The Arab itineraries of W.E.B. Du Bois’s wife Shirley Graham Du Bois and his step-son David Graham Du Bois are well known. Shirley’s writings on Arab politics in The Black Scholar and elsewhere have recently received extended scholarly attention in Vaughn Rasberry’s Race and the Totalitarian Century (2016). And David’s long career in the Middle East was fictionalized in his 1975 novel of Black American expatriates in Cairo ... And Bid Him Sing.
But the contours of W.E.B. Du Bois’ own career in the Middle East are less known, though his curious entanglements with Israel and Zionism have recently been explicated in Alex Lubin’s Geographies of Liberation (2014). Du Bois's wide and deep learning in the machinations of imperialism globally meant that the tribulations of the region were certainly known to him. Indeed, in a brilliant book which Gerald Horne approvingly calls a “militant tract” and Foreign Affairs disparagingly reviewed as “little more than an anti-imperialist—especially an anti-British—tract,” Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace (1945), Du Bois observed that the “situation in the Middle East—the oil of Iran, the subjugation of Syria, the unrest among the Arabs—is a serious threat to the possibility of maintaining peace after this war.” The elder Du Bois’ international connections and internationalist commitments were exceptional, so further research into his reception in the Arab world is necessary.
Below, a message from some Iraqis to Du Bois. Who exactly the authors were is not known. Nor do we know how they learned of Du Bois or why they sent him this telegram (perhaps they sent similar messages to other prominent Americans). 1958, the year of this message, was also the year Du Bois regained his U.S. passport eight years after it had been confiscated by the government and was able to travel internationally again.
Dear Mr Boise [sic] on behalf of American universities in Iraq we appeal to you in the most urgent manner to stop United States aggression in our sister Arab state Lebanon the aggression against our sister state Jordan and the aggression being contemplated against our own beloved country. It is not possible for us to see how the United States with complete disregard the principles of the United Nations and without paying any heed to the report of the United Nations commission in Lebanon can give itself the right to land troops in Lebanon which is according to the report of the UN commission torn by civil war the United States position on the revolution in Iraq is equally deplorable. It is well known that the previous royalist regime was a police state intensely hated by the people of Iraq who staged several unsuccessful revolutions to overthrow it in 1941 1948 several unsuccessful revolutions to overthrow it in 1948, 1948, 1952 and 1956 we should not have to remind you that the right to revolution is an inherent right of the people of any country and that the United States of America was founded by such a method. Our young republic which came into being a few days ago enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of our people whose slogan on the day of the revolution then arouse the ire of Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge and be used as a pretext for intervention in Lebanon and possible intervention in Iraq? Such western intervention in Iraq as is being prepared will not deceive world public opinion no matter under what pretext it is carried out, even though it may deceive the American people thanks to the lies and distortions of the monopoly press if such aggression be unleashed against us we will meet it with with all the forces at our disposal including the support of the Asian African and socialist countries and the sympathy of decent people all over the world should this lead to an atomic war which may well be the case it will indeed be tragic. But the responsibility will clearly and entirely rest upon the shoulders of the United States we sincerely hope that common sense and simple human decency will prevail and will curb the hotheads in Washington who seem to be insistent on drawing the world into the abyss and that world peace and our freedom will be saved.
Telegram from graduates of American universities in Iraq to W. E. B. Du Bois, July 19, 1958. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. The text has been slightly edited for clarity.