n African Journal of Rhetoric - Du Bois' Rhetoric of empowerment : the case of Galileo Galilei

Volume 8 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1998-2054


In his 1908 speech to Fisk University, W. E. B. Du Bois uses the power of rhetoric to argue for a system of education that he believed would imbue the student with intellectual dignity and moral ethos and would uplift and sustain the black race for generations: training in the liberal arts. This essay analyzes the ways in which Du Bois draws upon classical and humanist rhetoric in his early critiques of education to celebrate the power of the mind and to affirm the importance of moral courage in the face of opposition and oppression. For Du Bois, Galileo Galilei's life and trial becomes emblematic of humankind's greatest achievement and failure, respectively. Whereas Galileo's scientific discoveries represent the power and potential of human knowledge to advance our understanding of the universe for the betterment of all humankind, his lack of moral courage at his trial in the face of death to stand for the truth of those discoveries, undermined his achievements and set back scientific progress for generations. By casting the leaders of Fisk as another Galileo faced with an analogous situation regarding the future of the university, Du Bois urges Fisk to choose over the temporary economic expediency of industrial education to foster intellectual and moral achievement in pursuit of the highest aspirations of human endeavor.

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