By Dr. Elsie L. Scott
Director, Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center
When I visited Ghana last month (March 2014), I made certain that the W.E. B. DuBois Center was on our list of places to visit. I contacted a person I knew in Ghana and asked her to arrange our visit. Apart from my academic and intellectual interest in Dr. DuBois, I wanted to see if any improvements had been made since Dr. Ron Walters visited there in 2007. I recall Dr. Walters speaking with me about his disappointment with the condition of the Center. It was only after I returned from Ghana that I read a column he wrote about the DuBois Center. I have included some excerpts in this blog. Members of my delegation made some of the same observations made by Dr. Walters. I concluded that the state of the Center has not improved since 2007—in fact, things have probably gotten worse.
We visited the DuBois Center on our first full day in Accra. We were all looking forward to the visit and were very disappointed when the person sent to greet us was a tour guide with a rehearsed speech. Our expectation of meeting with the Center’s director or a professional staff member was not realized.
In the first room we entered, there was a wall of famous African Americans, but all the pictures in the display were drawings like you would find on an elementary school bulletin board for Black History Month. Throughout the Center, we found poor quality presentations of the artifacts and a paucity of material and items on display. We had the same observation as Dr. Walters about the state of preservation for DuBois’ books. Without professional quality museum preservation, the books and other documents on display probably will not last very long.
“On my recent trip to Ghana, I visited the W. E. B. Du Bois Center in Accra, to lecture on the importance of African unity in the 21st century. I was guided through the grounds by its new, hard-working director, Dr. Anne Adams, who recently retired from Cornell University. There, I saw one building on the grounds with a well-kept mausoleum that held Dr. Du Bois’ and his wife’s remains. In the small main building a minimal staff heroically conducted programs, showing visitors to an equally small museum where Du Bois’ various university gowns are displayed. But I was horrified to see the small room where his books were kept in glass cases that were neither professionally bound nor protected from the salt sea air”.
Dr. Ronald W. Walters, 2007
We were pleased that the mausoleum was well kept, but we were not pleased with the cheap artificial wreaths placed around the tomb. To the two Clark Atlanta graduates in the group, we were saddened to see a worn Clark Atlanta University rug at the head of the tomb that seemed to serve no purpose. The “spider web” mounted over the tomb looked homemade and amateurish.
Dr. Walters was so stunned by the condition of the Center that he, for the first time, used his column to make an emotional appeal for funding for the Center from African Americans. He felt that scholars and others who have benefited from the works of DuBois should make a financial investment in preserving his legacy.
There was big contrast in the memorial to Nkrumah and the memorial to DuBois. The Nkrumah memorial has great historical artifacts, and it is well maintained. Of course, Nkrumah was the President of Ghana; DuBois was an American expatriate. Nevertheless, it is a national memorial and should be maintained as such. Additional documents and artifacts could probably be found and donated to the Center, if the proper appeal is made. Computers that allow for interactive engagement would be just one good addition. Even though Dr. Walters noted that the electricity went out during his time at the Center, I do not feel that should be a factor in deciding to place computers at the Center. The country seems to have energy challenges, but we only experienced power outages in the evenings at our hotel, and the outages were not for long periods of time.
“In this country, there are many organizations, schools and other institutions that are named after Dr. Du Bois and among black scholars at least, there is genuine love of the man for and appreciation for his contribution to the intellectual richness of our history and culture. He died in Ghana on Aug. 27, 1963, ironically the day before the March on Washington was being held in Washington, DC. There the word circulated among the leaders that “the old man is gone.”
But his work is still celebrated. In the last few years, Dr. David Levering Lewis (Fisk Class of 1956), the distinguished Black scholar at New York University, won two consecutive Pulitzer prizes for his two books on the biography of Dr. Du Bois, and Dr. Skip Gates of Harvard University’s African American Studies Department pioneered his own version of the Encyclopedia and has advised the Du Bois Center. His work lives in the thinking and writing of scholars all over the world.
So, why have we not sufficiently supported the Du Bois Center which houses his legacy? Perhaps it is because his papers are at the University of Massachusetts and there is an air of satisfaction that his intellectual legacy will be preserved there. Perhaps because there is little physical presence, even though there is a magnificent statue at Fisk University.
Du Bois originally came to Ghana to assist its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, further his vision of forging Pan Africanism among the newly independent African states, and to work on the Encyclopedia Africana. He lies in a compound in Ghana, a physical reminder of the persistent project of Pan Africanism and the government of Ghana graciously maintains that commitment, even to funding a working group in Accra on the Encyclopedia. The programming that occurs in the Center is devoted to keeping this concept alive through his legacy, but a great deal of the responsibility for refurbishing the Center’s work falls on our shoulders.”
Dr. Ronald W. Walters, 2007
The onus is not, and should not be, on African Americans alone. The Center’s leadership has to take responsibility and leadership for maintaining the Center and doing outreach to seek funds and other support. How many universities and scholars in the U.S. have been contacted by the Center to discuss how they can be engaged with the Center? The person in our group who was representing Clark Atlanta University came prepared to speak with the director of the Center about partnerships and collaborations, but there was no one there to speak with us. I wonder how many other missed opportunities come through the Center every year.
A better job should be done of taking advantage of the tourists who visit the center. A quality bookstore and gift shop could generate needed revenue to augment the admissions fee that is presently charged. The Center needs to maintain a website that provides its international audience with up-to-date information on the mission of the Center, its programs and activities, as well as, internship and fellowship opportunities. The website could be a source of revenue, selling books, tapes, etc.
There is evidence of the involvement of African American organizations, such as Alpha Phi Alpha and Clark Atlanta University, with the Center. I am certain that with the right outreach, there would be more involvement in and support from the African American community. Many would help to make the Center a place where scholars can come to spend time researching and writing about Dr. DuBois, and generations born well after his death could learn about DuBois the man, scholar and activist. The DuBois Center can become “a place where Africa and Black America and the rest of the African Diaspora can meet on a consistent basis and continue the dialogue on how to further practical aspects of our common destiny” as Dr. Walters envisioned.
We are hoping to connect with the director of the Center to convene a virtual discussion of these and other ideas we have for making the Center a true memorial to the greatness of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.