The Boy Over There


W.E.B. Du Bois


April 1, 1918

Listen, O Sister and Brother of Mine. Have you a Boy “over there?” Some slim, young fellow, brown of face and dark of eye, with the Eternal Joy of God on his lips? I have. Only mine is a ghost boy—just twenty-one he would have been last May. His soul is there with the Souls of the great company of his Fathers, a hundred, nay, a thousand years gone: with Alfred, his grandfather, who wore his country’s uniform in ’61; with Jacob who fought in 1812; with Tom who went in ’76—all, all and more. It was not given to this my boy nor yet to me to go in the flesh; but he went dead, yet dreaming, and I dream-drunk, and yet alive, albeit with twitching, hanging hands.

And we, Sister and Brother of Mine, we who sit and listen, what are we doing for OUR boys “over there?” Are we seeing that they have food to eat, or are we starving them by our gluttony?

Are we seeing that they have clothes to wear, or are we selfishly adorning our own nakedness? Are we seeing that the great red machine of war works so efficiently with bullet and powder, and gun and airplane, and shell and mortar, that quickly and irresistibly we shall bring this nightmare of world war to a just and honest end, or are we sulking and criticizing and obstructing and delaying and murdering our own flesh and blood?

All is not well, neither in earth, nor in hell, nor yet mayhap in God’s own heaven; but all will never be well if when the Peaceful go forth to battle in War against War, in as holy a crusade as ever called for the strong arm of Justice—if then Evil can count on the Critic and the Coward, if their Fathers and Mothers—black fathers and black mothers at that—desert their sons in the very blood and dust of battle.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1918. “The Boy Over There.” The Crisis 16 (6): 269.