Campus & Community

Du Bois letters come to Houghton:

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Previously unknown letters cover topics ranging from family to politics to sociological issues

Previously unknown letters written by W.E.B Du Bois (A.B. 1890, A.M. 1891, Ph.D. 1895) – the influential African-American scholar and leader of the early 20th century African-American protest movement – and his wife Shirley Graham Du Bois, an author and teacher, have been jointly acquired by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute and Houghton Library. The letters, written to the leftist writer, teacher, and world traveler Anna Melissa Graves, cover topics ranging from family to politics to sociological issues.

The acquisition includes 16 typescript, signed letters from Du Bois, eight from his wife, and three postcards from both. Spanning between 1953 and 1961, the correspondence explores the couple’s views on socialism, the United Nations, desegregation in the American South, Stalin, the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs, communism in the Soviet Union, and their own works in progress.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, brought the letters, which were being offered by a private dealer, to the attention of Leslie Morris, curator of manuscripts in the Harvard College Library. Gates and Morris worked together to acquire the letters for Harvard. Housed in Houghton Library, the letters are currently available to scholars and are described in the HOLLIS online catalog.

“We were delighted last year to acquire the papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, Dr. Du Bois’ second wife, with the Schlesinger Library. It is only appropriate that this great son of Harvard is represented in our manuscript collection,” Gates said. “These are the first papers we have acquired by Du Bois since his student days at Harvard from 1888 to 1895. This is quite thrilling, and we hope to acquire other Du Bois materials in the future,” he added.

The Du Bois letters are the latest in a series of joint acquisitions between the institute and Houghton Library. An exhibition featuring the Du Bois letters and items from other joint acquisitions, including the papers of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, John Wideman, and Albert Murray, is being planned for this September at Houghton Library.