In 1896 Lola Shirley Graham Dubois was born in Indianapolis, Indiana to Rev. David A. Graham and Elizabeth Etta Graham. As a young girl Dubois was taught the importance of opposing personal and social injustices within her community. She showed her brilliance as a 13 year old when she wrote an editorial for the Indianapolis newspaper protesting the discrimination she experienced. She was fueled to write the editorial because she was denied access to a public pool at her local YMCA. Early in her life Dubois and her family lived in five different cities before settling in Spokane, Washington. While living in Spokane Dubois graduated from Lewis and Clarke high school then moved to Seattle, Washington. While in Seattle she met and married her first husband Shadrach McCants. The couple had two sons before divorcing in 1927.
By 1931 Dubois sought the help of her parents to help raise her children while she attended graduate school. She was able to earn her master’s degree in fine arts and music history at Oberlin College. Dubois also attended Columbia University, Howard University, and Morgan State University briefly before earning her master’s. In 1932 as a student at Oberlin College Dubois’ three-act, sixteen seen Opera, Tom-Toms: An Epic of Music and the Negro debuted at Cleveland Stadium drawing a crowd of ten thousand people. Her second showing of her opera drew a crowd of fifteen thousand people, one of which was the Governor of Ohio Newton Baker. Dubois’ opera Tom-Toms made her the first African-American woman to write and produce and all-black cast opera.
Shirley Dubois never forgot her passion for helping to end racism in her communities. Her political activism found her being fired as the director of the YWCA-USO in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Because Dubois stood up for the protestors of the death of three black solders she lost her job. But because of her versatile skill set she was hired quickly by the NAACP as a field secretary. As a field secretary she was responsible for organizing new NAACP branches across the U.S. In 1944 Dubois released her first biography titled Dr. George Washington Carver, Scientist. She would then release two more biographies, a biography of Paul Robeson followed by a biography of Frederick Douglas. Later Dubois would become one of the founders of the Progressive Party. Dubois and the Progressive Party would become consultants to former Vice President Henry Wallace. Wallace would later run for president under the banner of the Progressive Party.
By the late 1940’s Shirley Dubois would become reacquainted with a childhood friend W.E.B. Dubois. Shirley and W.E.B. would date for a while before getting married in 1951 in New York City. The couples love and loyalty for each other was tested as they continuously fought legal battles because of an alleged connection to the Communist Party. In 1961 Shirley and W.E.B. gave up their American citizenship and moved to Ghana. W.E.B. Dubois would die in Ghana in 1963 in the city of Accra. Shirley Dubois remained in Accra until her friend Kwame Nkrumah’s regime was overthrown in 1966. Her next move was to Cairo, Egypt where she lived until moving to Beijing, China. Before she moved to Beijing she traveled throughout Africa, Asia and Europe fighting imperialism and colonialism. Shirley Dubois chose to counter racism by becoming an example of an active activist. She was not one to only complain about injustice, she chose to combat injustices to blacks and others around the world. Ms. Lola Shirley Graham Dubois, we stand on your shoulders.
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