Two of the greatest history books ever written emerged three years apart: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America (1935) and C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938). Both were about race, class, slavery, and revolution, and both were forged with comparable purposes. Du Bois and James sought that their historical insights about revolutions past would speak to revolutions future.
Du Bois, the most important African American intellectual of the twentieth century, wished for his trailblazing analysis of the Civil War and Reconstruction to endow the wisdom of past struggles upon the coming movement for black rights in the United States. James, a Trinidadian living in London at the time of writing and one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth-century black diaspora, hoped that his remarkable inquiry into the Haitian Revolution would speak to the emerging anticolonial movements for independence in Africa. Continue reading