Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois
Gerald Horne, New York University Press, 363 pgs.
Review by Linda Ragin, Staff Writer
I started reading Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois,
I was pretty comfortable with my assumption that this book would be
about a woman who gained fame after her marriage to W.E. B. Du
Bois. I was totally wrong. It is said that her years
married to Du Bois 1951 to 1963, may have been the least productive of
her life, because she felt obligated to take on a more submissive role
as a married woman.
was born Lola Shirley Graham, in the Midwest in 1896, at a time when Jim
Crow laws prevailed. Her
father David Graham was a well-educated man, a pastor of an AME church. He had no qualms about taking up arms, along with other men
in his congregation and holding meetings at the church in response to
Jim Crow segregation laws. Shirley
Graham’s great grandfather’s farm was one of the underground railway
stations. So it’s no real
wonder where Shirley Graham Du Bois got her sense of duty to contribute
to the “racial uplift” of her people. It was in her blood
wondered why I had never heard of Shirley
Graham Du Bois. Gerald
Horne, discovered, through a “chance encounter,” her personal papers
kept by her son David, after her death.
Thanks to this “chance
encounter,” Mr. Horne was able to bring to light, in a most profound
way, her life and the legacy she left behind.
Graham Du Bois was an activist, a biographer, teacher, novelist,
playwright, composer and advisor. Her
first major opera Tom-Tom pushed her into the front ranks of
black America and established her as a major artistic force. I would have loved to be in that
theatre-- front row seat--when Tom-Tom was performed. Shirley
Graham Du Bois wrote,
directed and produced this opera herself.
Through her journeys, particularly to Paris in 1926, she met
blacks that were not African American, and they introduced her to an
unknown part of her heritage. The
music, the dancing and the drama in Tom-Tom were her attempt to
“map the journey of Africans in North America from slavery to freedom. Tom-Tom drew 10,000
people at its premier and 15,000 the second showing.
was fascinated to discover that one of her plays, “It’s Morning”,
about an African-American woman on a plantation who is about to murder
her daughter, rather than see her live as a slave, was the theme for
Toni Morrison’s book and subsequent movie titled Beloved.
admired her commitment to the racial uplift of all peoples of color as
well as African-Americans. When
we talk about successful African Americans “giving back” to the
communities from which they came, Shirley Graham Du Bois took the
concept a step farther back. She
was about successful African -Americans giving back to Africa, our point
of origin. Shirley Graham Du Bois traveled all over the world with one
passion in mind--the uplifting of people of color. She died in China in 1977. Her
commitment to the uplifting of people of color brought her into a circle
of dedicated race women. Sojourners
for Truth and Justice, was an organization of black women dedicated
to the cause of Rosa Lee Ingram, a tenant farmer in rural Georgia, who
fought back when assaulted by her white landlord.
I really don’t have
adequate words to express how much I have been inspired and encouraged by
Shirley Graham Du Bois’ life. I
hope that her story will inspire others to “give back” and move us
“For everything you are,
Shirley Graham, everything you stand for, is with us tonight like a