Lee Baker, "W.E.B DuBois, Franz Boas, and 'the Real Race Problem'"

Friday, February 5, 2021 - 9:30am to 11:00am


Event Contact

Rogers, Sarah

Lee Baker

View Lee Baker's full tgiFHI talk below!

For more on Dr. Baker's work, read his interview in our "Meet Your Humanities Faculty" series. He describes how science and society shape one another, the racist underbelly of assimilation, and how piecing together the lives of people living in the early 20th century can be a bit like detective work.

Talk description:

In 1905 W.E.B. DuBois asked Franz Boas to give a paper at his Atlanta University Conference on Health and Physique of the Negro and the ensuring commencement address the following day. In 1910, DuBois asked Boas to present the final lecture of a two-day conference that incorporated the N.A.A.C.P. Each speech demonstrated how W.E.B. DuBois leveraged anthropology to showcase advanced African civilizations of the past, which proved that people of African descent could participate in a civilized society and could create it. He also used anthropology to demonstrate that one race was not inferior to any other. In this lecture on DuBois and anthropology, I will outline the relationship between DuBois and Boas during the first decade of the 20th century and describe how DuBois pragmatically used anthropology in The Crisis and other publications to elevate and vindicate African Americans in the struggle for freedom, liberty, and justice for all. I will also highlight the racist anti-racism of American Anthropology because Boas sincerely believed that "the real race problem" was the slow pace of racial amalgamation. After all, he explained, "in a race of octaroons, living among whites, the color question would probably disappear."

Speaker bio:

Lee Baker is Mrs. A. Hehmeyer Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, and African and African American Studies at Duke University.

He received his B.S. from Portland State University and his doctorate in anthropology from Temple University. He has been a resident fellow at Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Johns Hopkins’s Institute for Global Studies, The University of Ghana-Legon, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Humanities Center. His books include From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954 (1998), Life in America: Identity and Everyday Experience (2003), and Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture (2010).

Although he focuses on the history of anthropology, he has published numerous articles on a wide range of subjects from socio-linguistics to race and democracy. Baker also received the Richard K. Lublin Distinguished Teaching Award and the American Anthropological Association’s award for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America. From 2008-2016, he served as Duke’s Dean of Academic Affairs.

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Friday, February 5, 2021 - 9:30am to 11:00am
Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI)
Event Co-Sponsors
African and African American Studies (AAAS), Cultural Anthropology