Long before the NAACP casually tossed the “racism” smear at the Tea Partiers, the civil-rights organization courageously made the hard decision to rid itself of the racism in its own house. The group did this by kicking out its sole African American founder.
“Absolutely segregate the races,” W.E.B. Du Bois proclaimed in The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, in 1920. Thirteen years later, he unveiled a plan for American blacks involving “increased segregation and perhaps migration.” Du Bois queerly proclaimed: “I fight Segregation with Segregation.” The NAACP, aghast that the editor of its house organ had supplied fodder for white segregationists, partly engineered and gladly accepted Du Bois’s resignation in 1934.
At first glance, Du Bois’s unwise comments seem at odds with his impressive résumé. He was the first African American to earn a graduate degree from Harvard. His Souls of Black Folks remains a classic of the African American experience. And he was a founder of the NAACP. But for the bulk of his 95-year life, he was a first-class hater.
His encore to serving as a dupe for white segregationists was to promote eugenics. To the delight of its largely racist readership, Du Bois explained in the Birth Control Review that “the mass of ignorant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously” and that among blacks “the least intelligent and fit” were reproducing.
Just as he had rationalized anti-Semitism in parts of the American South in 1903 by holding, “The Jew is the heir of the slave-baron,” Du Bois grasped for justifications of German hatred of Jews during his 1936 visit to the Third Reich. Noting its “vindictive cruelty,” Du Bois claimed that German anti-Semitism was “a reasoned prejudice.” The “reasons” Du Bois offered seemed out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: the Jews control the stock exchange, the legal profession, and the civil service. Bothered by Hitler’s anti-Bolshevism, ideological tourist Du Bois was clearly awestruck by Nazi Germany, “a nation at work” with “houses for the poor,” “new roads,” and “great celebrations, organizations for old and young, new songs, new ideals, a new state, a new race.”
He reconciled with the NAACP in 1944. But by 1948, Du Bois was once again forced out. His aid and comfort to human-rights violators beyond our shores sparked a bitter split—just as his unintentional aid and comfort to human-rights violators at home had done the previous decade.
Du Bois had a blind spot for totalitarians. He eulogized Stalin as a “great” and “courageous” man, but stated that Harry Truman “ranks with Adolf Hitler as one of the greatest killers of our day.” He observed in Mao’s China “a sense of human nature free of its most hurtful and terrible meanness and of a people full of joy and faith.” Consistent with his opposition to civil rights, Du Bois celebrated the Communist crackdown on religion as “the greatest gift of the Russian Revolution.” He propagandistically claimed an invasion of North Korea by the South sparked the Korean War and likened Kim Il-Sung’s fight to the American Revolution. Any foe of America became his friend.
Unlike Martin Luther King, whom Du Bois criticized for nonviolent passivity, Du Bois shared the hate of his haters. “I do not pretend to ‘love’ white people,” he wrote. “I think that as a race they are the most selfish of any on earth.” Such sentiments led NAACP executive director Roy Wilkins, when breaking the news of Du Bois’s death to the massive crowd that had gathered for 1963’s March on Washington, to understate that Du Bois had chosen “another path.” The triumph of King’s vision that weekend, juxtaposed with his critic’s death, demonstrated that Du Bois had trod the wrong path.
Whereas the NAACP once purged itself of extremist elements, it now embraces them. Ben Chavis, who served nearly a decade in prison for fire-bombing a white-owned store before a technicality overturned the conviction, became the group’s leader in the early 1990s. In 2008, the NAACP hosted the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner in Detroit. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who believes the white race was created by an evil scientist, has addressed numerous NAACP events.
Rather than uninvited fringe elements showing up to a rally, as the NAACP alleges of nameless Tea Party racists, the likes of Chavis, Wright, and Farrakhan were part of the official program. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw charges of racism.
Ousting its founder for extremism was a profile in courage that exemplified the NAACP’s commitment to the fight against racism. Condemning the Tea Partiers is a profile in cowardice that exemplifies the NAACP’s current commitment to politics.