When W. E. B. Turned 150

Phillip Luke

Part 1: The Unveiling

From the Berkshires and heavenly hills
descended Willie in 1868.

Wearing a top hat and wielding a cane
he strode through Europe’s colonial past—
his intellect decolonized.
A Van Dyke beard, precisely

cropped, mirrored clipped
New England diction that

polished his fancy words
like chrome.

On a brown, shiny dome of wisdom
resided rebellious follicles

within which synapses of insurgent ideas
popped like firecrackers.


Part 2: A Voice within the Veil

From his mouth lively words spilled
forcefully like waves in dark waters

that rose up and crashed
Jim Crow’s hypocrisy on jagged rocks.

With ebony boldness he splashed color

into The Crisis and in the record

of the darker races protested profusely
& passionately

& printed pride that revealed
shadows in ivory’s dark soul.

From Pittsburgh he couriered
his words to a nation.
To the globe from Chicago he wrote,
his liberated words in Freedom spoke in
the People’s Voice.

He reconstructed Black history,
and turned the flame of culture

into a Black man’s art of
sorrow songs and spiritual strivings.

A world of African words—then as now—
gave gifts to the souls of black folk.


Part 3: Battling for Peace

His active mind and busy hands
held the strength of iron bars
that handcuffed injustice.

Cold War surveillance watched Du Bois
while he tracked the government’s
intrusive eye.


Part 4: Middle Passage Reversal

Then Ghana called. To Accra
he went on freedom’s passport.

While a King dreamed in
Washington, D.C. in 1963
an Ancestor arose. Ashe.


An Afterthought

His life’s testimony
a redistribution of
intellect & insight that

razes the 21st century’s
color line & mortally punctures
white supremacy’s pride.





Acknowledgments: The phrase “clipped New England diction” is a reworked line from David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 685. Similarly, “synapses” draws on Lewis’s essay “The Autobiography of Biography,” The American Scholar (Summer 2014): 94-102. The title of part 4, “Middle Passage Reversal” rescripts lines from Sandra Staton-Taiwo’s poems “Revolution” and “Change” in Broad Sympathies in a Narrow World: The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois (Detroit: Broadside Lotus Press, 2018), 21-25, 77.