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Du Bois, Shirley Graham

Shirley Graham Du Bois

The 1,068-page FBI file of Shirley Graham Du Bois (1896-1977) exceeds that of her famous husband, W.E.B. Du Bois, by over 300 pages.  As the Bureau’s ghostreaders recognized, her career as a novelist, composer, playwright, and activist outlived his, and began decades before their marriage in 1951.  Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Graham Du Bois studied music and French in the preferred New Negro destination of Paris prior to earning B.A. and M.A. degrees from Oberlin College.  Her name in musical theater was made when she expanded her one-act play Tom-Tom into a 1932 opera with an all-black cast, perhaps the first such opera produced by an African American woman.  The mid-1930s found her employed by the Federal Theater Project and composing the theme song for Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog (1939).  A scholarship to the Yale School of Drama then inspired several plays of her own: I Gotta Home (1940), Elijah’s Raven (1941), and Dust of Earth (1941).  Her growing frustration with the limits of the commercial theater led her deeper into political work—first for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and then as a member of the Communist Party.  Along with other leftist writers battered by the Cold War, she found relative freedom in the genre of young adult literature, publishing biographies of Frederick Douglass (1949), Pocahontas (1953), and Booker T. Washington (1955), among many others.  The FBI caught up with Graham Du Bois as she attempted to travel internationally along with W.E.B. Du Bois. The couple faced the worst of the Bureau’s Cold War strictures, their passports seized and their places on the Security Index secured. Her years in Ghana working to develop the new black nation’s television service were troubled by FBI surveillance as well as by a CIA-supported coup. 

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Du Bois, Shirley Graham

FBI documents studying Shirley Graham Du Bois.




Material is in the public domain.

text, 1,068 PDFs, 400 ppi



Du Bois, Shirley Graham