Saturday afternoon at the P.J. Ahern Home provides an opportunity to experience a living history program focusing on W.E.B. DuBois.
Starting at 2 p.m., Chautauqua scholar Charles Everett Pace presents a performance titled "Legacy of the Great War: W.E.B. DuBois, the N.A.A.C.P., Democracy Building and Me." In addition to DuBois, Pace has portrayed historically important people like Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Frederick Douglass.
We caught up with Pace to talk about Saturday's program in an email Q&A. Here is what he had to say, edited for space:
Q: What makes studying or thinking about W.E.B DuBois particularly relevant to today?
A: DuBois was an academic, artist and activist with a global vision, grounded in his knowledge of the American experience.
The American experiment in democratic self government had/has the potential to be an empowering example for the rest of the world. He was particularly interested in how we craft a society where the practice of human equality as an ideal triumphs over the practice of white supremacy as a reality.
The NAACP as an organization is dedicated to this end. And his research and publications in history, sociology, journalism, and literature provide insight into his ideas how this might be done. How we can overcome the obstacles and leverage the opportunities that lead us further into our ideal of "out of many, one," for the group, while at the same time remove the obstacles for each individual to pursue happiness through a life of liberty by democratic means?
Q: Tell us how you bring DuBois to life for the audience members. On what aspect of his life and philosophy will you focus your presentation?
A: My presentation will focus on how DuBois and the NAACP responded to President Woodrow Wilson's stated objective for the American military's involvement in World War I. The American objective was "to save the world for democracy."
Specifically, we will look at the role of American leadership and the place of black men as leaders. Though black men had fought in every war since the American Revolution, World War I was the first war where black men were trained as commissioned officers in the combat arms, infantry and artillery.
We will examine the result of their training by examining their leadership effectiveness both during the war and when they returned home.
Black people spoke of the "double V" mission of the war. Victory abroad against the Germans and victory at home against the system of "Jim Crow." At home blacks waged a war against the forces that stood in the way of blacks being being full equal participants in all aspects of American society. "Save the [European] world for democracy" and save the [American] world for democracy" was the dual mission of the war from the black perspective.
Q: DuBois's influence on the NAACP. How does this influence wield itself today in terms of activism and consciousness raising? What is the legacy?
A: DuBois's vision was the vision that grounded and guided the purpose of the NAACP from its founding in 1909 to today. It is still the same mission: human equality and full democracy for all. There is an activist agenda working to ensure that the American legal system serves "the common good" for all Americans.
Q: What do you hope someone attending gets from the program? Is there a particular side to DuBois that makes him most compelling for a presentation of this nature?
A: I hope that all those in attendance see the purpose and value of public humanities programming via the Chautauqua format. They will become active participants in my three-part, interactive program. The program format itself models the idea of democracy.
Thus, after the first act in-character presentation by the scholar, the audience will pose challenging questions to DuBois the historical character.
I want the audience to demonstrate a healthy skepticism towards DuBois, Pace, the scholar and the text of our presentation. I invite them to "trust me not" but to "test" me and my ideas . As an academic this is what DuBois would require. As well as being educational, my program should also be enjoyable, theatrically pleasing, entertaining and a joy to experience. This is what DuBois as artist would expect.
Q: Describe your connection to DuBois. As a Chautauqua scholar, what draws you to him?
A: DuBois is my beau ideal in my pursuit of happiness towards being the best academic, artist and activist that I can be.
(Admission is free. Seating is limited and reservations are recommended. The P.J. Ahern Home is located at 403 Laurel St. More info and reservations: 903-793-4831 or TexarkanaMuseums.org/events.)