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Protest and Propaganda

W. E. B. Du Bois, the CRISIS, and American History

Amy Helene Kirschke (Editor), Phillip Luke Sinitiere (Editor)


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In looking back on his editorship of Crisis magazine, W. E. B. Du Bois said, “We condensed more news about Negroes and their problems in a month than most colored papers before this had published in a year.” Since its founding by Du Bois in 1910, Crisis has been the primary published voice of the NAACP. Born in an age of Jim Crow racism, often strapped for funds, the magazine struggled and endured, all the while providing a forum for people of color to document their inherent dignity and proclaim their definitive worth as human beings.

As the magazine’s editor from 1910 until 1934, Du Bois guided the content and the aim of Crisis with a decisive hand. He ensured that each issue argued for civil rights, economic justice, and social equality, always framing America’s intractable color line in an international perspective. Du Bois benefited from a deep pool of black literary and artistic genius, whether by commissioning the visual creativity of Harlem Renaissance artists for Crisis covers or by publishing poems and short stories from New Negro writers. From North to South, from East to West, and even reaching across the globe, Crisis circulated its ideas and marshaled its impact far and wide.

Building on the solid foundation Du Bois laid, subsequent editors and contributors covered issues vital to communities of color, such as access to resources during the New Deal era, educational opportunities related to the historic Brown decision, the realization of basic civil rights at midcentury, American aid to Africa and Caribbean nations, and the persistent economic inequalities of today’s global era.

Despite its importance, little has been written about the historical and cultural significance of this seminal magazine. By exploring how Crisis responded to critical issues, the essays in Protest and Propaganda provide the first well-rounded, in-depth look at the magazine's role and influence. The authors show how the essays, columns, and visuals published in Crisis changed conversations, perceptions, and even laws in the United States, thereby calling a fractured nation to more fully live up to its democratic creed. They explain how the magazine survived tremendous odds, document how the voices of justice rose above the clamor of injustice, and demonstrate how relevant such literary, journalistic, and artistic postures remain in a twenty-first-century world still in crisis.

Praise For Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, the CRISIS, and American History

Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, the Crisis, and American History presents a series of essays from scholars representing a variety of disciplines that give greater insight into the content of Crisis—the official journal of the NAACP that was founded by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1910 and continues to be published today. The Crisis, whose circulation in 1919 exceeded that of the more generally known New Republic and Nation, has been one of the most important and influential reform magazines in American history. Yet, as Shawn Leigh Alexander argues in the informative introductory essay, scholars have only just begun to make deeper analyses of the diverse and revealing contents of the magazine.”—Journal of Southern History

“While Du Bois has been the subject of biographies (as well as many autobiographies) the authors assert that The Crisis was the apotheosis of Du Boisian thought and activism: blending philosophy, politics, art, poetry, and culture into a sharp attack on American society and racism at the beginning of the twentieth century. [This] is a period of Du Bois’s life that requires more attention and this book, with its ten compelling chapters, does this with great success.”—The American Historical Review

University of Missouri, 9780826220059, 270pp.

Publication Date: March 4, 2014

About the Author

Amy Helene Kirschke is Professor of Art History and History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She is author or editor of three other books, including Art in Crisis: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory.

Phillip Luke Sinitiere is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, Texas. He is author or editor of three other books, including Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace.