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photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear







W.E.B. DuBois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was one of the most prescient American intellectuals of the 20thcentury. We know, honor and respect his achievements and are often awed by the depth, breadth and sheer volume of his work as a scholar, editor, man-of-letters and activist. Certainly his Souls of Black Folk is one of, if not indeed, the most frequently cited book published in America.


DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk gave us two definitive and classic concepts: 1. double consciousness and 2. that the problem of the 20th century would be the color line.

There is no other intellectual who can match DuBois in addressing the issues and concerns germane to Black folk in modern America. Indeed, the very weight and wonder of DuBois’ work contributes to a romanticizing, and often a misunderstanding, of DuBois the man. The general picture many of us hold of DuBois’ personality is that of a proper, indeed almost puritanical, highly educated egg-head who was a bit aloof and even contemptuous of the common, working class African American. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, and partially because of a skewed appreciation of DuBois’ talented tenth formulation, we often think of DuBois as a bit of an elitist snob. Nevertheless, a close reading of DuBois reveals a man who enjoyed life and was surprisingly down to earth as well as radical in his personal views. This is the DuBois I respect and admire.

Here are a few aspects of DuBois that offer a fuller view of both the man and his views on life. Debates around sexism and gender politics continue to rage among our people today. How many of us are aware of DuBois’ progressive and insightful stance on women’s rights.

In his book Darkwater published in 1920, the year before women’s sufferage became the law in America, DuBois’ essay “The Damnation of Women” offered this radical reading of gender politics:

All womanhood is hampered today because the world on which it is emerging is a world that tries to worship both virgins and mothers and in the end despises motherhood and despoils virgins.

The future woman must have a life work and economic independence. She must have knowledge. She must have the right of motherhood at her own discretion. The present mincing horror at free womanhood must pass if we are ever to be rid of the bestiality of free manhood; not by guarding the weak in weakness do we gain strength, but by making weakness free and strong. [page 953]

Even in the 21st century these remain progressive positions; imagine how radical they were 80 years ago! But then DuBois was always clear that we are engaged in a social struggle and not simply an intellectual quest; education is necessary but not sufficient, we must have action.

We have all heard or read DuBois’ famous propaganda quote taken from the October 1926 issue of The Crisis:

Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent. [page 1000]

I would add that DuBois understood that while all art is propaganda, not all propaganda is art. All art carries and proposes ideas and ideals, an ideology and worldview, thus, whether explicit or implicit, overt or covert, there is a propaganda aspect to all art. DuBois was a man who had been educated at Harvard and in Berlin, a refined and well bred intellectual, but he was no advocate of art for art’s sake. While it is no surprise that DuBois believed in the power of art and that he favored a partisan art, what we sometimes forget is that this great educator and intellectual was above all an activist who dedicated his life’s work to the cause of freedom, justice and equality.

While some choose to emphasis the propaganda element of DuBois’ work as a critique, I think DuBois’ emphasis on the artist as activist gives us a deeper understanding of the man—for he was no mere mouthpiece for someone else’s ideology, here was a man who committed himself to creating the world his words envisioned. DuBois was then a man of praxis and not simply an intellectual who stood apart from the fray of social struggle commenting from the safety and security of the ivory tower.

A third aspect of DuBois that is fascinating is DuBois’ views on sex. Listen to DuBois in his February 1924 Crisis review of Jean Toomer’s book Cane—and we should remember that when Cane first appeared it was barely noticed and shortly went out of print. Cane’s status as a classic required a long gestation period, and yet, DuBois early on understood the gender significance of this innovative work.

The world of black folk will some day arise and point to Jean Toomer as a writer who first dared to emancipate the coloed world form the conventions of sex. It is quite impossible for most Americans to realize how straightlaced and conventional thought is within the Negro World, despite the very unconventional acts of the group. Yet this contradiction is true. And Jean Toomer is the first of our writers to hurl his pen across the very face of our sex conventionality. [page 1209]

But wasn’t DuBois “straightlaced and conventional” in his views on sex? There has been a misreading of DuBois. His views on sex when examined closely suggest a serious reevaluation of DuBois and offer us clues to reinterpret and better understand some of DuBois’ reactions and positions, specifically with respect to the publication of Fire by the young writers of the Harlem Renaissance and DuBois’ often ad hominem quarrels with Marcus Garvey.

Writing in his 1968 autobiography, DuBois candidly notes:

In the midst of my career there burst on me a new and undreamed of aspect of sex. A young man, long my disciple and student, then my co-helper and successor to part of my work, was suddenly arrested for molesting men in public places. I had before that time no conception of homosexuality. I had never understood the tragedy of an Oscar Wilde. I dismissed my co-worker forthwith, and spent heavy days regretting my act. [1122]

Evaluating his own sexuality, DuBois writes:

Indeed the chief blame which I lay on my New England schooling was the inexcusable ignorance of sex which I had when I went south to Fisk at 17. I was precipitated into a region, with loose sex morals among black and white, while I actually did not know the physical difference between men and women. At first my fellows jeered in disbelief and then became sorry and made many offers to guide my abysmal ignorance. This built for me inexcusable and startling temptations. It began to turn one of the most beautiful of earth’s experiences into a thing of temptation and horror. I fought and feared amid what should have been a climax of true living. I avoided women about whom anybody gossiped and as I tried to solve the contradiction of virginity and motherhood, I was inevitably faced with the other contradiction of prostitution and adultery. In my hometown sex was deliberately excluded from talk and if possible from thought. In public school there were no sexual indulgences of which I ever heard. We talked of girls, looked at their legs, and there was rare kissing of a most unsatisfactory sort. We teased about sweethearts, but quite innocently. When I went South, my fellow students being much older and reared in a region of loose sexual customs regarded me as liar or freak when I asserted my innocence. I liked girls and sought their company, but my wildest exploits were kissing them.

Then, as teacher in the rural districts of East Tennessee, I was literally raped by the unhappy wife who was my landlady. From that time through my college course at Harvard and my study in Europe, I went through a desperately recurring fight to keep the sex instinct in control. A brief trial with prostitution in Paris affronted my sense of decency. I lived more or less regularly with a shop girl in Berlin, but was ashamed. Then when I returned home to teach, I was faced with the connivance of certain fellow teachers at adultery with their wives. I was literally frightened into marriage before I was able to support a family. I married a girl whose rare beauty and excellent household training from her dead mother attracted and held me. [pages 1119-1120]

Here I find the clue to DuBois’ disgust with Wallace Thurman and with the journal Fire. DuBois was no prude about heterosexuality, but instead was, in his early years, intolerant of homosexuality. Furthermore, DuBois’ arguments with Garvey were probably colored by the fact that DuBois had engaged in an interracial romance and thus was surely at odds with the Garvey racial essentialist position, much in the same way forty-odd years later, a number of critics were at odds with the Black Arts Movement, their opposition fueled in part by their advocacy and practice of interracial relationships clashing inevitably with the strident rejection of White women that was a sine qua non in the Black Arts Movement.

None of the above noted attributes of DuBois the man are quite as radical, however, as DuBois’ stand on religion.

My religious development has been slow and uncertain. I grew up in a liberal Congregational Sunday School and listened once a week to a sermon on doing good as a reasonable duty. Theology played a minor part and our teachers had to face some searching questions. At 17 I was in a missionary college where religious orthodoxy was stressed; but I was more developed to meet it with argument, which I did. My “morals” were sound, even a bit puritanic, but when a hidebound old deacon inveighed against dancing I rebelled. By the time of graduation I was still a “believer” in orthodox religion, but had strong questions which were encouraged at Harvard. In Germany I became a freethinker and when I came to teach at an orthodox Methodist Negro school I was soon regarded with suspicion, especially when I refused to lead the students in public prayer. When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer, but the liberal president let me substitute the Episcopal prayer book on most occasions. Later I improvised prayers on my own. Finally I faced a crisis: I was using Crapsey’s Religion and Politics as a Sunday School text. When Crapsey was hauled up for heresy, I refused further to teach Sunday School. When Archdeacon Henry Phillips, my last rector, died, I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church screed. From my 30thyear on I have increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war. I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools.

Religion helped and hindered my artistic sense. I know the old English and German hymns by heart. I loved their music but ignored their silly words with studied inattention. [pages 1124-1125] 

This short passage contains so many iconoclastic concepts that one is forced to completely reassess DuBois’ character. Clearly his scholarly stint in Germany (1892-93) was critical to the development of DuBois as an intellectual “free thinker.” The Germany connection helps clarify what seems to be a major contradiction. In the Souls of Black Folk, DuBois starts each chapter with a quotation of music. The book also contains the magnificent essay, “The Sorrow Songs.” Souls would seem to indicate that DuBois was an ardent Christian, but perhaps it was not Christianity that DuBois was extolling but rather cultural theories exemplified by the German philosopher Herder who asserted that national cultures are based on folk culture. DuBois was celebrating the cultural mores of the folk rather than focusing on the religious specifics of Christianity.

In any case, DuBois the man was not a Christian moralist and haughty social snob. DuBois was a complex and challenging Black man who advocated and struggled for radical change on behalf of his people. DuBois was far more than generally meets the eye when we think of this great intellectual and activist.



*All quotes are from DuBois Writings (The Library of America, 1986).


—kalamu ya salaam















2016 ESPYs:

Mom of slain

15-year-old hero

athlete stirs tears

with gun-control plea

LOS ANGELES — In a night heavy with emotional pleas to end gun violence, many of the world’s biggest sports stars were brought to tears at Wednesday’s ESPY Awards by comments from the family of Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old high school football player from Knoxville, Tennessee, who was honored posthumously with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for giving his life to shield two young women from gunfire last year.

His mother, Zenobia Dobson, and two brothers accepted the trophy from Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, with last year’s honoree Caitlyn Jenner joining in the audience’s standing ovation.

Dobson told the audience that, four months after her son’s death, his 12-year-old cousin was killed in a drive-by shooting on his way home from a basketball game where Zaevion was honored.

“I’m here to fight back,” Dobson said. “We as a country need to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on the families throughout America.”

Tears welled in the eyes of several athletes who applauded her comments.

“We need to rewrite laws to make it harder for people to get guns,” Dobson said. “All the athletes in this room, you have a lot of power. People look up to you, I know Zaevion did. I urge you to think tonight about why he died and what you can do tomorrow to prevent the next innocent young man or woman from being lost.”









July 13, 2016

July 13, 2016













Monday July 13th, 2015- Sandra Annette Bland’s body was found in Waller County Jail, TX.

Initially pulled over by Deputy Officer Encinia for failing to signal a lane change, a heated interaction ensued, and less than 24 hours later Ms. Bland was dead. How does this make sense? As is the current narrative of this country, it simply does not. Though the end of her life was legally ruled a suicide, many rationally label it homicide-  and an irrefutable elimination by the system. With the details masterfully muddied by the distractions of legality, they subsequently become unimportant, as the outcome stays the same.

Sandra Bland’s death is one of countless, non-indicted, brown deaths by police- and the primary fuel for Black Lives Matter protests of 2015. In her own words:

‘In the news that we’ve seen as of late, you could stand there, surrender to the cops, and still be killed.’

The sobering reality of this death is that no matter how aware, woke, or strong-willed a brown body- they are still inevitably subjected to injustice.

Now, Wednesday July 13th, 2016- we continue remember her life as a ammunition for protest, yet we freshly mourn the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by the same hand. 365 days later, what is different? 365 days later where is this society headed? If 365 days has shifted little, do we continue to protest? Is there a point?

When faced with a constant input of invalidation and languish, it may prove hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, for protestors everywhere, the continuation of injustice only serves as proof of necessity; necessity for action. 

We remember Sandra Bland, and we remember the weight of the fight we still have to conquer.

The depth of her recognition alone, is evidence of a turning tide- and our job as activists is to never be silenced; yelling louder for those that have been.

SANDRA BLAND: February 7, 1987- July 13, 2015

By Cree B. McClellan, AFROPUNK contributor











ESPYs Kick Off With

Black Lives Matter


‘We All Have to

Do Better’



Jul 13, 2016

Jul 13, 2016



Carmelo Anthony

to fellow athletes:

‘Hashtags won’t solve

the endless cycle

of violence’

Getty Images

Getty Images

In the wake of the July 7 sniper attack in Dallas in which an Army veteran killed five police officers during a protest over police violence against African Americans, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony admitted that he toiled over what to say and do.

That shooting came after men in Louisiana and Minnesota were shot and killed by cops earlier in the week. On July 8, Anthony posted this to his Instagram account:

athletes 01 atletes 02

Anthony is still not sure what role he has in a national epidemic, but the 32-year-old Brooklyn native and former Baltimore resident believes that athletes have influence and therefore some responsibility to stand up.

In an essay published on Wednesday in The Guardian,Anthony writes, “Hashtags won’t solve the endless cycle of violence that’s engulfed America.” As for what to do going forward:

In three weeks I’ll travel to Rio with the United States’ Olympic team to perform on a global stage. I haven’t spoken with my teammates yet about the opportunity before us and how we can take advantage of it, because at the end of the day I want it to be genuine. If you don’t feel like you want to make a statement or make a stand, then don’t do it. You shouldn’t feel forced to do it. You have to want to do that. For me, I do feel like this is a platform where we should – we as athletes, we as Americans – use it for something. Whether we make a statement out there or send a message, we can show the world that we’re united. Whatever way we want to do it, this is a chance to do something meaningful before an audience of billions. I don’t know what that something is yet, but we still have time to figure it out.

Nathaniel S. Butler/AP

Nathaniel S. Butler/AP

But how can we make a change back home? You can start off small. If everybody just focuses on their own community, then we’re making progress. We can’t try to solve all the issues at once. We’ve just got to zero in on our own individual communities and once we build that up and that becomes stronger, then I think everything will settle down and be cool again. There needs to be a mutual respect from both sides: between the police officers and the people in the streets. We have to reintroduce that respect factor into our local communities because there’s no respect from either side anymore.

Last April Anthony marched in protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, who died as a result of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody.



carmelo 03





Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday, July 13, 2016




from Problem

to Solution

–The Newark,

New Jersey Model



by Marvin X

Newark, NJ Mayor Ras Baraka and Marvin X

Newark, NJ Mayor Ras Baraka and Marvin X

When I was in Newark, New Jersey for the last rites of my friend and comrade, poet/activist Amiri Baraka, his son Ras then a city councilman but was running for mayor. He told me then, “Marvin we got Black brothers on the police force with legal guns who back us, i.e., the community.” And I observed positive police/community relations. It is a different feeling when you know the police are on your side. As a matter of fact, during the time of the funeral the police were in and out of the Baraka’s house socializing with and protecting Newark’s “first family”.  Police blocked off the block where the Baraka family lives in the hood.

I was informed some of the officers had grown up with the Baraka children or their parents had been part of the Newark black consciousness, cultural and political movement that was critical in the election of Newark’s first Black mayor, Kenneth Gibson. In short, the police were an integral part of the community, as opposed to an occupying army.

Now let’s be clear, Ras informed me there were police who supported the opposition, but he felt confident with the percentage of officers on his (the peoples) side. Ironically, I was at the Baraka house once on AB’s  birthday (October 7) when the opposition sent officers with warrants to arrest his sons for failure to pay child support. This was done by his political enemies to rattle his cage on his birthday. They do play hard ball in Newark and the opposition is serious. There are former Newark mayors who went down in disgrace for their negrocities (AB term, not mine, he wanted me to let you know) but have sons that they want to be mayor. 

Of course Ras won the election as mayor, guided by his brother Amiri, Jr.’s (Middy) strategic planning. Their mother, Mrs. Amina Baraka, has kept me informed of her son’s progress as mayor. Even the New York Times gave him brownie points for his first 100 days in office.

Mrs. Baraka informed me there have been no police killings since Ras became Mayor, although brothers killing brothers has not stopped. Mayor Baraka has police walking through the hood, Black and White officers, smiling and greeting the people. Mrs. Baraka said she doesn’t know, and many people don’t know, what to think of the white officers smiling so much.

But clearly, community policing is working, thus Newark can be and should be a  model for cities trying to upgrade their police departments from acting like brute beasts in blue uniforms. Why should police take the life of the mostly poor, mentally ill and drug addicted? Why would you kill a man hustling single cigarettes, DVDs and CDs? Why would you kill a man for a broken tail light or failure to signal a lane change.? Why should a man suffer a broken spine from a ride in the paddy wagon? 


Surely after all the hell the Black Panther Party suffered trying to combat police terror and brutality fifty years ago( and we celebrate their 50th anniversary for the sacrifice they made), we must try something new, unless we want to continue bumping our heads against a stone wall.

We don’t have the power to defeat them because they have too much back up, e.g., the army, navy, air force, national guard, FBI, Homeland Security, etc. At some point we will need a reconciliation or things will go from bad to worse as happened in Dallas, Texas. The nature of the panther is to strike when it is backed up against the wall or corner. 

After seeing with my own eyes that there can be at least a symbiotic relationship between the people and the police, I’ve concluded that we need to get brothers and sisters on the police force, especially in cities where we are in the majority, and the white officers must be socialized to understand they work for the people, the people don’t work for them.  The people pay their salaries but not to be brutalized and killed under the color of law. We agree with Chief Brown in Dallas who called for people to be the solution rather than the problem, to become police officers. All they need do is community consciousness, similar to the police who arrested my in Belize, Central America, when I was being deported for entering the country illegally. While I was at the police station awaiting deportation, they surrounded me and when they had me in the center of a circle, they begged me to teach them about Black Power, the real reason I was being deported. Wouldn’t it be nice if the American police would ask the Black Lives Matter people to teach them about Black Power rather than try to ridicule the BLM people out of existence because just as the police ain’t going nowhere, we don’t think Black Lives Matter is either. Stay Woke!






CfP: African and Diasporic

Women’s Literature:

Transitions, Transformations

and Transnationalism,

WAGADU Special Issue

Deadline 27 September 2016


CFP:  African and Diasporic Women’s Literature:
Transitions, Transformations and Transnationalism

WAGADU special issue

Deadline for abstracts: 27 September 2016

With the new wave of African and African Diasporic women writers, the transnational sphere has enlarged to encompass voices that were at the margins of gender and race hierarchies, and highlight the individual writer within the complexities of relations in and out of national, cultural, religious, gender, and ideological bonds.  While transnationalism, as a term, is as deeply divided and contested as any other ism, its use as a paradigm of engagement is open to elaboration in that it has profound effects on local and global cultures, the movement of peoples, the relations of power and domination, and intra-gender and inter-gender relations. In such light, how does transnational feminism help redefine and restructure local political activism, strategic engagements with patriarchy, and the power dynamics in the postcolony, to generate alliances across borders? Conceptually, theoretically, and pragmatically, what is the potentiality and trajectory of feminist thought in its trans-portation, transformation, incorporation, and dissemination through the voices of African and African Diasporic women writers?  This special issue of WAGADU is dedicated to exploring the transnational dimension of women writers from Africa and across the African Diaspora. Papers may focus on but are not limited to issues such as:

*   The rethinking and rearticulation of transnational feminist politics
*   The function of heteropatriarchy within the transnational articulation of self-hood
*   The significance and impact of memory and writing in the creation of agency
*   The question of nation and nationhood in the struggles of the postcolony
*   Women as agents of change and producers of knowledge
*   Questions of power across gender, racial, and sexual lines
*   Culture in the local and transnational contexts
*   The metropole, the immigrant and the migrant
*   Sexuality and sexual politics

Abstracts are due by September 27, 2016 and should be between 100 – 200 words in length. They should include: 1. A title, 2. Name, status and institutional affiliation, 3. A mailing address, 4. Email contact.

Send abstracts and inquiries to Prof. Cheryl Sterling, Associate Professor and Director of Black Studies, The City College of New York (CUNY), at

Final Papers due by Jan. 15th, 2017, for publication in the Winter 2017 issue of WAGADU.








tethered by letters

Contest Submissions 

TBL is pleased to announce the F(r)iction Spring Literary Competition. There are three submission categories: 1) short stories of any genre ranging from 1,000 to 7,500 words, 2) flash fiction with a word limit of 750 words, and 3) poetry no longer than three pages. Winners of the contest will be published in a future issue of F(r)iction alongside stunning original artwork from TBL’s talented team of artists. F(r)iction is dedicated to publishing the best writing of all kinds, and we encourage submissions that push boundaries and take risks in genre, plot, and style.

Judging: The finalists for each category will be read by a guest judge, who will select a winner to be published in the Summer 2016 issue of F(r)ictionEmily St. John Mandel is the Short Story Contest judge, Helen Phillips is the Flash Fiction Contest judge, and Suzi Q. Smith is the Poetry Contest judge.

Submission Guidelines: Please visit our formatting guidelines page to properly format your work for submission. Staff members are not eligible for participation. Any work previously submitted to TBL for publication is not eligible if the piece received free edits from our team.

We strongly recommend checking out an issue of F(r)iction to get an idea of our aesthetic. You can do so at the TBL Store.

Notes: Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but please notify TBL if your work is selected for publication elsewhere as soon as possible. We encourage writers to submit as many stories as they wish. All stories will be considered for publication in F(r)iction Series, our triannual print journal.

Our judges also reserve the right not to award a winner in any category if submissions do not meet our standards of publication.

Tethered by Letters reserves the right to discuss contest entries, finalists, and winners in the Untethered Podcast.

Other Categories: Please visit our submissions page for more ways to submit your work to TBL for possible publication and learn about our free-editing policy for work submitted to our journal.


Short Story Contest

The winner of our short story contest will be awarded $1,000.00 and publication in F(r)iction. Five finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and will be considered for publication.
Criteria: Any genre ranging from 1,000 to 7,500 words.
Fees: $15.00 USD entry fee for each submission.

Flash Fiction Contest

The winner of our flash fiction contest will be awarded $300.00 and publication in F(r)iction. Five finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and will be considered for publication.
Criteria: Any genre with a word limit of 750 words.
Fees: $8.00 per entry, or three entries for $12.00.

Poetry Contest

The winner of our poetry contest will be awarded $300.00and publication in F(r)iction. Five finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and will be considered for publication.

Criteria: Any genre or form, three pages or less per poem.
Fees: $8.00 per entry, or three entries for $12.00.

#Blink! TBL’s Twitter Contest

TBL is excited to announce a new Twitter contest!
If you think you can tell a story in 140 characters or fewer, we want to hear from you!

Every two weeks an acclaimed judge will choose the winning story. The winner will receive a free digital copy of F(r)iction, and potential publication of the Tweet in a future issue of F(r)iction.

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it! Tweet your tiny narratives using the hashtag #BlinkTBL, and be sure to check the @TethrdByLettrs and @FrictionSeries Twitter pages for start dates, deadlines, and judging info!