A prolific writer on sociology, history, economics, and politics, W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most extraordinary minds of American and global history. His life traced an incredible arc; he was born three years after the end of the Civil War and died on the eve of the March on Washington. In 1903, he penned the famous line that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” Du Bois was a formative voice for many of the people who gave us the Civil Rights Movement and for all of us navigating the still-unfolding, unfinished business of civil rights now. We bring his life and ideas into relief through three conversations with people who were inspired by him.
Maya Angelou was a poet, educator, and activist. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. She is most well-known for her series of seven autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Elizabeth Alexander is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her books include Crave Radiance and her memoir, The Light of the World.
Arnold Rampersad is emeritus professor of English at Stanford University and author of The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2010.
This interview is edited and produced with music and other features in the On Being episode "Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, and Arnold Rampersad — W.E.B. Du Bois and the American Soul." Find more at onbeing.org.