W.E.B. Du Bois
On this date in 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois (né William Edward Burghardt Du Bois) was born in Massachusetts. He attended all-black Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his BA in 1890 and his MS in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) made his name, in which he urged black Americans to stand up for their educational and economic rights. Du Bois was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and edited the NAACP's official journal, "Crisis," from 1910 to 1934. Du Bois turned "Crisis" into the foremost black literary journal. The black nationalist expanded his interests to global concerns, and is called the "father of Pan-Africanism" for organizing international black congresses.
Although he used some religious metaphor and expressions in some of his books and writings, Du Bois called himself a freethinker (see quote below). In "On Christianity," a posthumously published essay, Du Bois critiqued the black church: "The theology of the average colored church is basing itself far too much upon 'Hell and Damnation'—upon an attempt to scare people into being decent and threatening them with the terrors of death and punishment. We are still trained to believe a good deal that is simply childish in theology. The outward and visible punishment of every wrong deed that men do, the repeated declaration that anything can be gotten by anyone at any time by prayer." Du Bois became a member of the Communist Party and officially repudiated his U.S. citizenship at the end of his life, dying in his adopted country of Ghana. D. 1963.
“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, . . . I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church creed. From my 30th year 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.”
—W.E.B. Du Bois, from W.E.B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 277-288. "On Christianity" by W.E. B Du Bois is a chapter in African-American Humanism: An Anthology, edited by Norm R. Allen, Jr.
Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
On this date in 1950, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger was born in White Plains, N.Y. Rebecca was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in White Plains and attended a Jewish high school for girls (or yeshiva) in Manhattan. At FFRF’s 2011 annual conference, when she accepted FFRF’s "Freethought Heroine" award (listen to Rebecca's speech here), she eloquently recounted the patriarchal limitations imposed in her strict Orthodox: “Modestly, or tznuit as it’s called in Hebrew, is the premier virue indoctrinated into Orthodox females. We were actively discouraged from going on to college. . . Far more invidious was the internal inculcation of female modesty, which meant doing nothing to attract undue attention to oneself, including in one’s very speech.” Overcoming her upbringing, she “was born into consciousness” at Columbia University and received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barnard College, Columbia University in 1972, graduating summa cum laude. In graduate school she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton in 1977. She taught at Barnard College, and in the MFA writing program at Columbia, and the philosophy department at Rutgers. For five years, she was a visiting professor of philosophy at Trinity University in Hartford, Conn. In 1996, she was named a MacArthur Fellow, known as the “Genius Award." In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2006, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and Radcliffe Fellowship. Rebecca, who married very young, has two daughters, Yael and Danielle, with her first husband, Sheldon Goldstein. In 2008, she married Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker. They live in Boston and Truro, Mass.
Her novels and nonfiction writing have received many awards. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, which addresses philosophical themes, was published in 1983. Other novels include The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, Mazel, and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories is called Strange Attractors. In 1996, Goldstein was named a MacArthur fellow, the award colloquially known as the “genius grant.” In 2005, Goldstein wrote Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, and in 2006, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave Us Modernity, a biography of the seventeenth-century thinker. In 2010, she returned to novel-writing with Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, a playful work with the timely theme of a protagonist who is author of a bestselling book on atheism. The book concludes with a debunking of 36 arguments for the existence of God. She is a Humanist Laureate and was named 2010 Humanist of the Year. She is a Research Associate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard, and currently Miller Scholar at Santa Fe institute, and will be Franke Visiting Fellow, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale Univerity and Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth in 2013. Goldstein was interviewed on Freethought Radio in January 2010.
“It was while I was studying philosophy that I came to understand. . . that it is no sign of moral or spiritual strength to believe that for which one has no evidence, neither a priori evidence as in math, nor a posteriori evidence as in science. . . . It's a violation almost immoral in its transgressiveness to shirk the responsibilities of rationality.”
—Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, h/convention/past-conventions/2011-convention-hartford-connecticut/
Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski ; Photo by Steven Pinker
© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.