
Anyway, here’s the exterior of the house with a nice bust of DuBois.
So I went inside, where a nice young woman welcomed me, charged me 7 cedis (not quite 2 bucks) for entry, and gave me a detailed tour of the house. They don’t have a huge amount of stuff in the museum, mostly gifts he received while he was here, a few household things, some of his papers, but what they do have that is of great interest to a scholar is his personal library. Nothing helps to understand how someone thinks better than looking at the books they read. They let me look but not touch. I found this book in his shelves very interesting.
The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of the Races by Arthur Gobineau, published in French in 1855, is today considered the founding work of scientific racism of the late 19th and early 20th century. DuBois had quite a few other titles that came from that unreconstructed racist perspective. Not surprising, since he spent much of his career as a scholar attacking the assumptions of the scientific racists, but it is interesting that he still had this book in 1961 when he moved to Ghana and he decided to take it with him. He must have thought that Gobineau was still relevant to the conversation about race relations at that time so he should have his work on hand for easier refutation.
DuBois, for those who haven’t heard much about him, was a black intellectual, among the first African-Americans to be awarded the Ph.D., from Harvard in 1895. He was a historian, and his seminal work, Black Reconstruction is still read today for its insights into the reactions and attitudes of black Americans after the Civil War. He also was a founding member of the NAACP, and edited its journal, Crisis, from 1909 until 1934. He published the work of many rising young black authors including Langston Hughes. His columns in Crisis were collected and reprinted as Souls of Black Folk, also still read by, among others, my students at Mount Angel. He was a strong believer in integration and racial harmony in the US for most of his life, opposing Marcus Garvey’s “back to Africa” movement in the 1920s and other black nationalists going forward. As he grew older, though, the appeal of Africa grew. The first sub-Saharan country to gain its independence was Ghana, in 1957, and the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, was a pan-Africanist who wanted to build links with Africans around the Atlantic world and throughout Africa. Nkrumah invited DuBois to come to Ghana to head up a project to collect all knowledge about Africa and the African diaspora in one place, an encyclopedia of Africa. This somewhat anachronistic Enlightenment project appealed to DuBois, and so at the age of 90 he moved to Ghana. The US government had refused him a passport because he was a commie (in fact, he was a socialist, and sympathetic to third-world socialists like Nkrumah, but never a member of the Communist Party or any other radical group). But his anti-nuclear activism got him in trouble – the Justice Department indicted him on a technical violation of neutrality laws, couldn’t get a conviction, but refused to let him have his passport back. So, he took Ghanaian citizenship, renounced his US citizenship, and moved to Ghana.
Nkrumah gave him a nice house and a lot of respect, and when he died he got a state funeral. He is buried in a mausoleum behind the house:
I teared up. Quite a guy.
After that, I went down to Osu, the shopping district, and had lunch. Lebanese again, but this time I didn’t eat the fresh vegetables. As I was leaving, I spotted this sign, kind of gets to the atmosphere of the neighborhood:
Kind of like the Caveat Emptorium in Gone With The Wind, you wonder if somebody didn’t catch the deeper meaning of an expression before allowing it to be painted on their sign.