Monday, February 8, 2016


   In 1971 I flew to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to live for a year at least, taking the chance of finding a job teaching after just earning my elementary teaching credential at UC Berkeley.  I can't forget the apprehension of my mother when I took that 36 hour journey.  Why did I want to live in one of the 16 poorest countries in the world?  In one word: Revolution.
   My sister had met the wonderful Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu and another Zanzibari in Cuba in 1964.  Babu insisted I could find a job if I went to Tanzania.  What I found were the most profound experiences, events, and people that I would ever again encounter in my life. I was 24 years old and not very assertive. But I had to go. I had to see the place where all the revolutionary independence movement of Africa were headquartered, where African Americans were welcomed to set up businesses and live freely, where so many wonderful people came to support, or sometimes hinder, President Julius Nyerere's programs of Ujamaa, Uhuru, and INDEPENDENCE.

   One day while I was visiting Babu and his beautiful wife Ashura, a woman came to the door. I believe I must have been going out as I was not able to meet her.  It turned out to be the marvelous Shirley Graham DuBois, second wife of W.E.B. DuBois. (AND THAT IS PRONOUNCED DUBOYS - Dr. DuBois said he was not French.)  
   There are not enough words to describe the intelligence, accomplishment, talent, creativity, wide-ranging interests, brilliance, and more that compose the body and soul of Shirley Graham DuBois.  While still a college student at Oberlin University, DuBois wrote a 3-act, 16-scene opera that was performed in front of 10,000 and then 15,000 people in Cleveland.  She was the first African American woman to compose an opera for an all Black cast.  "Tom-Toms was a history of African America set against the music she composed."
   Shirley Graham DuBois was a fighter for equal rights from the very beginning of her life. She worked for the YWCA and was fired after defending two men who had been falsely accused.  She promptly went to work for the NAACP and organized branches throughout the country.
   She wrote award-winning autobiographies and novels:  Dr. George Washington Carver, 1944; What Someone Wanted, 2007; His Day is Marching On: A Memoir of W.E.B. DuBois, 1971; There Was Once A Slave: The Heroic Story of Frederick Douglass, 1947; Julius K. Nyerere: Teacher of Africa, 1975; Paul Robeson: Citizen of the World, 1971; Zulu Heart: A Novel, 1974; Gamal Abdel Nasser, Son of the Nile, 1972, and more, including Paul Robeson, Anne Royall, Phillis Wheatley, Jean Baptiste du Sable, and Pocahontas.

Gerald Horne, her biographer, describes her thusly:  "During her event-filled life, this diminutive, light brown-skinned woman with a broad gray streak in her hair was variously a composer, playwright, drummer, biographer, editor, novelist, and political activist. However, the zenith of her life may have been the time she spent in the 1960s -- after the death of her spouse, W.E.B. DuBois -- as a pivotal advisor and official in the government of Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana."  A description of this book about her states: "Gerald Horne draws a revealing portrait of this controversial figure who championed the civil rights movement in America, the liberation struggles in Africa and the socialist struggles in Maoist China.  Through careful analysis and use of personal correspondence, interviews, and previously unexamined documents, Horne explores her work as a Harlem Renaissance playwright, biographer, composer, teacher, novelist, Left political activist, advisor, and inspiration, who was a powerful historical actor."

Books that include Shirley Graham DuBois:
The East Is Black: Cold War China In the Black Radical Imagination by Robeson Taj Frazier
Want to Start A Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle edited by Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharris, and Komozi Woodard
Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham DuBois by Gerald Horne.

DuBois, Shirley Graham [DuBoisopedia] -
Project Muse: Race Woman - 
Shirley Graham DuBois, composer, playwright, novelist, activist | African American Registry - 
The Musical Life of Shirley Graham DuBois | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University - 
DuBois, Shirley Graham, 1896 - 1977. Papers, 1865 - 1998 (inclusive), 1905-1975 (bulk): a Finding Aid - 

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