“’The attempt of a stranger to sum up in a half hour the experience which another has spent 80 years in accumulating is invariably a mess which neither likes.’”
To Benjamin A. Brown, December 2, 1949; microfilm reel no. 63, frame no. 1122;
W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Although W. E. B. Du Bois made clear his opinion on interviews, we nevertheless could not miss the opportunity to sit down with some of the Visiting Scholars and Graduate Student Fellows as they delved into their research in the Du Bois Center at the UMass Amherst Libraries.
Gaidi Faraj: Du Bois and Black Power
“I first learned about Du Bois as an undergraduate sociology major,” said Gaidi Faraj, an independent Visiting Scholar with a PhD in African American Studies from the University of California Berkeley. “I have always been fascinated by his range of scholarship and how he was able to write about all different subjects, including history, politics, and economy.”
Faraj’s project, Unearthing the Underground: A Study of Radical Activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, is a timely manuscript-length revision of his dissertation. “My work is on the underground and extralegal protest tactics of the Black Power Movement, and the contemporary rise of social activism that hearkens back to the same issues,” he explained. “I thought it was a good time to work on revising it into a manuscript, and I came here to do research for the revisions.”
In Unearthing the Underground, Faraj examines “the radical elements of the Black Power Movement,” as well as a continuum of social and political activism addressed in Du Bois’s works on the role of self-defense and armed resistance.
For Faraj, the Du Bois Fellowship has been instrumental in advancing his project. “When you do online research, you have easy access that makes people forget about the value of going through archives and how archives could lead you in directions you never thought about.”
With the support of the Special Collections and University Archives, he was able to access the trial transcripts and personal papers of United Freedom Front co-founder Raymond Luc Levasseur.
“The Levasseur trial transcripts and personal papers – letters and correspondence of his time in prison and other miscellaneous literature he collected – led me to the letters of several other activists and political prisoners I wouldn’t know about otherwise, such as Stanley Bond,” Faraj said. “My work is about understanding the political motivation for people to take up arms and participate in extralegal activities. Looking at their personal papers and seeing what they write to their wives, children, etc. is interesting to see how they justify their actions…it gives a personal look inside their minds.”
Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community.