Groundbreaking Civil Rights Book Republished

AP, February 17, 2009

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Amid the terror and oppression, civil rights pioneer W.E.B. DuBois published a groundbreaking book in 1924 that challenged the pervasive stereotypes of African Americans and documented their rarely recognized achievements.

His book, “The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America,” detailed the role of African Americans with the earliest explorers to inventions ranging from ice cream to player pianos. He argued that blacks were crucial to conquering the wilderness, winning wars, expanding democracy and creating a prosperous economy by producing tobacco, sugar, cotton and rice and helping to build the Panama Canal.

“The Negro worked as farm hand and peasant proprietor, as laborer, artisan and inventor and as servant in the house, and without him, America as we know it, would have been impossible,” DuBois wrote.

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“African-Americans have served on the Supreme Court, in the cabinet, and, finally, as president of the United States,” Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, wrote in the introduction. “The Gift of Black Folk allows us to fully appreciate these monumental achievements.”

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Gates [Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who edited DuBois’ works], who is considering doing an introduction to the book, said he hopes the decision to issue a new edition “would augur a more liberal set of social policies for the Knights of Columbus.”

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A black man named Estevanico was the first European to discover Arizona and New Mexico after others on the expedition died. {snip}

Blacks invented devices for handling sails, corn harvesters and an evaporating pan which revolutionized the method of refining sugar. Another inventor created a machine for the mass production of shoes that was used by the United Shoe Machinery Company.

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The U.S. Patent Office at the time maintained records for 1,500 inventions by blacks, an incomplete record, DuBois said. Black scientists did important work on insects and insanity.

Benjamin Banneker was a leading American scientist whose mathematical genius won the praise of Thomas Jefferson and led the slave owner to question notions of racial superiority.

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The book portrays Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave, as leading the fight against British soldiers that sparked the famous Boston massacre of 1770. {snip}

Black soldiers and slaves helped saved New Orleans during the War of 1812, winning praise from General Andrew Jackson. {snip}

“Without the active participation of the Negro in the Civil War, the union could not have been saved, nor slavery destroyed, in the nineteenth century,” DuBois wrote.

In fighting slavery, blacks forced the country to expand its democracy and wound up winning rights for poor whites who did not own property, DuBois argued. Their efforts also led to social reforms such as free public schools.

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