Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois at Atlanta University, 1906 by Rosemary Levy Zumwalt & William Shedrick Willis (American Philosophical Society Transactions 98:2, ISBN: 9780871699824)

July 3, 2010 at 1:12 am Leave a comment

Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois at Atlanta University, 1906
(American Philosophical Society Transaction 98-2, ISBN: 9780871699824)
by Rosemary Levy Zumwalt and William Shedrick Willis
(Paperback, 83 pages, 2008, $35.00)

Towards a Rational Historiography
The papers of William Shedrick Willis (1921-1983), housed at the American Philosophical Society, include his drafts of the manuscript “Boas Goes to Atlanta.”

They contain the fascinating story of Franz Boas’s visit to Atlanta University in 1906, and more, because Willis intended the work to be a book on Boas’s work in black anthropology. Zumwalt focuses on what was to have been Willis’s first chapter, “Boas Goes to Atlanta.”

Zumalt expands the sections on Boas’s trip to Atlanta, the time he spent on the campus of Atlanta University, the reaction to his talk by blacks and whites, and the conflict between W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Zumwalt came to know him better as she read of his encounters with racism on a personal level and on institutional levels. Photos.

“The main contribution of this volume is perhaps not the one originally intended,” writes reviewer Julia E. Leiss in the Metascience journal. “It succeeds in drawing our attention to the work of William Willis and to his role in building ‘black anthropology’ in the 20th century.

“In this respect, his life and career are now part of the story he wanted to tell about Boas and Du Bois and part of a larger story he unfortunately also never completed. Rosemary Levy Zumwalt’s introductory chapter rather delicately advances this newer purpose, by examining how Willis experienced the conflict of the anthropological project against racism and the realities of race and racism in the United States.

“This tension, reformulated by Willis’ reading of Boas and the Boas papers, comes full circle in the publication of these essays by the American Philosophical Society, which now houses both the Boas and Willis Papers. Franz Boas and W.E.B. Du Bois at Atlanta University, 1906, in this sense, does more than its title implies, by contributing to our knowledge of the anthropology of African America and of African American anthropologists.”

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