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Du Bois Letters Come to Houghton

Previously unknown letters written by William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois (AB 1890, AM 1891, PhD 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 Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute and HCL's 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 sixteen typescript, signed letters from Du Bois, eight from his wife, and three postcards from both. Spanning the years between 1953 and 1961, the correspondence reflects 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., the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, chair of Afro-American Studies, and director of the Du Bois Institute, brought the letters 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. Now housed in Houghton, the letters are available to scholars and described in Harvard's online catalog.

"We were delighted last year to acquire the papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, Dr. Du Bois's second wife, with the Schlesinger Library. It is only appropriate that this great son of Harvard is represented in our manuscript collection. 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," said Gates.

The Du Bois letters are the latest in a series of joint acquisitions between the Du Bois Institute and Houghton Library. An exhibition at Houghton 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 planned for September.

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Last modified on Wednesday, July 30, 2003.