When restored to its historical context, W. E. B. Du Bois's “The Conservation of Races” emerges less as a contribution to the debate about the legitimacy of the concept of race, which is how it tends to be read today, and more as an intervention in the debate about the impact of so-called miscegenation on the African American population. Du Bois's contribution is situated in relation to the positions held by Frederick Douglass, Edward Blyden, and Alexander Crummell. Particular attention is paid to the way Du Bois and Kelly Miller used the inaugural meeting of the American Negro Academy to respond to Frederick Hoffman's racist study, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro, which in the context of social Darwinism had a dramatic impact on how mixed-race people were seen. Du Bois argued that African Americans should not divide on the basis of degrees of racial purity but unite around their common ideals and a hope for the future in the midst of continuing oppression.

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