The Present-Past: Thomas Jefferson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Times of Slavery and Democracy
Gregory Laski, Northwestern University
This paper reads W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903) as a response to Thomas Jefferson’s foundational meditations on race, slavery, and democracy. Where Jefferson calls to colonize emancipated African Americans for fear that their abiding presence would precipitate a race war and arrest the development of the body politic, Du Bois makes the living past of racial bondage—and the black subject—central to the project of realizing a racially inclusive democracy in the United States after abolition. Examined together, I argue, these two writers bring attention to a topic that remains neglected in discussions of race not simply in the field of American literary studies but also in democratic theory: time.
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