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Pulitzer Prize Winning Historian Will Speak at Davidson About Civil Rights Pioneer W.E.B. DuBois

By Mario Pohasky '05

October 26, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

David Levering Lewis
David Levering Lewis

David Levering Lewis, a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, will present Davidson College's annual Kelley History Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 1, about "W.E.B. Du Bois and American Exceptionalism." The talk, presented as part of Davidson's "Diversity Week," is open to the public at no admission charge, beginning at 7:30 in the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room of the College Union.

Lewis, the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers University, won Pulitzer Prizes in biography this year and in 1994 for his two-volume work on the life of W.E.B. Du Bois, an influential African American intellectual and civil rights leader. Lewis' books are a major reworking of not only Du Bois' career, but of the history of the civil rights movement and American history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lewis received the 1994 Pulitzer for his 1993 book, W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race. His lecture at Davidson will deal with the latter part of DuBois' life, which he covers in the second volume of his biography, entitled W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963. It concerns his disagreements with Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, his controversial role in assembling the Pan-African Congress of 1923, his founding and split with the NAACP, his visit to Nazi Germany and, finally, his move to Ghana, where he died in 1963 at age 95.

Lewis said in an interview that he enjoyed the challenge of researching a character whose life was filled with contradictions and difficulties. "I didn't want to defend Du Bois," Lewis said. "I presented a conflicted figure whose attempt to achieve his ideals caused him to contradict many of them."

Lewis described Du Bois as having "an extraordinary mind of color in a racialized century." Du Bois was impatient with what he saw as the egregious failings of American democracy. Through Du Bois, Lewis presents the bigger picture of African-American life of that historical period.

Lewis said the awards he has received for his work on Du Bois, including a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," are not so much a recognition of his own talents, but an acknowledgment of the importance of the subject to society, and the important place that racial issues and understanding hold in our lives. He said, "What means the most to me is that this person's long life, the battles he fought and principles for which he stood, are getting the attention they so eminently deserve."

Lewis holds a Ph.D. in modern European and French history from the London School of Economics, an M.A .in United States history from Columbia University, and bachelor's degree in history and philosophy from Fisk University. In addition to African-American history, Lewis' research and publications deal with conceptions of race and racism, and the dynamics of European colonialism, especially in Africa. In addition to his work on Du Bois, he has written several other acclaimed books, including King: A Biography, When Harlem Was in Vogue and The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa.

For more information on the lecture, call 704-894-2285.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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