ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
My heart has been measured a dozen times; my blood tested, my blood pressure taken
and I have been poked inside and out. We had planned to go to Ghana as guest, but
my physician assembled and said “Sorry,” but we cannot release you yet.
Books by and about W.E.B. Du Bois
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Shirley Graham Du Bois, His Day Is Marching On: A Memoir of W.E. B. Du Bois (1971)
Leslie Alexander Lacy. The Life of W.E.B. Du Bois: Cheer the Lonesome Traveler (1970)
Edited and Introduced by Brian Johnson. New York Altamira Press (A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.), 2005
David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Dubois: Biography of a Race
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W.E.B. Du Bois’ Letter
to His Daughter Yolande D. Williams
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) wrote the letter below to his daughter, Yolande Du Bois Williams (1902-1961). After a celebrated wedding but brief marriage to the poet Countee Cullen, Yolande spent a thirty-five year career in Baltimore, Maryland, teaching history and English and directing the drama club at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, one of the black public high schools in the city. Yolande’s second marriage to Arnett Williams, produced one daughter, Du Bois Williams.
Moscow, December 10, 1958
I know you have said some nice things about me and my letter writing since August 8. Well, I have been busy, sick, well, and moving over half the earth. I knew of course that a journey like this was a risk at my age, but after all at ninety anything is a risk and I decided that just to sit home and wait for death was no greater risk than traveling among friends and well-wishers.
Of course I made the initial error of doing too much: two lectures and two broadcasts in England which laid me low with a vicious attack of “gastro-eneritis” whatever that may be, and Shirley [Graham] was scared stiff. But we were in Paul Robeson’s apartment (he was absent in Russia) and the British social medicine certainly did its stuff. the best of care and no charge. I came out apparently none the worse for the wear. I had to miss Belgium but we went to Holland where we had adventures with broadcasts, lectures, and a reception.
Then by train to Paris just at election time. “France I hardly knew you.” But despite the terror, I attended the Juliot-Curie memorial and sat on the red-draped rostrum at the right hand of the presiding chairman, Thorez. I sat long in the Luxemburg gardens and rode along the Champs Elysees and the Bois. of course a half day in the Louvre. Then election Sunday I spent at a lovely chateau outside Paris, so peaceful and lovely with French and American friends.
Then came a cablegram. We must fly to Tashkent, to a meeting of African and Asiatic authors; expenses paid, etc. Where was Tashkent? Somewhere south of Moscow. We flew by jet plane and found Tashkent only hundreds of miles south but also as far east of Moscow as Los Angeles is of New York! We were in central Asia, near Xanadu “Where Kublai Khan, a stately palace built!” We were honored guests, housed in a new and beautiful hotel, with servants and a personal interpreter, car, and chauffeur. I was elected to the presidium and made a speech. We were entertained by Indians, Chinese, Africans, and Russians and then wisked back to Moscow and then to Prague where we were guests of the Czechoslovakian Government. Again a hotel suite, car, and chauffeur and the most gorgeous honors ever bestowed on me.
Charles University of Prague was founded in 1348!! The great Hall of ceremonies has been restored with great arches and tiers of seats. The Rector and Faculty in caps, gowns, and golden chains, were led by six richly caparisoned trumpeters with long gilt trumpets, sounded the ancient alarums as we marched in, I coming last with my official interpreter trailing behind.
Shirley, Elizabeth Moos, the Sterns and several hundred visitors (including a group from the American Embassy), sat in the seats at the side. We marched to the high rostrum, where the Rector nominated me “Scientiate Historiae Doctor, Honoris Causa” I promised in Latin to obey their regulations. Then I made a speech in English and the trumpets blared forth in a great music which seemed vaguely familiar. It was nearly finished before I realized that they were playing “Star-spangled Banner” for the first American so honored in a century. Then we all marched out, I leading the way.
After two weeks in Prague with five days at Karlsbad baths, we went to the German Democratic Republic where 66 years ago I attended the University of Berlin. It looks for all the world as it did then; but its name is changed to Humboldt University, dropping the name of the old king Frederick William. Here again in a quiet and solemn ceremony, with Bach instead of fanfare, I received the doctorate in sociology which I had coveted in1894, but was not permitted to take the examination because the Germans did not then recognize my study at Harvard a part of German university requirements! I spent Sunday with Stephen Heyn and Stephan Sweig was at the ceremony.
By this time as you may suspect, I was again good and sick with a badly inflamed bladder. We flew to Moscow and I was on Red Square at the great celebration with half a million spectators. A gaily uniformed major escorted me, Shirley and our official interpreter, from the Square to the hotel and on the way he stopped and saluted Khruschev, and Khruschev raised his hat to me. That night we attended a reception at the Kremlin, met the Government, and I talked alone with Khruschev.
Next day I went in my auto with Shirley to a sanitarium and here I am. It is a great solemn place with tall pines and snow. We have servants for every wish and all are as kind as can be. I have been here a month and have had every probe and test possible.
My heart has been measured a dozen times; my blood tested, my blood pressure taken and I have been poked inside and out. We had planned to go to Ghana as guest, but my physician assembled and said “Sorry,” but we cannot release you yet. So off went Shirley to Africa as guest of the Soviet Embassy with my speech in her pocket. I felt pretty low, but I told her of course she must go. My interpreter comes out every other day and a young veteran is stationed at my call permanently.
I am not exactly happy for the food is horrible to western taste being unseasoned but it’s pure and nourishing and today I go off medicine. Shirley will probably return next Sunday or Monday. Meantime I am growing in strength and the doctors agree that I am in fine shape.
By the way 60% of the physicians and specialists are women. They are very pleasant but sometimes the situations are embarrassing: “Remove your pants” said a woman physician to my friend Albert Kahn. “May I keep on my socks?” he asked. She said yes and saw no joke. In my case 3 nurses appeared to give me my hot bath at night. Shirley persuaded them to let her do it, tho they consented with doubts. When she left for Africa I surrendered and now get washed thoroughly and tucked in bed each night by one or more indifferent nurses. They come and put on my boots for my daily walks and a masseur gives me the most thorough going over each day that I ever had.
Well, I go back to Moscow for a month’s visit and then to China where we are invited to be the guests of the state. We plan to get back home in may or June.
I hope you’re well and keeping in good feeling. Let Du Bois [his granddaughter] read this if you can. Kiss her and the boy. Tell her not to think of France — it’s France, “but living France no more!” Prejudice and meanness have crept in. Greet Arthur the husband and to you all my love!
Word has just come from Shirley; she read my speech to the Congress at Accra on Friday, to great applause. Pravada, the official daily in Moscow sent a car out last night to get a copy of the speech and the radio mentioned it. I’m hoping Shirley will return by Monday or Tuesday. Did I say we have a movie each night, in great upholstered fauteuils? Also there is a radio and TV in my bedroom!
Good-bye and love again!
Source: The Journal of Negro History, Volume LXXVIII, No. 3, Summer 1993.
photo above right: Yolande D. Williams
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W. E. B. Du Bois, Nina, and Yolande in Morgan Park (Baltimore)
One obvious reason for this seclusion [of Morgan Park] was the initial hostility of nearby white residents, who in 1917 and ’18 argued in court and before the Maryland General Assembly that the presence of a “Negro colony” would hurt their property values. Led by a forthrightly racist lawyer named Edgar Allan Poe, the opponents were defeated in several attempts
to block the new development, and lots went on sale in August 1918. It is perhaps a testament to the slow growth of Baltimore’s black middle class that the construction of homes in Morgan Park continued for the next 75 years. As a result, a drive through the neighborhood offers a pretty good survey of 20th-century suburban housing styleseverything from Coolidge-administration bungalows to flat-topped modernist ranchers.
Morgan Park’s cozy isolation was certainly a major attraction for the neighborhood’s most illustrious resident, William Edward Burghardt DuBois, whose custom-built house, DuBois Cottage, still stands at 2302 Montebello Terrace. It is not a widely known fact that W.E.B. DuBois, one of the towering figures of African-American history, lived in Northeast Baltimore for almost a decade1939 to 1948but this, again, is no accident.
DuBois had made his entrance on the national stage decades earlier. . . . By 1939, DuBois was an international figure who desired privacy and, because he spent much of his life on the road, security for his family. The house on Montebello Terrace was at first occupied by DuBois and his wife, Nina; later, his daughter Yolande Williams (a Baltimore schoolteacher) and granddaughter DuBois Williams joined the household. DuBois himself seems to have been only slightly engaged with Baltimore society, despite the city’s politically active African-American community and pantheon of civil-rights heroes. His autobiography, which focuses on his professional career, mentions neither Baltimore nor Morgan Park. He left town after the death of his wife in 1948 and grew increasingly alienated from the stubbornly racist United States. He died, self-exiled in Ghana, in 1963. . . . :
DuBois’ daughter Yolande Williams was . . . . [a] ninth-grade social studies teacher at Dunbar High School . . .CityPaper
photo left Yolande DuBois
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Civil rights leader, sociologist, and writer William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is largely associated with Philadelphia because of his landmark work of social research on the city’s poor African Americans; with Massachusetts, where he was born and where he attended Harvard University; and with Ghana, the country to which he exiled himself late in his life. However, he and his wife Nina, whom he married in 1896, spent at least a decade in Baltimore, and his daughter, Nina Yolande Du Bois Cullen Williams-whose first husband was poet Countee Cullen-lived in Baltimore and taught in Baltimore City schools, including Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. His granddaughter, Yolande Du Bois Williams, also lived here. Du Bois had a house built for his family in the Morgan Park neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore.
W.E.B. Du Bois lived at 2302 Montebello Terrace in the Morgan Park section of Northeast Baltimore. The neighborhood borders on Gardenville and is close to Morgan State University. Yolande Du Bois Cullen Williams lived in Baltimore and taught in Baltimore City schools, including Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, now located at 1400 Orleans Street. (umor has it that Du Bois sometimes dropped by the school and visited the classroom of his daughter.BaltimoreAuthors
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We do know this much about his life here: He and his first wife Nina came to Baltimore in 1939 and lived with their daughter, Yolande, a city school teacher, and her husband, Arnette Williams. The Du Boises lived the first 10 years or so at 2302 Montebello Terrace, near Cold Spring Lane in Morgan Park. The Williamses had to add an extra room to accommodate DuBois’ vast collection of books. Nina DuBois died in 1950. Her Sun obituary said she died “in the home of her daughter, Mrs. Yolande Williams, at 2417 Pulaski Street.” (Her funeral was June 28 at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Caroline and Eager.) In 1951, DuBois married Shirley Graham, a prominent writer.
The Du Boises were then listed in the telephone directory at 2417 Pulaski, but there was no listing for the couple after 1956. In 1957, they moved to Ghana, where Du Bois renounced his U.S. citizenship. . . . Retired from the State Department, Arnette Williams, Du Bois’ son-in-law, lives in Cross Keys. “He was always prompt,” Mr. Williams recalls. “Whenever he had a speaking engagement, and I remember that he spoke occasionally at the Bethel church on Druid Hill Avenue, he’d always arrive early. But he’d leave early, too. He did not like to stand around and make small talk.”
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[Countee] Cullen dedicated Copper Sun to Yolande Du Bois, daughter of famous National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founder and scholar W. E. B. Du Bois. Introduced to Yolande in the summer of 1923, Cullen’s courtship greatly pleased her father. But despite her prestigious social position, Yolande was, according to historian David Levering Lewis, “a kind” yet “plain woman of modest intellectual endowment,” who, as it was well known among Harlem circles, was infatuated with jazz band leader Jimmie Lunceford. Nevertheless, Yolande and Cullen were married by Reverend Cullen on April 9, 1928, in the Salem Methodist Church. The ceremony became a grand showing of African-American wealth and talent from around the country. Among the ushers were the famous black poets Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes.
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[Countee] Cullen‘s Guggenheim Fellowship of 1928 enabled him to study and write abroad. He married in April 1928 Nina Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W. E. B. DuBois, the leading black intellectual. At that time Yolande was involved romantically with a popular band leader. Between the years 1928 and 1934, Cullen travelled back and forth between France and the United States. By 1929 Cullen had published four volumes of poetry. The title poem of The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929) was criticized for the use of Christian religious imageryCullen compared the lynching of a black man to Christ’s crucifixion.
Cullen married Yolanda Du Bois in 1928. The marriage was the social event of the decade, but the marriage did not fair well, and he divorced in 1930. It is widely said that Cullen was a homosexual, and his relationship with Harold Jackman’s was a significant factor in the divorce. Jackman was a a teacher whom the writer Carl Van Vechten had used as model in his novel Nigger Heaven (1926). In 1940 Cullen married Ida Mae Robertson; they had known each other for ten years.Wikipedia
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 30 April 2011