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Shirley Graham Du Bois Collection Comes to the Schlesinger Library

In a move that links the collections of Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library with the initiatives of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, the Schlesinger has acquired the papers of artist and activist Shirley Graham Du Bois (1896-1977). The collection includes Graham Du Bois's personal and private papers, professional work, and photographs that reveal the range of interest, activity, and accomplishment—as a composer, playwright, biographer, teacher, civil rights champion, feminist, left-wing activist, American Communist Party member, participant in the African liberation struggles—of a woman too often remembered solely as the second wife of the renowned African American intellectual leader W.E.B. Du Bois.

Graham Du Bois's papers also offer a new and dramatic lens with which to explore twentieth-century African American experience. As a Harlem Renaissance artist, NAACP worker, and political exile, Shirley Graham Du Bois participated in and personified some of the most significant cultural and social movements of our time. During her life, Graham Du Bois was celebrated for her artistic achievements, including her 1932 creation Tom-Tom, credited by some sources as the first opera by an African American woman. She was criticized frequently for her political positions, notably for renouncing her American citizenship to become a national of then pro-Communist Ghana.

"Shirley Graham Du Bois was a prominent scholar and public intellectual whose considerable talents and contributions are only just emerging, overshadowed as they were by those of Dr. Du Bois," said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Chair of Afro-American Studies, and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard. "This treasure trove of manuscripts and letters will intrigue scholars for generations to come and help us at long last to appreciate Mrs. Graham Du Bois in her own right.

"Other than the acquisition of Dr. Du Bois's papers themselves, I can think of nothing more appropriate than the acquisition of the papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois," Professor Gates continued. "And the Schlesinger is the perfect site in which they should be housed. We see this acquisition as part of a larger program through which the Du Bois Institute collaborates with both the Schlesinger and the Houghton libraries to acquire more papers of African American and African writers. In the meantime, I think it's significant that the first papers obtained under Drew Faust's tenure as Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study are those of an African American woman."

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.