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W.E.B. Dubois explains why he refused to vote

By W.E.B. Dubois, The Nation, 20 October 1956

On October 20, 1956, W. E. B. Du Bois delivers this eloquent indictment of US politics while explaining to Nation readers why he won’t vote in the upcoming Presidential election. Du Bois condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their indifferent positions on the influence of corporate wealth, racial inequality, arms proliferation and unaffordable health care.

Since I was twenty-one in 1889, I have in theory followed the voting plan strongly advocated by Sidney Lens in The Nation of August 4, i.e., voting for a third party even when its chances were hopeless, if the main parties were unsatisfactory; or, in absence of a third choice, voting for the lesser of two evils. My action, however, had to be limited by the candidates’ attitude toward Negroes. Of my adult life, I have spent twenty-three years living and teaching in the South, where my voting choice was not asked. I was disfranchised by law or administration. In the North I lived in all thirty-two years, covering eight Presidential elections. In 1912 I wanted to support Theodore Roosevelt, but his Bull Moose convention dodged the Negro problem and I tried to help elect Wilson as a liberal Southerner. Under Wilson came the worst attempt at Jim Crow legislation and discrimination in civil service that we had experienced since the Civil War. In 1916 I took Hughes as the lesser of two evils. He promised Negroes nothing and kept his word. In 1920, I supported Harding because of his promise to liberate Haiti. In 1924, I voted for La Follette, although I knew he could not be elected. In 1928, Negroes faced absolute dilemma. Neither Hoover nor Smith wanted the Negro vote and both publicly insulted us. I voted for Norman Thomas and the Socialists, although the Socialists had attempted to Jim Crow Negro members in the South. In 1932 I voted for Franklin Roosevelt, since Hoover was unthinkable and Roosevelt’s attitude toward workers most realistic. I was again in the South from 1934 until 1944. Technically I could vote, but the election in which I could vote was a farce. The real election was the White Primary.

Retired “for age” in 1944, I returned to the North and found a party to my liking. In 1948, I voted the Progressive ticket for Henry Wallace and in 1952 for Vincent Hallinan.

In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the Presidential ballot in a few states (seventeen in 1952), a “Socialist” Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called “Communist” and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail. The witnesses against him may be liars or insane or criminals. These witnesses need give no proof for their charges and may not even be known or appear in person. They may be in the pay of the United States Government. A.D.A.’s and “Liberals” are not third parties; they seek to act as tails to kites. But since the kites are self-propelled and radar-controlled, tails are quite superfluous and rather silly.

READ MORE via W.E.B. Dubois, I Won’t Vote.

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10 thoughts on “W.E.B. Dubois explains why he refused to vote

  1. Brandon

    Ok, I understand what he’s saying. However, the democratic system is one of the chief tools of empowerment in the community. Even when things are working at the optimum it’s important to use the political clout we posess.
    So Mr. “Talented Tenth” advocates giving up rights and influence just because he doesn’t see an effective candidate. Wouldn’t it have been more effective to rally the constituents and made their voices known at the ballot box feather than making an egotistical, selfish move that effectively throws your rights and power away?
    It’s like a husband that gets disenchanted with his wife when he discovers she farts using that as grounds for divorce forgetting about the family, children and legacy. I think this letter is proof that Dr.Dubois is a sell out. A sell out because he willingly castrated himself rather than using his right to effect change.
    Today a congressperson or senator can get into office with a mere 15 to 20% of the population voting for them because so many people have taken Dr. DuBoise stance of not voting, not being engaged. It’s a sad legacy. Change takes time, takes effort, takes sustained involvement

    • Arthur

      Your comment is not based in the historical facts. There have been no great leaders in our community since we were brought to this country that had a more sustained, high-level leadership profile than Du Bois. He was born in 1868 so if you do the math he is 89 years old when he decides, for the first time in his life, to actively absent himself from the voting rolls. So when you grow up and decide to discuss adult things beyond “farts” in adult ways beyond name-calling and make a difference at an international level for over seven-decades and say and write things that live long past your death – then talk to me about Du Bois’ failings. In the mean time you’d do well to read David Levering Lewis’ two-part biography of Du Bois and find some legitimate issues in his life to castigate him about. Because I assure you – this is not one of them!!

    • Jason

      Your analogy is interesting. If a husband becomes disenchanted with his wife because he does not like her lipstick that is one thing. But if a husband becomes disenchanted with his wife because she refuses to treat him as a full human being with equal human rights within the marriage, that is quite another. I think DuBois’ disenchantment is about the latter not the former. He wanted Independence ultimately and had labored through his writing to distill a mind and voice u.ique to the Afrivan American experience, which voice could not be hesrd by a capitalist, white supremacist culture.

    • qbambino

      he, like myself, is saying that IT DOESNT MATTER who u vote for because the system is corrupt & none of these people are gonna truly help black people! so sad that it still holds true after all these years, they are just playing childish games with each other STALLING OUT the people, its time to stop depending on these clown that will never give black people what they are owed & start forming Coalitions & starting another Civil Rights movement demanding equality from WHOEVER is in office! the real coons are the ones who’s not on board with us & just keep voting for the clownery carouse

    • tony

      Blacks have been told this for decades, and nothing ever changes. Politicians today mainly care about the big donors, not actual voters.

  2. Tyler Clifford

    This headline is very misleading. It says that it would explain why DuBois refused to vote, but in fact it talked about why he refused to vote in a specific election. Gotta do better than that. Nice piece though on how you can vote without supporting the two major parties.

  3. Debo

    What Mr. D Budois articulated so well, is the exact behavior we all are about to experience at the hands of the Republicans. Let me be clear, what happened on election day was chilling, however AA’s still believe they have voter Klout…… Not anymore. The Republican house and Senate rule will show AA’, “you are no longer the strong voting block that you think you are. You see what occurred less than 24 hours after the election, Boehner threatened President Obama saying, “if you play with matches, you will get burnt”, WTF!!! Obama is trying to put forward an immigration reform bill, yet that drunk called him out?
    Fasten your seat belt, for it’s going to be a bumpy ride!! 🙁 🙁

    • tony

      Debo Obama giving amnesty to illegals will hurt blacks the most. But Obama and the Democratic Party only care about votes. Wake up please. Blacks are not Obama/Democrats number one priority.

  4. Kid

    We seen what happens when you stay home and not vote. When all the government programs get cut and white folks feel the pain, the Republican Party will become obsolete.

    • tony

      Kid we blacks will always be last among the races if folks like you keep caring only about free stuff from the government. How about getting a job and education and take care of your own self and family?


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