Was W. E. B. Du Bois a romantic at heart?

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W. E. B. Du Bois. Photo by James Edward Purdy/ Adam Cuerden - National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons.
W. E. B. Du Bois. Photo by James Edward Purdy/ Adam Cuerden - National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two activities converged for me during COVID-19: when not officiating funerals, I read romance novels and took long walks along the Charles River, thinking about W. E. B. Du Bois as a romantic.

I chose romance novels because no matter what the protagonist personally slog through in the narrative, there is always a happy-ever-after (HEA) ending. The long walks were a way to get out of the house and see people while I masked up and walked an appreciable distance from them.

During my morning constitutional, I intentionally passed 20 Flagg Street, where sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, resided from 1890 to 1893 while a doctoral student because of the university's segregation housing policy prohibiting blacks in the dorms. Since 1994, thanks to then Mayor Reeves (the first gay and black mayor of Cambridge), the house is part of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, and the Cambridge Historical Commission placed a marker on the front yard to commemorate Du Bois's life.

In wanting to download something to read on my Kindle in the evening, I happened across a romantic novel by Du Bois titled "Dark Princess, A Romance Novel." I was in disbelief. In learning more about the book, Du Bois said of his body of work, "Dark Princess, A Romance Novel" was his favorite. Because the book was on sale on Amazon as a Kindle ebook for $2.99, I thought to myself, what did I have to lose? However, the book piqued my interest. The thought of Du Bois having written a romance novel didn't fit the image of the man I learned about in college.

Born three years after the American Civil War in 1868 and died one day before the historic March on Washington in August 1963, Du Bois is known as one of last century's preeminent scholars on African American life. Known as Willie to family and friends, Du Bois spent his formative years in the Berkshire community of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, approximately a 2 1/2 hour drive from Boston. I wonder if it was during his time in Great Barrington, with less than thirty African American families, that the seed of his concept of "double consciousness" began to take root when he depicted his 1903 seminal and autoethnographic text the "Souls of Black Folks,"

"One ever feels his 'twoness' — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

"Dark Princess" was written in 1924 during the Harlem Renaissance. This cultural and artistic movement promoted the causes, hopes, dreams, and genius of black America through its black intellectuals, musicians, writers, poets, and artists. "Dark Princess" was Du Bois's effort to showcase black love while illustrating his concept of the "problem of the color line" at home and abroad and the need for solidarity across races. While the book shows that Black and Brown lives globally are constantly challenged, we must find time for joy, love, and celebration as a radical act of liberation.

The protagonist, Matthew Townes, an aspiring obstetrician student, is told because he's African American, he'll not be permitted to treat white patients, bringing the opportunity to complete his studies to a halt. With shattered dreams, Townes is exiled to Berlin, where he meets Kautilya, a Southeast Asian princess who's the daughter of Maharaja of Bvodfur. While Kautilya educates Townes about the racial struggles all people of color confront globally against white supremacy, a romance blooms between them, and they marry.

African American life in the U.S. is primarily depicted as a struggle devoid of romantic love, a radical act of living liberation, and growing families. Under the tyranny of colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, and simple everyday life, how do we have time for romance? Or a softer racial spin on the subject, I've been told that, as a people, we are so fixated on freedom that we're not capable of romantic love. Also, bombarded by the iconography of negative images and racial tropes on multimedia platforms as emasculating females, welfare mothers as black women and "super-predators," pimps, and roving phalluses as black males the perception is Black people don't engage in romance- we have sex, and we make babies.

Du Bois concludes the novel with the birth of Townes's son, signifying a movement toward the love of black families.

In 2023, as a "Love letter to Black Families," an Atlanta-based black couple was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois's "The Brownies's Book" with their version. Between 1920- 1921, the book was a monthly magazine, Du Bois depicted as for "Children of the Sun ... designed for all children, but especially for ours." Du Bois wanted black children to hear positive stories and see positive images of themselves while growing up during the Jim Crow era.

Similarly, the now husband and wife duo Charly Palmer and Karida L. Brown saw the need for an expanded version of the book today. At that time the two were working on "The New Brownies' Book: A Love Letter to Black Families," a romance was blossoming between Brown and Palmer.

"We want the book on the coffee table of every Black family across the country and around the world. It's a love letter to Black families. We want Black families to know they are loved."