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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 476

Papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, 1865-1998 (inclusive), 1905-1975 (bulk)


Papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, African American writer, playwright, composer, biographer, teacher, civil rights and left-wing activist.


  • 1865-1998
  • Majority of material found within 1905-1975

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Unrestricted, except for those folders which are closed due to fragility; use photocopies or digital images

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Shirley Graham Du Bois is held by Odell Murry. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


21.64 linear feet ((44 file boxes, 2 folio boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 1.5 linear feet of photographs, 24 folio folders, 24 folio+ folders, 8 oversize folders)

The collection is divided into five series.

Series I, Personal and Biographical (#1.1-9.3), is divided into seven subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical information (#1.1-2.3f+), includes autobiographical/biographical sketches, drivers license, scrapbooks, clippings, awards, household information, etc.

Subseries B, Education (#2.4o-4.4), consists of class notebooks, etc.

Subseries C, Travel (#4.5-5.6), includes passports, notes, and diaries.

Subseries D, Date books (#5.7v-6.7v), is arranged chronologically.

Subseries E, Correspondence with suitors (#6.8-7.2), is arranged chronologically.

Subseries F, Financial (#7.3-7.15), includes passbooks, statements, etc.

Subseries G, Clippings and Other Material Collected by Shirley Graham Du Bois (#7.16-9.3), covers subjects of interest to Shirley Graham Du Bois and is arranged by mostly topic.

Series II, Family (#9.4-15.5f), is divided into four subseries. See Graham family genealogical chart at the end of this finding aid. Information for the chart was gathered from papers and photographs in the collection.

Graham family genealogy, 1827-1977

Subseries A, Parents (#9.4-11.10), includes Reverend D.A. Graham's sermons, writings, correspondence and biographical information. Also includes Etta Bell Graham's scrapbooks, correspondence with her children, and biographical information.

Subseries B, Brothers (#11.11-12.3), mainly consists of correspondence between Shirley Graham Du Bois and her four brothers. Also includes writings by brothers Lorenz Bell Graham and Orval Graham.

Subseries C, Sons (#12.4-13.15), consists of correspondence between Shirley Graham Du Bois and Robert McCanns and David Graham.

Subseries D, W.E.B. Du Bois (#13.16-15.5f), includes publicity, articles, clippings, scrapbook, celebration and memorial programs, and correspondence with Shirley Graham Du Bois and publishers re: W.E.B. Du Bois bibliography.

Series III, General Correspondence (#15.6-22.18), spans 1926-1975 and concerns financial matters, legal issues, personal schedules, travel, appointments and volunteer activities, Ghana TV (see also Series IV, Subseries H), W.E.B. clubs of America, "repatriation" of Americans to Ghana, and W.E.B. Du Bois's work. Also included is correspondence with friends. The series includes outgoing typescript letters from Shirley Graham Du Bois as well as many incoming ones. Correspondents include: Herbert and Bettina Aptheker, Frederick Artz, Josephine Baker, Cedric Belfrage, Brindley Benn, Arna Bontemps, Stokely Carmichael , Edward Dickinson, Hallie Flanagan, Philip Foner, Vincent and Vivian Hallinan, Vincent Harding, Nathan Hare, William Hastie, Lawrence Hautz, Bernard Jaffe, George Kondolf, William P. Mahoney, Elizabeth Moos, Truman Nelson, Mary White Ovington, George Padmore, Paul and Eslanda Robeson, and Walter White. There is no correspondence in this series for 1976 to 1977.

Series IV, Work and Writings (#22.19-44.19f+), is divided into eight subseries.

Subseries A, Musical scores (#22.19-25.6f), also includes librettos, programs, scrapbook, etc.

Subseries B, Theater productions (#25.7-25.19, Folio Box 26), includes programs, reports, articles, and a scrapbook regarding Shirley Graham Du Bois's work at the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) Chicago Federal Theatre, 1931-1941.

Subseries C, Speeches (#25.20-28.18f), covers topics such as race relations in the United States, African-Asian relations, China, and Africa. Most are typescripts, but some are printed. The series includes programs, research materials, itineraries, correspondence, flyers, clippings, etc.

Subseries D, Articles (#29.1-31.20), covers the same topics as the Speeches subseries. Includes both typescript and printed articles published in mainly political journals and magazines, including the New World Review, Political Affairs, Freedomways, and Africa and the World.

Subseries E, Nonfiction books (#32.1-40.15), includes correspondence, drafts, notes, clippings, etc., regarding her biographical writings. Also included are four drafts of her work on Anne Newport Royall with different titles: "Naiveté," "Anne Royall's United States," "The Verdict," and "Royal Anne: The Woman in the Case." "Naiveté" appears to be the most complete and was bound with brads into three separate books each with its own cover.

Subseries F, Fiction works (#40.16-41.5), includes a draft of the novel Zulu Heart, and some short stories and poems.

Subseries G, Plays (#41.6-42.19), includes clippings, contracts, programs, notes, and scripts.

Subseries H, Other work (#42.20v-44.19f+), documents her work with the USO, NAACP, Rosenberg and other trusts, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Ghana TV.

Series V, Photographs, (#PD.9-116), was originally broadly organized by David Graham Du Bois. Those that had been pulled for Race Woman were reintegrated into the collection. Although most photographs in the collection were unidentified, attempts have been made to identify people and events wherever possible. The series is divided into five subseries.

Subseries A, Portraits, family and friends (#PD.9-45).

Subseries B, Family photo albums (#PD.46-65), consists of four photograph albums which have been disbound and put into folders. Photographs found slipped between pages are marked with the page number where they were originally found and put into a folder following the album itself. Photographs found at the back or between blank pages were put into separate folders. In #PD.57-58, entire pages of photographs came loose as they were being processed. These photographs were numbered sequentially as they were originally found. As there are many duplicate photographs amongst all of the albums, at the front of the first folder of each album is a notation of duplicates.

Subseries C, Work and writings (#PD.66-79b).

Subseries D, Ghana (#PD.80-91).

Subseries E, International events and trips (#PD.92-116) includes Paris, Nigeria, Egypt, Berlin, China, Japan, etc.

Folder headings are those of the archivist unless otherwise noted; headings by either Shirley Graham Du Bois or David Graham Du Bois are in quotations.


Shirley (Graham) Du Bois was born November 11th in Indianapolis, Indiana; this much is known. The exact year of her birth, however, has been uncertain. At various times in her life, she asserted the year to be 1896, 1899, 1902, 1904, 1906, and 1907. Gerald Horne in his biography, Race Woman, states "she was born Lola Shirley Graham on 11 November 1896, but at points in her life she shaved as much as ten years from her true age (38)."

Her father, Reverend David A. Graham, was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church where her mother, Elizabeth Etta (Bell) Graham, was also active. David A. Graham and Elizabeth Bell Graham were married November 21, 1895, following the death of his first wife, Lorena Mason. While references in the collection are often elusive and contradictory, it is most likely that David A. Graham had three sons with Lorena Mason Graham, and five children with Elizabeth Bell Graham: Lola (Shirley), David A.(born 1900), Lorenz B. (born 1902), Aurelius R.("William," born 1907), and Orval B. (born 1913?). David A. Graham had assignments in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Tennessee, Colorado Springs, Louisiana, Spokane, and Seattle before being appointed President of Monrovia College in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1926. Upon his return to the United States in ca. 1930, he and Elizabeth Bell Graham lived in Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota, among other places. A deeply religious man, he was also somewhat of a firebrand as a minister; his sermons were often political in nature and touched on such topics as the N.A.A.C.P. and the struggle for civil rights. His outspoken manner may have contributed to his being required to move so often throughout his ministerial career. A brother-in-law, Bishop W. Sampson Brooks, was a prominent figure in the A.M.E. Church.

With her family's frequent moves, it was difficult for Shirley to keep up in school, but she did graduate from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington, in 1915. In 1918 she married Shadrach McCants. They had two sons: Robert (born 1923), and David (born 1925). Although Du Bois usually claimed that she was widowed shortly after David's birth, she actually obtained a divorce in Portland, Oregon, in 1927. Her children were raised largely by her mother.

Now calling herself Shirley McCanns, Du Bois attended classes at the Howard University School of Music (1927-1928), the Institute of Musical Arts in New York City (1929), and the Sorbonne (1929-1930). During this period she traveled extensively, and also taught music at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) in Baltimore, and served as a music librarian at Howard. She entered Oberlin College in 1931 to study music, receiving her A.B. degree in 1934 and a master's in music the following year. She taught fine arts at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State) from 1935 to 1936; this experience seems to have soured her on a career in teaching. Always intending to continue her intellectual pursuits, she continued to study, taking classes at Yale and New York universities in the 1940s; she came close to completing her doctorate in English and education at New York University.

Du Bois's employment path was as varied and hectic as her educational one. In 1932, while still a student at Oberlin, her musical drama Tom-Tom premiered at the summer festival, "Stadium Opera," in Cleveland, Ohio. The work was hailed as "not only great in conception and splendidly executed, but that it was a new opera. Something different from what has preceded it in history." Following her year of teaching at Tennessee Agricultural in Nashville, she was appointed by the Illinois Federal Theatre Project as director-supervisor of Federal Theatre #3, the "Negro Unit" of the Chicago Federal Theatre, where she put on wildly successful productions, such as Little Black Sambo and Swing Mikado. She founded, with her brother Bill, the Graham Artists Bureau in Chicago with the purpose of securing bookings for African American artists. From 1941 to 1943 Du Bois worked for the USO, directing operations for Negro troops at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Beginning in 1943 she began serving as a field secretary for the N.A.A.C.P. Her volunteer activities included serving as a trustee of the Rosenberg Children's Trust Fund and starting a fund for financial aid for singer Hope Foye.

In 1944 her son Robert died in a military hospital; throughout her life, Du Bois harbored feelings that the military was responsible for his death, due to lack of care afforded him on account of his race.

Throughout her career, Du Bois was a prolific writer. Well known for her many juvenile and adult biographies on the lives of great leaders, she wrote not only about famous African American figures such as George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass and Paul Robeson, but also about Gamal Nasser, Julius Nyerere and Pocahontas. In the late 1940s Du Bois got a Guggenheim grant to write extensively on the life of Anne Newport Royall (1769-1854), a newspaper woman who gained notoriety by traveling extensively throughout the country publishing her shrewd observations on the "history, life and manners" of many major cities and towns. This work was never published. Her memoir of W.E.B. Du Bois, His Day Is Marching On, was published in 1971.

An avid writer and speaker, Du Bois also gave innumerable speeches and published articles on a variety of subjects throughout her life. Articles such as "Minorities in China," and "We Too Want Peace," a reflection on women and world peace published in Soviet Women, are examples of the global issues Du Bois tried to address throughout her career. In 1961, she founded the civil rights magazine, Freedomways, and became head editor. Du Bois also wrote on such topics as Ghana, Egypt and the Middle East, African unity, the People's Republic of China, and American-Soviet relations.

Her romantic life was checkered; after the dissolution of her marriage to McCants, she had a number of romantic interests, some of which are documented in the collection. There is evidence that she was engaged to Joseph Himes in 1932, although she broke off the relationship soon afterwards. Her romantic involvement with W.E.B. Du Bois seems to have begun in the mid or late 1930s; certainly by 1941 their relationship was no longer platonic. Following the death of W.E.B. Du Bois's first wife, Nina, in October 1950, he and Shirley Graham Du Bois were married February 27, 1951. Together, the Du Boises worked tirelessly to improve the lot of underrepresented groups in the United States, increasingly through their involvement in left causes and groups, probably including the Communist Party of the U.S.A. Shortly after their wedding in 1951, W.E.B. Du Bois was indicted for "un-American" activities. Although W.E.B. Du Bois was acquitted for insufficient evidence, the Du Boises were frustrated with lack of progress in the United States. After being harassed endlessly by United States officials, they decided to emigrate to Ghana in 1961, where W.E.B. Du Bois was invited to create the multi-volume Encyclopedia Africana, a work that was not completed until recent years.

After his death in 1963, Du Bois worked for some time developing the field of telecommunications in Ghana with Ghana Television. This work included not only developing facilities such as studio space, but also training technicians and other staff, and developing a national infrastructure to handle the new communications medium. After the coup in 1966 that resulted in the unseating of Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, Du Bois moved to Cairo where she lived with her son, David (Graham) Du Bois. Du Bois continued to devote herself to causes of liberation, of African peoples, women, African Americans, and people of color worldwide. She died of cancer in Beijing in 1977.

For further biographical information, see Gerald Horne, Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois (2000).

The following is a short bibliography of Shirley Graham Du Bois's books in chronological order:

  1. George Washington Carver, Scientist. (co-written with George Dewey Lipscomb) New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1944
  2. Paul Robeson, Citizen of the World. New York: Julian Messner, 1946
  3. There Once Was a Slave...the Heroic Story of Frederick Douglass. New York: Julian Messner, 1947
  4. "Naiveté, the Story of Anne Royall" unpublished, ca.1947
  5. Your Most Humble Servant. New York: Julian Messner, 1949
  6. The Story of Phillis Wheatley. New York: Julian Messner, 1949
  7. Jean Baptiste du Sable: Founder of Chicago. New York: Julian Messner, 1953
  8. The Story of Pocahontas, 1953
  9. Booker T. Washington; Educator of Hand, Head and Heart. New York: Julian Messner, 1955
  10. His Day Is Marching On. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1971
  11. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Son of the Nile; A Biography. New York: Third Press, 1972
  12. Zulu Heart. New York: Third Press, 1974
  13. Julius K. Nyerere, Teacher of Africa. New York: Julian Messner, 1975

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2001-M22, 2021-M209

These papers were purchased from David Graham Du Bois by the Radcliffe Institute and Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research for the Schlesinger Library in 2001. Accession 2021-M209 (folder 1.35) was given to the Schlesinger Library by Muriel Morisey in December 2021.

Processing Information

Processed: March 2003

By: Susan von Salis and Jessica Tanny

Folder 1.35 added: January 2022

By: Johanna Carll

Du Bois, Shirley Graham, 1896-1977. Papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, 1865-1998 (inclusive), 1905-1975 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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