Faculty Publications

W.E.B. Du Bois’s John Brown: Placing Racial Justice at the Center of a Socialist Politics

Document Type

Book Chapter

Journal/Book/Conference Title

The Afterlife of John Brown

First Page


Last Page



When a rival John Brown biographer asked for advice on sources, the young African American scholar William E.B. Du Bois wrote that his would not be a standard biography. Instead of an exhaustive investigation of new material, he would create “an interpretation” (Du Bois 1973, 9). Du Bois’s interpretation, written during the crucial five-year period coinciding with his Niagara Movement experiment, interrogates the nature of slavery—and all forms of labor—under laissez-faire capitalism. Du Bois made Brown a prescient critic of the monopoly distortions of the free market that were to shape post-Civil War race and class relations. Through writing his biography of John Brown, Du Bois clarified his own mission and strategy as an emerging race leader.


Department of Languages and Literatures

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version