William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a noted scholar, editor, and African American activist. Du Bois was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP -- the largest and oldest civil rights organization in America). Throughout his life Du Bois fought discrimination and racism. He made significant contributions to debates about race, politics, and history in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, primarily through his writing and impassioned speaking on race relations. Du Bois also served as editor of The Crisis magazine and published several scholarly works on race and African American history. By the time he died, in 1963, he had written 17 books, edited four journals and played a key role in reshaping black-white relations in America.
W.E.B. Du Bois's biographer, Manning Marable, writes that "Few intellectuals have done more to shape the twentieth century than W.E.B. Du Bois." His life covered a tremendous range of activities and movements. Du Bois was both an intellectual and a social activist. He was both a man of theory who held an elitist philosophy and a man who could move thousands of people into action. He was an American who tried to uphold the ideals of his country. But died in exile having renounced his citizenship.
William Edward Burghardt DuBois (he pronounced it DueBoyss) entered the world on February 23, 1868, less than three years after the Thirteenth Amendment had outlawed slavery. The Du Bois family, however, was several generations removed from bondage. He was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a small village with only a handful of black families. His teachers quickly made him a favorite, and most of his playmates were white. While in Nashville, Tennessee, attending Fisk University, he discovered his black identity. He spent his summers teaching in rural schools. It was there that he met "the real seat of slavery." Never before had he encountered such overwhelming poverty. "I touched intimately the lives of the commonest of mankind--people who ranged from barefooted dwellers on dirt floors, with patched rags for clothes, to rough hard-working farmers, with plain clean plenty." Unlike Massachusetts, Nashville was a southern town that exposed Du Bois to the everyday bigotry he had escaped growing up. He accidentally bumped into a white woman who spurned his apology: "How dare you speak to me, you impudent nigger!" By the end of his college years Du Bois had begun to take pride in his heritage. "I am a Negro; and I glory in the name."
Du Bois graduated from Fisk and entered Harvard University, where he received his A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, the first African-American to receive a doctorate from that university. He also spent two years studying at the University of Berlin, which was at the time the world's most distinguished center for advanced research in history. His doctoral dissertation was a study of the efforts to suppress the African slave trade. He accepted a position teaching at Wilberforce University, a college for black students in Ohio. After an unhappy year, he left to be a researcher at the University in Pennsylvania. There he studied the African-American immigrants to Philadelphia. He published The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study in 1899, the first serious sociological study of the emerging black urban population.
In 1897 Du Bois accepted a new position at Atlanta University. It was there that he began to enter the realm of political activism that would dominate the rest of his life. He began to help black people devise a strategy for confronting the growing pattern of discrimination that they were facing.
Beginning in 1863 large numbers of African-Americans won their freedom. The Thirteenth Amendment formalized what had already taken place: slavery was no more. During the Reconstruction years, black people secured additional rights. In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment required states to provide "equal protection" without regard to race. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited states from denying anyone the vote because of race. But African-Americans soon lost most of these rights. By the 1870s groups like the Ku Klux Klan were using violence to terrorize black people from voting or asserting their other constitutional rights. In some years lynch mobs killed over 100 black people. During the 1890s and early 1900s southern states passed "Jim Crow Laws" which required black people to stay out of public places that served whites. Separate restaurants, hotels, railroad cars, toilets, drinking fountains, etc. began to appear. Southern states passed laws that required voters to take confusing tests to qualify to vote. In some states these also excluded uneducated whites. Other states passed "grandfather clauses" which gave the vote to those persons whose grandfathers had qualified to vote in 1867 -- before black people had won the right to vote.
African-Americans responded to these conditions in a variety of ways. One response was to leave the South for a more desirable environment, where their rights would be respected and where there was economic opportunity. During the 1870s and early 1880s thousands of black people moved to Kansas, some of whom participated in the great "Kansas Exodus" and became known as "Exodusters." By the 1890s, however, northern cities had become the destination for black people leaving the South. Between 1890 and 1910 200,000 black people migrated to northern cities. These were the migrants whom Du Bois studied while at the University of Pennsylvania.
A second response was to seek some kind of accommodation within the limited opportunities whites were offering. In 1895 Booker T. Washington gave a speech in Atlanta that spelled out his approach. Black people should set aside their goals for social and political equality and concentrate on economic advancement. He criticized the day when "a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that the political convention or stump speaking had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden." Washington urged that African-Americans acquire industrial skills such as carpentry and masonry. Once they held these skills, he believed, whites would give them the opportunities they deserved. "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house."
Du Bois proposed a third alternative. He attacked Washington's claim that "with freedom, Negro leadership should have begun at the plow and not in the Senate."
W. E. B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt Du Bois) , 1868-1963, American civil-rights leader and author, b. Great Barrington, Mass., grad....
From the late 1890s through the 1940s, W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the leading black intellectuals and the foremost champion of equal rights for blacks in the United States. At a time when many black Americans sought to improve their status by adapting to the ideals of white society and tolerating discrimination and segregation, Du Bois was a tireless proponent of unconditional equal and civil rights for all blacks. As a social scientist, he was also a pioneer in documenting historical and social truths about blacks in the United States. In eloquent and forceful writings in a variety of genres, he was the first to write of a distinct black consciousness, which he described as the peculiar “two-ness” of being both a black and an American. Du Bois’s legacy has served as the intellectual foundation of the modern-day black protest movement. He is regarded by many as a prophet, whose words inspire oppressed people throughout the world in their struggle for civil rights.
A partial list of Du Bois’s career accomplishments gives testimony to his varied gifts as political scientist, organizer, author, educator, and inspirational figure. Du Bois was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, a black protest organization that pressed for equal rights in the early 1900s. He was later a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and an editor for over thirty years of the association’s journal, the Crisis. An early proponent of Pan-Africanism (the idea of self-government for oppressed blacks around the world), he organized several Pan-African conferences in Europe and the United States. As a highly prolific scholar and writer, Du Bois produced a vast number of monographs, essays, memoirs, poems, novels, and plays, all of which gave eloquent testimony to his life and various political beliefs. A professor of classics, economics, history, and sociology, he was also a frequent lecturer throughout the world.
Du Bois (pronounced “du boyce”) was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868, a descendant of French Huguenot, Dutch, and black ancestry. By the time he was fifteen, he was a correspondent for two black newspapers, the Springfield Republican and New York Globe, reporting on local community news. After graduating from high school in 1884, he received a scholarship to all-black Fisk University in Nashville. There he edited the Fisk Herald and studied classical literature, German, Greek, Latin, philosophy, chemistry, and physics. During summers, Du
At a Glance… Born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (surname pronounced “du boyce”), February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, MA; emigrated to Ghana, c. 1960, naturalized citizen, 1963; died August 27, 1963, in Accra, Ghana; buried in Accra; son of Alfred and Mary Silvina (Burghardt) Du Bois; married Nina Gomer, May 12,1896 (died July 1, 1950); married Shirley Graham (an author), February 14, 1951 (died, 1977); children: (first marriage) Burghardt Gomer (died, c. 1903), Nina Yolande (deceased), David Graham (stepson from second marriage). Education: Fisk University, B.A., 1888; Harvard University, B.A. (cum laude), 1890, M.A., 1891, Ph.D., 1895; attended University of Berlin, 1892-94. Politics: Joined Communist party, 1961.
Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, OH, professor of classics, 1894-96; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, assistant professor in sociology, 1896-97; Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA, professor of history and economics, 1897-1910, professor and chairman of department of sociology, 1934-44; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), New York City, director of publicity and editor of Crisis, 1910-34, director of special research, 1944-48; Peace Information Center, New York City, director, 1950. Founder, 1897, and vice-president of the American Negro Academy; vice-chairman of Council of African Affairs, 1949; candidate for U.S. Senate (NY), American Labor Party, 1950.
Awards: Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1932; elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1943; Lenin International Peace Prize, 1958; Knight Commander of Liberian Human Order of African Redemption; Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary conferred by President Calvin Coolidge; numerous honorary degrees.
Bois taught school in a small town in eastern Tennessee, where he was profoundly influenced by the dismal social and economic conditions endured by rural blacks. At Fisk, Du Bois solidified his goals for improving the status of blacks and came to believe that higher education was an important means of combating racial oppression.
After graduating with a B.A. from Fisk in 1888, Du Bois enrolled at Harvard University, where he excelled as a student. He became acquainted with some of the leading intellectuals of the day, including William James, George Palmer, George Santayana, and Albert Bushnell Hart, and was encouraged to direct his studies toward history and the social sciences. At his Harvard commencement in 1890, he was one of five students selected to deliver an address. Du Bois’s speech on Confederate president Jefferson Davis and the issue of slavery in the United States gained him national attention, including a prominent review in the Nation. Graduating cum laude in philosophy, Du Bois was accepted into graduate school in political science as Harvard’s Henry Bromfield Rogers Fellow and began work on his dissertation, which was on the suppression of the African slave trade. After being awarded his master’s degree in 1891, he received a Slater Fund grant, which allowed him to study and travel overseas from 1892 to 1894. Du Bois studied history, economics, politics, and political economy at the University of Berlin and completed a thesis on agricultural economics in the American South.
Du Bois’s European travels allowed him to more fully comprehend the racially based social structure of the United States. On the eve of his twenty-fifth birthday, he composed a journal entry that set forth his commitment to pursuing intellectual endeavors in the service of his race. As quoted by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston in Dictionary of American Negro Biography, Du Bois wrote of himself as “either a genius or a fool,” and declared his intention to “make a name in science, to make a name in literature and thus to raise my race. Or perhaps to raise a visible empire in Africa thro’ England, France, or Germany.”
Du Bois returned to the United States and began a prolific career as a writer and scholar. He accepted a teaching position as professor of classics at Wilberforce University in Ohio, where he also met his first wife, Nina Gomer. In 1895, he became the first black to ever receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. His doctoral thesis, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published by Longmans, Green as the first volume in the “Harvard Historical Monograph Series.” In 1896, Du Bois was named assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and was hired by the university to conduct a sociological study of the black population of Philadelphia. Published in 1899, The Philadelphia Negro was the first in-depth analysis of a black community. According to Elliot Rudwick in an essay in Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, Du Bois “at this point in his career passionately believed that social science would provide white America’s leaders with the knowledge necessary to eliminate discrimination and solve the race problem.”
As a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897 to 1910, Du Bois supervised a series of studies on urban blacks. One of his most influential books, The Souls of Black Folk, was published in 1903. A collection of fourteen essays, The Souls of Black Folk explores not only the damaging effects of racism, but also the strength and endurance of black people in the United States. In the essay “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” Du Bois provided one of the first depictions of a distinct black identity: “[T]he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world…. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” Between 1898 and 1914, Du Bois also edited and annotated reports on such subjects as black business, education, health, crime, family life, and the church. However, these reports were virtually ignored, prompting Du Bois to conclude, as Rudwick noted, “that only through agitation and protest could social change ever come.”
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