cover image W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963

W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963

David Levering Lewis. Henry Holt & Company, $35 (715pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-2534-7

This second (and final) volume of Lewis's critically praised biography of one of the founders of the contemporary black civil rights movement and a champion of human rights around the world is as astute and superbly written as the first. Here, in the years after WWI, Lewis finds Du BoisDalready established as one of the most controversial, powerful and persuasive voices of the movement through such books as The Souls of Black Folk and his editorship of the highly influential journal of the NAACP, CrisisDfaced with spiraling white violence against African-Americans as race riots and lynchings increase. Lewis concentrates on Du Bois's attempt to guide the movement through the increasingly precarious complexities of U.S. politics and culture as he explicates such diverse issues as Du Bois's commitment to feminism and women's rights, his dedication to Pan Africanism and his expanding roles as an official and unofficial foreign ambassador for the U.S. government, all of which are controversial both within and outside of the civil rights movement. Lewis is especially adroit at interpreting the complications of Du Bois's personal and emotional life, including his long, though not especially companionable, marriage to his wife, Nina, and his series of ""parallel marriages"" to other women. The biography is at its most politically and intellectually gripping when it details the tensions and interplay between the NAACP and the American Communist Party during the notorious Scottsboro trial, and later when Arthur Schlesinger Jr. red-baited the civil rights group in an infamous article in Life. While readers will need to read Lewis' first volume to fully appreciate this one, his superb command of the complexity of his subject and time make this a major work of American biography and history. Lewis's two volume biography is not only a must-read for those fascinated by African-American history, but also holds powerful crossover appeal for anyone interested in the racial conflicts at the heart of 20th century American history. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)