On February 20th 2014, Rutgers Camden held the final of a four part documentary series entitled “The Life of W.E.B Du Bois.” Starting on Monday, the seventeenth, and ending on Thursday, the twentieth, Dr. Katrina Hazzard-Donald, director of Africana studies, hosted thirty to forty-five minute segments of an enticing documentary depicting the struggles of sociologist, historian, author, Pan- Africanist and civil rights activist W.E.B Du Bois. Not only was the event equipped with eager Rutgers Camden students, the filmmaker Louis Massiah attended the last showing. The segments “Black Folk in the New Century 1895-1915,” “Crisis and the New Negro 1919-1929,” “A Second Reconstruction 1934-1948,” and “Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace 1949-1963” are individual pieces into W.E.B Du Bois’ struggle for social justice and the fight against colonization.
Although each segment documented the desire and dedication for W.E.B Du Bois, the final piece depicted the invasive and harsh nature of the American government. Government surveillance and imprisonment were tactics used against Du Bois as he praised China and preached against colonization. The fear of McCarthyism caused violence and protest in the streets of America. However, the Peace Information Center, one of the many social organizations crafted by Du Bois, created “peace-grams” to inform the United States about other nation’s forms and acts of peace. His good intentions were ignored as he was soon put in jail and had his passport seized due to speculation of his connection to the Communist Party. W.E.B Du Bois’ literacy works were also taken from public libraries and schools; the American government attempted to “erase” Du Bois. However, this mistreatment did not seize his desire for a better and more just America. Upon receiving his passport, Du Bois and his wife toured the world; they both received overwhelming support and respect. In 1959 at ninety-one years old, Du Bois publicly applied for membership of the Communist Party; this act was mainly in response to protest the Cold War. Even in his elderly age, Du Bois attempted to raise awareness and preach the importance of peace. Before passing away at the age of ninety-five, Du Bois and his wife moved to Ghana; his last years were filled with gratitude and countless visits from some of the world’s most prominent people. Du Bois proved that the struggle for equality and peace outweighed the punishment and humiliation inflicted by his own country.
The filmmaker, Louis Massiah, is not new to the process of documentary making. He is the producer of six films and has achieved many awards for his influential works. Cornell graduate, Massiah has his M.S in documentary filmmaking from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the founder of Scribe Video Center; this center gives media artists the tools and connections to work in the video making environment. When asked why he chose Rutgers Camden to visit and to do a showing of his work, Massiah explained that Camden possesses a “rich and important” history when it comes to African American culture. Massiah also praised the doings of Dr. Hazzard-Donald and was pleased by her invitation.
Littered with interviews from writers, film makers and activists such as Carlton Moss, Howard Fast, Vicki Garvin, Dorothy Hunton and even Paul Robeson, Louis Massiah received help while creating his documentary. Writer Wesley Brown covered the early part of Du Bois life and connections with Booker T Washington, Thulani Davis covered Du Bois’ life as an editor, Toni Cade Bambara reported on the depression era and Amiri Baraka covered the government and their interaction with W.E.B Du Bois. Louis Massiah’s devotion to Du Bois stems from his desire for peaceful alternatives. To empower the black movement, people need to use culture to get through struggles. Massiah questions, “How does the work or the steps we take benefit our population?” He believes that progressive people have lost the ability to have a vision and often look to the past for answers. “People need to be visionary. Without visionaries, people do not progress. Artist and cultural workers need to bring back a vision.” Dr. Hazzard-Donald chimed in, “I am finding that there is a lack of vision in movements. There is more a selfish aspect.”
Louis Massiah’s documentary “The Life of W.E.B Du Bois” is vivid depictions of one man’s journey to create peace and equality for a country that he adored. As the father of Pan-Africanism, Du Bois was a towering figure in the issues of human rights. Humble and yearning to spread his message, Du Bois never rejected an invitation or speech. Massiah’s documentary also shows Du Bois’ growth and America’s attempt to erase his identity and accomplishments. “The Life of W.E.B Du Bois” is an educational and interesting view into the world of an African American hero.