Your SlideShare is downloading. ×
WEB Du Bois, Encyclopedia Africana and
Nelson Mandela
Henry Louis Gates Jr
WEB Du Bois: Intellectual prodigy
In 1909, WEB ...
to shame Rutherford B Hayes and the Fund and they ultimately relented,
mainly to get this little Negro out of the way. And...
for the Encyclopedia Africana project. That person, as you might have
guessed, was President Eliot of Harvard. Eliot state...
Du Bois and Anson Phelps Stokes
However, an important development had taken place in 1931. A wealthy
white man in New York...
WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA
5
Du Bois, but you have to speak honestly even about those you love....
T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A
6
The phone that never rang
WEB Du Bois needed US$250,000 to compile a two-million-w...
WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA
7
so Logan walked into Du Bois’ office in Harlem at the appointed ti...
black college in Pennsylvania. He had also chaired a platform with Du Bois in
1945 at the Pan African Congress in England....
institutions if you were black. If I had written a letter to Yale from my home
in Piedmont, West Virginia, they would just...
go to Med School or Law School. I always loved literature. It was like a
vocation. I remember the thrill of reading James ...
WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA
11
The pitch to my ‘long-lost cousin’
After I received my PhD from C...
Don’t mess with Frank…
The birth of an African encyclopedia
But still we heard nothing from Microsoft. And then an African...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5
×

The Meaning of Mandela -WEB Du Bois, Encyclopedia Africana and Nelson Mandela by Henry Louis Gates Jr

196

Published on

The Meaning of Mandela -WEB Du Bois, Encyclopedia Africana and Nelson Mandela by Henry Louis Gates Jr
Andrew Williams Jr
http://univermind.com
Email: aj@trn.tv
Mobile: +1-424-222-1997
Skype: andrew.williams.jr
http://twitter.com/AWilliamsJr
http://xeeme.com/AmbassadorAWJ
https://www.facebook.com/FAUBermuda
http://www.yatedo.com/andrewwilliamsjr
http://www.slideshare.net/andrewwilliamsjr
http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewwilliamsjr
http://www.facebook.com/ajactionteam
http://www.facebook.com/ambassadorawj
http://www.facebook.com/andrewwilliamsjr
http://www.facebook.com/AJGombeyBermuda

Published in: Education
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total Views
196
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
1
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Transcript of "The Meaning of Mandela -WEB Du Bois, Encyclopedia Africana and Nelson Mandela by Henry Louis Gates Jr"

  1. 1. WEB Du Bois, Encyclopedia Africana and Nelson Mandela Henry Louis Gates Jr WEB Du Bois: Intellectual prodigy In 1909, WEB Du Bois, the greatest black intellectual of all time, woke up one day and, seemingly out of the blue, announced that he had had a vision. The vision was that the most efficacious way to fight anti-black racism would be through a comprehensive encyclopedia about the entire black world. This would be the equivalent of a ‘Black Encyclopedia Britannica’. But Du Bois didn’t have any money, even though he was a star. Now why do I say Du Bois was a star? As a young boy, growing up in a small white town called Berkshire in western Massachusetts, Du Bois had a fantasy of going to Harvard. But there was a strict race quota on the number of black people who could matriculate at Harvard at the time. And so he went to the historically black college, Fisk University, in the American South. He became a star at Fisk and graduated in 1888. His professor recommended that he then go to Harvard. Following another two years of study, he received a second Bachelors Degree from Harvard in 1890. In 1891 Du Bois became the first person of African descent to take a Masters Degree from Harvard University, which he got in History. In 1892 he persuaded the Slater Fund, which was then headed by former US president Rutherford B Hayes, to send him to the University of Berlin. Why did Du Bois want to go to Berlin? He wanted desperately to study the emerging field of sociology , which at the time did not exist as a discipline in the American Academy. Intellectuals such as Max Weber invented sociology in Germany, and the University of Berlin was the leading institution in this regard. Forget Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale. Real scholars went to Germany. Du Bois had to beg, cajole, plead and threaten the Slater Fund to send him to the University of Berlin. The Slater Fund had been set up for the education of the children of slaves, but the fund only wanted to educate Negroes for vocational school, and not for intellection. Du Bois threatened 1 1 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 1 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  2. 2. to shame Rutherford B Hayes and the Fund and they ultimately relented, mainly to get this little Negro out of the way. And off he went to Germany. Du Bois didn’t want to be the father of African or African American studies. He wanted to be the father of American sociology. After two years, he completed his thesis but needed one more year to satisfy the residency requirements so that he could become the first person of African descent to get a PhD in Sociology at the University of Berlin. And, you know what? Rutherford B Hayes and the Slater Fund would not extend his fellowship. So, with great bitterness and the greatest reluctance, Du Bois returned to Harvard. WEB Du Bois thus became the first person of African descent to take a PhD – in any subject – at Harvard. His PhD was in History. In 1896 he undertook the first sociological study of an American city in the United States. The study was published in 1899 under the title The Philadelphia Negro. In 1900 Du Bois wrote a sentence that turned out to be (a) quite prophetic and (b) probably the most famous sentence in the 20th century. That sentence was, ‘The problem of the 20th century will be the problem of the colour line.’ In 1903 Du Bois published a book that became a classic virtually before the ink was dry. It became the ‘bible’ for black intellectuals then and remains the bible for black intellectuals today. It was titled The Souls of Black Folk. So you can see why I would say that by 1909 WEB Du Bois had become a star. But, as I said, he had no money. He had just enough money to print about 100 pieces of stationery announcing the project of his vision, which he called the Encyclopedia Africana. And on that stationery he wrote to many of the great scholars throughout the world, asking them to be on his Board of Editors. He wrote to Max Weber in Berlin, to Sir Harry Johnston at Oxford, and to JE Casely Hayford, who was in the Gold Coast at that time and had published Ethiopia Unbound, one of the first – if not the first – novel by an African in English in 1911. Du Bois also appealed to Edward Wilmot Blyden, the great Pan-Africanist and scholar of Islam in the African world. But he also wrote to some of his Harvard professors. He wrote, for instance, to William James, the father of American psychology, and with whom he had studied philosophy. He wrote to George Santayana, the philosopher with whom he had read the Critique of Pure Reason in an upper room in Harvard Yard. And he wrote to the president of Harvard himself, President Eliot. All of these people, save one, wrote back saying they would be honoured to be on his Board of Editors T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A 2 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 2 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  3. 3. for the Encyclopedia Africana project. That person, as you might have guessed, was President Eliot of Harvard. Eliot stated that he was much too busy trying to transform his boys’ finishing school, which is all that Harvard really was, into a cosmopolitan centre. Harvard was nothing but a school for rich white boys. Eliot, however, offered young Du Bois two bits of advice. He said, ‘First, do not ignore the significance of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa’, which, if you think about it now, is astonishing advice from the president of Harvard in 1909. ‘Second,’ Eliot further counselled, ‘don’t embark on this project unless you have the money.’ And that advice turned out to be just as prophetic. Du Bois enters the political domain In 1905, Du Bois founded an organisation – a political organisation – dedicated to opposing the policies of Booker T Washington, the most powerful black man in the United States at that time. While Du Bois saw the struggle as political as well as economic, Washington eschewed the political struggle for a focus on self-help. The movement Du Bois cofounded was the Niagra move- ment. By 1909 or 1910, the Niagra movement had metamorphosed into an organisation called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP. Most of us today think of the NAACP as an all-black organisation but Du Bois was the only black person in the executive of the NAACP when it was founded. It was a liberal organisation dedicated to stamping out oppression and racism and anti-Semitism, wherever those evils might be found. As one of the founders, Du Bois also became the Editor-in-Chief of the organisation’s official organ, Crisis magazine. He served brilliantly and admirably in that capacity until 1934, when he was fired from both the board of the NAACP and his position as editor of Crisis. He was fired because, in an essay called ‘The Field and Function of the Negro College’, Du Bois argued that since the goalposts of the Civil Rights movement appeared to be receding it would behoove the Negro to develop separate social, economic, political, cultural and education institutions until the goalposts of the Civil Rights movement seemed within reach. This ran counter to the ideology of the NAACP. Walter White, his nemesis on the NAACP board, latched onto that and got rid of Du Bois. WEB Du Bois and Walter White hated each other, and that is the only way you can put it. WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA 3 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 3 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  4. 4. Du Bois and Anson Phelps Stokes However, an important development had taken place in 1931. A wealthy white man in New York named Anson Phelps Stokes had founded his own foundation, which still exists to this day as the Phelps Stokes Fund.Anson Phelps Stokes went to bed one night minding his own business, then woke up the following day excited because he had had a dream. He hurried down the Upper East Side of New York and convened his staff. The vision he shared with them was that the most efficacious way to fight anti-black racism would be the editing of a comprehensive encyclopedia about the entire black world. And he called his encyclopedia the Encyclopedia of the Negro. Like Du Bois’ idea, it would be an encyclopedia about the Negro in the old world of Africa, the Negro in the new world in Latin America, in the Caribbean and in the United States. And so, on 21 November 1931, Phelps Stokes convened a meeting of the Board of Editors of this new encyclopedia in the Carnegie Library on the campus of Howard University. He invited all the ‘big Negroes’, as we used to say. But he didn’t invite Carter G Woodson, and he didn’t invite WEB Du Bois. Remember now that Woodson was the second person of African descent, after Du Bois, to take a PhD in History from Harvard. In 1926, Woodson had founded something he called Negro History Week, which became Negro History Month, and then in the 1960s became Black History Month, Afro-American History Month in the 1970s, and African American History Month now – and in 20 years will most probably be Neo-Nubian History Month. We are the only people in the world who change their names every so often. Do you ever think about that? The Egyptians have been the Egyptians for 5000 years. The Chinese have been Chinese for 5000 years. Every time a black politician gets in trouble in the United States, he holds a press conference and we have to change our name! When I heard that Jesse Jackson had fathered a child, I said, ‘Oh… oh… Here it comes – we are going to be Neo-Nubians now!’ Well, I don’t know about anybody else in this room, but this is one African American who is going to his grave as an African American. Dr WEB Du Bois: Editor-in-Chief I have the honour of being called, every day of my life, the WEB Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. I loved Du Bois, I revered T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A 4 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 4 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  5. 5. WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA 5 Du Bois, but you have to speak honestly even about those you love. When I was an undergraduate student atYale, I had a professor, the great Harold Bloom. Bloom is a fantastic literary critic, and also a very theatrical man. He teaches a course on the Introduction to Poetry, which is about the close reading of poetry, to a ‘cast’ of thousands. He will look at the audience and then he’ll say, ‘They say we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead’, and then pause for effect and repeat, ‘They say we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.’ Then he will look at the audience again and, deadpan, say, ‘But if we don’t, who will?’ WEB Du Bois was the most arrogant Negro on the face of the earth. He slept in a three-piece suit. At times of intense intimacy, he allowed his second wife, Shirley Graham, to call him by his first name – Doctor! You know the rap stars today say,‘Who’s ya daddy?’ – Du Bois would say, ‘Who’s your doctor?’ He was the Negro in his own mind. The joke is that Benjamin Brawley, the first black man to gain a Masters Degree in English from Harvard, sent Du Bois a copy of his book, The Negro Genius, the first book on the history of Negro literature. Du Bois unwrapped the package, read the title and said, ‘Ah, Brawley has written a book about me.’ Du Bois and Phelps Stokes: A meeting of minds Du Bois heard about the meeting Phelps Stokes had convened at the Howard University campus on 21 November, and went ballistic. He wrote to Stokes: ‘How could you convene a meeting of the greatest intellectuals of the race and not invite me?’ Du Bois accused Anson Phelps Stokes of trying to steal his idea from him. He stated, ‘I had the idea in 1909 and enclose a piece of that stationery just to prove it.’ A mortified Anson Phelps Stokes begged him for his forgiveness, and invited him to a meeting he would convene specifically for the purpose of apologising in front of his peers. A reluctant Du Bois was eventually persuaded to attend. And finally, on 6 January 1932, again at the Carnegie Library on the campus of Howard University, the second meeting of the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia of the Negro project was convened. Surprise, surprise, Du Bois was unanimously elected Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of the Negro, and served in that capacity from 1932 until 1946. And so, after his expulsion from the NAACP in 1934, Du Bois threw himself into the encyclopedia project. Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 5 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  6. 6. T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A 6 The phone that never rang WEB Du Bois needed US$250,000 to compile a two-million-word encyclopedia, but he couldn’t get any money. This was also the time of the Great Depression. He wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, to Franklin Roosevelt, to the Federal Writers Project of the Work Progress Administration, to the Ford Foundation, to the Rockefeller Foundation, and to every other foundation. No one would give him any money. Anson Phelps Stokes was funding Du Bois’ office and the salary of an assistant but that was it. Finally, in 1937, Du Bois went back to Anson Phelps Stokes and said, ‘Look, Stokes, our project is going to fall apart.’ Anson Phelps Stokes thus put up half of the $250,000 Du Bois needed, and challenged him to come up with the other half. Du Bois said, ‘That’s wonderful, but I haven’t been able to raise five cents, so what good is that?’ To which Anson Phelps Stokes replied,‘Okay, I’ll do more than that. I’ll go to see the heads of other foundations and try to persuade them to put up the money.’ Phelps Stokes went to the head of the Carnegie Corporation, which, in spite of its name, is a foundation now run by Vartan Gregorian, former head of the New York Public Library and former president of Brown University. The head of Carnegie agreed to provide the outstanding funds but asked Stokes not to tell Du Bois. He needed to have a meeting with his Board first. The Carnegie Board was to meet on 17 May 1937 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Phelps Stokes promised the head of Carnegie that he would not to tell Du Bois until after the meeting, but as soon as he could get to a phone he called Du Bois’ office in Harlem. He said: ‘Dr Du Bois, Dr Du Bois, I have to swear you to secrecy, don’t tell anyone. At 4 o’clock on 17 May 1937, the Board of the Carnegie Corporation will meet and when they meet, they will vote to award $125,000 to match my $125,000.When they call you, you have to be completely surprised, otherwise it will ruin the whole thing.’ Du Bois promised but as soon as he hung up with Anson Phelps Stokes, he called Raeford Logan. Now Raeford Logan was the third person of African descent – after Du Bois and Woodson – to take a PhD in History from Harvard. Raeford Logan was at one point in his life engaged to a beautiful and brilliant black woman from Patterson Creek, West Virginia. Her name was Leticia Gates, my great-aunt. And so I knew Raeford Logan, and he told me the story of that phone call. The story was never in print until I put it down. And the story goes like this: Du Bois called Logan and said: ‘Be at my office at 4 o’clock on 17 May.’ Du Bois was like Malcolm X. He couldn’t stand the stereotype of black people being late, Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 6 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  7. 7. WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA 7 so Logan walked into Du Bois’ office in Harlem at the appointed time. Du Bois had this beautiful mahogany desk. On the desk was a silver ice bucket with a bottle of vintage champagne and two champagne flutes. And next to the ice bucket was one of the old-time black telephones. Du Bois sat Logan down and said: ‘Even as I speak the Board of the Carnegie Corporation is meeting. When that meeting is over, that phone will ring and it will be the president of the Carnegie Corporation telling me they have matched Anson Phelps Stokes’s pledge of $125,000 to my project.When I hang up, we are going to open that bottle of champagne and celebrate for all the African people everywhere.’ So there they were, excited and slapping high fives. Well, you know, come to think of it, I don’t think Du Bois slapped many fives in his lifetime, but he did whatever Du Bois did when Du Bois was happy, which was not a hell of a lot of the time. Anyway, they sat there and talked. The clock ticked: 4pm passed, 4:15, 4:20, 4:30, 4:40, and by 4:45 the phone hadn’t rung. Finally, at 4.55pm, Du Bois looked at the ice bucket and looked at the clock. He looked at Logan and the ice bucket again. Then he reached over and grabbed the bottle of vintage champagne by the neck, yanked it out of the ice bucket and slammed it against the bookcase behind his desk. The phone never rang. Carter G Woodson had lobbied against Du Bois. The project was thus aborted. Du Bois goes to Africa We come to 1951. It’s the McCarthy era in the United States, and Du Bois is on trial for being a communist. It is a completely bogus charge, and Du Bois is acquitted. However, in spite of the fact that he is exonerated, his passport is confiscated, just as are the passports of people such as Paul Robeson and lots of others on the Left. He is barred from travel from 1952 until 1958, but what is the first thing Du Bois does when he gets his passport back? He visits every communist country on the face of the earth. Humboldt University in East Berlin awarded him an honorary degree. I have a picture of him sitting there in the audience having the citation read and then rising to receive his honour. He stated that it was the greatest day in his life. And then he went to Moscow, where Nikita Khrushchev gave him the Lenin Prize. He spent six months with Mao Tse-tung. Until recently, Du Bois’ birthday was a national holiday in China. On the way back, he received a cable from Kwame Nkrumah in the Gold Coast. Nkrumah had studied at Lincoln University, the historically Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 7 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  8. 8. black college in Pennsylvania. He had also chaired a platform with Du Bois in 1945 at the Pan African Congress in England. He just revered Du Bois. Later, when he was president of an independent Ghana, Nkrumah wrote to Du Bois asking about the Encyclopedia Africana project. Du Bois wrote back and told him the same sad story of how it had been aborted. Nkrumah replied, ‘I want you to move to Ghana. I will fund it and we will edit it on free African soil.’ And so, in 1961, WEB Du Bois, at the age of 93, did three things. He joined the American Communist Party, renounced his American citizenship, and repatriated to Ghana where be became the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia Africana project. On 15 December 1962, Du Bois held the first and only meeting of the Board of Editors.And, unlike the first two incarnations of 1909 and 1932, this would be an encyclopedia by Africans, for Africans and about Africans. Du Bois had cut out the American Negro completely. He was pissed off at them because no member of the Civil Rights leadership had defended him when he was accused of being a communist. There were a few exceptions, including one young Martin Luther King Jr. Du Bois loved King and King revered Du Bois. The night before the historic 1963 march on Washington DC, Du Bois sat down at his desk in Accra and wrote out the contents of a cable message to King. The next day King gave one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century – the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Roy Wilkins – Civil Rights leader and one of the organisers of the march – read the contents of Du Bois’ cable aloud. And then he looked at the throngs of people who had come out for the march and said, ‘Having written the cable, Dr Du Bois went to bed and never woke up again. He died in his sleep.’ The ‘Watermelon’ Fellowship takes me to Cambridge Well, I first heard about the Encyclopedia Africana in 1969 when I went to Yale. I was one of 96 black freshmen and -women in September 1969, and we were what I call the‘affirmative action’ generation. Now why do I say that? I say that because the class of ’66 consisted of only six black boys. If you look at their biographies: one’s father was a doctor, one was a dentist, one was an under- taker, one was a lawyer, one was a minister and one was a number runner, which later became the lottery. And all of a sudden there were 96 smart black men and women who got in through affirmative action. Without affirmative action, I wouldn’t have made it to Yale because I didn’t have the right class background even within the race. You see, you couldn’t just show up at white T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A 8 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 8 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  9. 9. institutions if you were black. If I had written a letter to Yale from my home in Piedmont, West Virginia, they would just have laughed me off. My father worked two jobs to put my brother and me through school. He worked as a labourer in a paper mill in the day. He would go to work at 6:30 in the morning and at 3:30pm the mill whistle would blow and Dad would come home, wash up, have the evening meal with us and then go to his second job as a janitor at the telephone company. We were working class. I don’t think anyone has benefited from affirmative action in the American Academy more than I have. This is one African American who will go to his grave as an ardent and passionate defender of affirmative action. For me not to do so would make me a hypocrite as big as Mr Justice Clarence Thomas, the conservative African American Supreme Court Justice who has opposed affirmative action at every turn. And I am not going to go to my grave like that. During my senior year at Yale, I was awarded a fellowship from the Mellon Foundation to go to Cambridge University. I had always wanted to be a Rhodes scholar when my friends wanted to be Hank Aron or Willie Mays. I wanted to go to Harvard or Yale or Oxford or Cambridge. I just knew that smart people went to those schools. And I applied for all of those fellowships and I didn’t get in. I mean, I was black from West Virginia, for Christ’s sake! I remember the day I received the fellowship from the Mellon Foundation. I ran back to my dormitory and called my parents back in West Virginia. My father got on the phone and I said, ‘Daddy, Daddy, put Mama on the extension phone.’ I mean, you didn’t have two phones in those days – you had a phone and an extension phone, that’s what it was called. And my mother finally got on the phone and I said, ‘Mama, Daddy, you will never believe it – I got a Mellon Fellowship! I got a Mellon Fellowship! I am the first Afro-American to get a Mellon Fellowship. I am going to Cambridge.’ Now my father is so funny he makes Redd Foxx look like an undertaker. Without missing a beat, he said,‘You got a Mellon Fellowship, you the first Negro to get a Mellon Fellowship?’ ‘Yeah, Daddy,’ I answered, to which he replied, ‘Ha! They are going to call it the Watermelon Fellowship from now on.’ The drunken pledge Armed with my ‘Watermelon’ Fellowship, I sailed off to Cambridge, and there I met two Africans who changed my life. I wanted to study literature and then WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA 9 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 9 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  10. 10. go to Med School or Law School. I always loved literature. It was like a vocation. I remember the thrill of reading James Baldwin when I was 15. I went to the English Department at Cambridge and they told me I was in the wrong place. They said there was a playwright from Nigeria at Churchill College called Wole Soyinka. African literature did not fall under the English Department at Cambridge, but rather Anthropology. In those days, I had a big Afro that would make Cornel West’s Afro look like a crew cut. I looked like a ball of black cotton candy rolling down the street. And I had these bright blue sunglasses that I wore all the time. That’s because I once heard this kid say, ‘When you’re cool, brother, the sun shines all the time.’ I liked that and I still had some Afrocentric wear such as Dashikis from the time I had spent in Tanzania. So I got them pressed. I was one clean brother! I walked up to Soyinka’s apartment at Churchill College and rang the doorbell, and when he opened the door I said,‘Muntu, muntu, my brother.’‘Yeah, right,’ he answered. We sat for about 15 minutes. He had this regal presence. I was so intimidated I was babbling. To save me from further embarrassing myself, Wole said: ‘Okay, I am going to take you on as my student.’ I was his only student at Cambridge, if you can believe that. He continued: ‘I am going to take you on for one reason.’ ‘And what’s that?’ I asked. He said, ‘You are the only Afro- American I have met who came to talk to me about that muntu bullshit.’ Anyway, there was also a young Ghanaian, Kwame Anthony Appiah, who was in Clare College. His father, Joe Appiah, was one of the founding fathers of Ghana. Soyinka knew Joe Appiah, and Soyinka wanted me to meet his son, so he invited us both to this Indian restaurant. Soyinka loved two things, I quickly discovered – hot food and good wine. Now my generation of African American students did not get inebriated by consuming alcohol. We became inebriated through more gaseous methods, more vaporous stuff, shall we say? I had never drunk wine before. And so here’s Soyinka, Appiah and I drinking all this wine. My mouth was on fire from the Indian food and I had tears running down my face, getting drunker by the minute, trying to represent the American Negro people to these two regal Africans, one a prince and one a king. So finally, to recoup my position, I asked Soyinka and Kwame if they had ever heard of WEB Du Bois and the Encyclopedia Africana. They both confirmed they had heard of Du Bois but neither had ever heard of the Encyclopedia Africana. That night we made a drunken pledge that the three of us would edit the Encyclopedia Africana. T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A 10 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 10 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  11. 11. WEB DU BOIS, ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA AND NELSON MANDELA 11 The pitch to my ‘long-lost cousin’ After I received my PhD from Cambridge in 1979, I wrote to the Encyclopaedia Britannica Company in the UK, explaining our plans to edit the Encyclopedia Africana. Kwame and I flew out there to persuade them that it was a good idea. Six weeks later they wrote back to say they would do it on condition I raised $2,000,000. I raised $50,000 – which is not bad for a 29-year-old freshly minted PhD graduate. This was just enough money to convene the first and only meeting of the Board of Editors of the new Encyclopedia Africana project. Nothing really happened until 1991 when Appiah and I went to Harvard. We felt very, very confident that we could complete a two-million- word encyclopedia, but we needed $2,000,000. I went around to every publisher in the United States. I have a box of 25 rejection letters. I keep it on my desk to remind myself of what we had to go through to do this project. And I would make the pitch, everyone would be excited, and then they would ask,‘How much money do you need to do this?’ And I would say,‘$2,000,000.’ And that’s when their eyes would glaze over. They would quickly say: ‘Well, good luck – you get the money and we will be glad to publish your encyclopedia.’ Finally, I decided to check out my long-lost ‘cousin’ in Seattle, Washington, Bill Gates. Microsoft had just introduced something call Encarta, a new encyclopedia on compact disc. Bill Gates put bells and whistles to it and by 1995 had bankrupted the Encyclopaedia Britannica Company. Who wanted 30 volumes when you could have it all on a disc? So I decided to write to him. To my astonishment, he flew Appiah and me out from Harvard to his office in Redwood. They liked this encyclopedia idea, but they needed to do a survey of the market and would get back to us. Several months passed and we didn’t hear a thing. I called to ask what kind of marketing survey they were doing that was taking so long. They wanted to count the number of African Americans who owned personal computers because that was their principal market. So I thought about that as we flew back to Harvard. The next day, I called all my black friends who had PCs and said, ‘This is Bill Gates’s e-mail address – I want you to write him and say: “I am black, I have computer.”’ I received financial backing from Quincy Jones and a couple of other people to do a prototype CD-ROM because we thought that was the way encyclopedias were going. Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 11 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za
  12. 12. Don’t mess with Frank… The birth of an African encyclopedia But still we heard nothing from Microsoft. And then an African American friend, Peggy Cooper-Hayford, who is now the president of the Washington DC Board of Education, called to tell me that a mutual friend, Frank Pearl, who was a billionaire entrepreneur, was starting a new publishing company, and was looking for a big project. By this time we had developed a prototype CD-ROM that took about 45 minutes to show. For the 26th time I sat in a room and pitched the Encyclopedia Africana project. At the end of that 45-minute period, Frank Pearl turned to me and said, ‘This is great. How much do you need?’ he asked. ‘$2,000,000,’ was my answer. He then stuck out his hand and told me I had a deal. The next day I returned to Harvard, and Appiah and I went out that night and opened a bottle of champagne. The next day, the phone rang. My secretary said, ‘Microsoft is on the line.’ I was going to tell them to kiss off because I no longer needed Microsoft, but fortunately I said nothing. Craig Bartholomew, the head of the reference division, said: ‘Skip, I have great news.’ ‘What?’ I asked. He answered: ‘We have completed our marketing survey and we are going to do the encyclopedia.’ They would give a $1,000,000 advance provided we completed the project in 18 months. ‘Can you do it?’ Bartholomew asked. I said: ‘I can do it.’ I contacted 400 scholars all around the world. I set up a special office of 45 people at Harvard Square. Soyinka agreed to be the chair of the Board of Editors and Anthony Appiah and I became co-editors. We worked like crazy. We had labour strikes and we had people trying to undermine us in 10,000 ways. I lost 20 pounds trying to do the project. Finally, in November 1998, we shipped to Microsoft not two million words but 2.5 million words. And on Martin Luther King’s birthday, 19 January 1999, the Encyclopedia Africana was born, dedicated to the memory of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, and in honour of Nelson Mandela. T H E M E A N I N G O F M A N D E L A 12 Mandela pages 6/26/06 10:00 PM Page 12 Freedownloadfromwww.hsrcpress.ac.za

×