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Du Bois, W. E. B. 1868–1963

W. E. B. Du Bois 18681963

Social scientist, political activist, author, editor, educator

At a Glance

Disagreed with Booker T. Washington

Led the Niagara Movement

Cofounder of the NAACP

Joined the Communist Party

Selected writings



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 Boiss 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 Boiss 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 associations 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 Boiss 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 Harvards Henry Bromfield Rogers Fellow and began work on his dissertation, which was on the suppression of the African slave trade. After being awarded his masters 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 Boiss 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 Americas 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.

Disagreed with Booker T. Washington

Du Boiss activism stood in sharp contrast to the accommodationist stance of Booker T. Washington, a black leader of international prominence who supported vocational education for blacks, rather than higher education, and who held that a gradual assumption of economic power was the pathway for blacks to attain the rights of full citizenship. Washington was widely accepted by whites as the principal spokesman for the black community and commanded the support of wealthy white philanthropists, political figures, and members of both the black and white press. Du Bois was highly critical of Washingtons position, maintaining staunchly that full and equal civil rights were the birthright of every American and demanding that full political rights be granted to all blacks. He envisioned an elite corps of black leadersthe Talented Tenthwho, through higher education, would be prepared to further the welfare of their race. The rift between Washington and Du Bois began a profound division of the black protest movement into two factions. In 1904, the two leaders and their supporters attempted to resolve their differences at a conference at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Washington and Du Bois, along with Hugh Browne (a Washington supporter), were selected to form a Committee of Twelve for the Advancement of the Negro Race. Du Bois, however, later resigned in protest of what he claimed was Washingtons pervasive control of the committee.

Led the Niagara Movement

Failing to reconcile differences with the Washington faction and unable to tap the wealthy white financial backers who supported Washington, Du Bois set out on a different course. In 1905, he organized a meeting of black leaders who shared an uncompromising goal of full economic and political rights for blacks. On July 11, 1905, this group met in Fort Erie, Ontario, to organize what became known as the Niagara Movement, thus effectively splitting the black movement into two major camps. Washingtons Tuskegee Machine favored elementary and industrial education as the means for blacks to become economically productive and, hence, eligible for full equality as citizens. Leaders of the Niagara Movement, as Herbert Aptheker noted in Afro-American History: The Modern Era, held for an unequivocal rejection of racism and insistence upon the fundamental equality of mankind. Holding meetings for the next five years, the Niagara Movement vigorously denounced white America for the Negro problem and held that protest was the only means to confront the roots of oppression.

However, the practical advantages of the Tuskegee groupits influence over the black press, backing by white financiers, Washingtons skills as a tacticiancoupled with fragmentation within the Niagara movement itselfhelped bring about the demise of Du Boiss group in 1910. Some critics contend that the Niagaras failure was inevitable because of the overwhelmingly racist beliefs of American society at that time. The movements basic problem, according to Rudwick, was the nations virulent racism that had catapulted a leader like Washington into power. Even if Du Bois had demonstrated superlative leadership skills, Niagaras program of uncompromising protest for equal treatment was too far ahead of white public opinion, and this fact damaged the movements public opinion.

Cofounder of the NAACP

Assessing the failures of Niagara, Du Bois became convinced that an interracial organizationone that could also draw the support of prominent whites who disagreed with Washingtons policieswas essential to the success of protests against racial discrimination. In 1910, he became the leading black founder of the interracial NAACP, which aimed to fight discrimination through court litigation, political lobbying, and nationwide publicity. Du Bois, as Director of Publications and Research, became editor of the Crisis, the NAACPs official publication. He edited the Crisis for nearly twenty-five years, during which time the journal became widely influential among blacks for its frank and eloquent discussions of racial issues in the United States.

At the same time, the views Du Bois expressed in the Crisis often ran afoul of official NAACP positions, causing friction between him and the organizations board of directors. One such conflict was in the area of racial segregation. Although Du Bois supported desegregation during World War I, he later began to see segregation as a favorable means of allowing blacks to exert power in areas such as economics and education, which were dominated by whites in the larger society. His views, expressed in the Crisis, came into direct conflict with the NAACP board and many black leaders, who believed, as Taylor Branch noted in Parting the Waters, that his comments would bolster the old white racist argument that Negroes fared better under segregation. Under intense criticism, Du Bois resigned from his editorship of the Crisis and returned to Atlanta University as chairman of the department of sociology.

Throughout Du Boiss career, he was often criticized for having an arrogant personality and elitist views, which, coupled with his seemingly wavering positions on a variety of political issues, brought him into continual conflict with other black leaders. Rudwick, however, depicts Du Boiss varying positionssuch as his changing views on the issue of segregationas understandable responses to the racial climate in the United States. Given the persistent and intransigent nature of the American race system, which proved quite impervious to black attacks, noted Rudwick, Du Bois in his speeches and writings moved from one proposed solution to another, and the salience of various parts of his philosophy changed as his perceptions of the needs and strategies of black America shifted over time. Aloof and autonomous in his personality, Du Bois did not hesitate to depart markedly from whatever was the current mainstream of black thinking when he perceived that the conventional wisdom being enunciated by black spokesmen was proving inadequate to the task of advancing the race.

Pan-Africanism was another major focus of Du Boiss political career. Beginning in 1905, he organized a series of Pan-African conferences, the first in Paris, with subsequent conferences in Lisbon, Brussels, and Paris (1921), London and Lisbon (1923), and New York City (1927). In these conferences, Du Bois put forth his ideas of self-government for oppressed black people under colonial powers. Ideological and personal differences led to acrimonious debate between Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader who strove to constructthrough economic enterprise and mass educationa unified empire of people of African descent. Du Bois rejected many of Garveys policies and mounted a campaign to expose corruption and mismanagement of Garveys famous Black Star Shipping Line (a black cross-continental trade venture).

Joined the Communist Party

In his later years, Du Boiss political views came to align him increasingly with socialist forms of government, and, at the same time, distance him from the mainstream U.S. civil rights movement. A series of visits to the Soviet Union and China led him to publicly praise those countries Communist governments and to urge African nations to seek Communist support in their drive for self-government. In 1951, Du Bois was tried in U.S. federal court on the charge that he was an unregistered agent of a foreign power. Although he was eventually acquitted, Du Bois and his second wife, writer Shirley Graham, were denied travel visas from the U.S. State Department. This ban was lifted in 1958, and the couple conducted additional tours of Africa and the Soviet Union. In the early 1960s, Du Bois officially joined the Communist party and moved to the West African country of Ghana, of which he became a citizen in 1963. Regarding his application to the Communist party, Du Bois wrote in a public statement: I have been long and slow in coming to this conclusion, but at last my mind is settled. Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.

Du Bois died in Accra, Ghana, in 1963, on the eve of the historic civil rights march on Washington, D.C. Although the popularity of his political philosophies had waned among American blacks, he had come to be revered in his former country as a prophet who had presaged the modern black protest movement. His writings found a new audience in a generation of blacksled by Martin Luther King, Jr.who had come to see protest as the only legitimate means to press for social change and the end of oppression. Upon his death, the NAACP journal Crisis proclaimed the former leader the prime inspirer, philosopher and father of the Negro protest movement.

Selected writings


The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, Longmans, Green, 1896.

The Philadelphia Negro: A Special Study, University of Pennsylvania, 1899.

The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches, A. C. McClurg, 1903.

John Brown (biography), G. W. Jacobs, 1909.

The Negro, Holt, 1915.

Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil, Harcourt, 1920.

The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America, Stratford Co., 1924.

Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880, Harcourt, 1935.

Black Folk, Then and Now: An Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro Race, Holt, 1939.

Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept, Harcourt, 1940.

Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace, Harcourt, 1945.

The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History, Viking, 1947.

In Battle for Peace: The Story of My 83rd Birthday, Masses and Mainstream, 1952.

An ABC of Color: Selections from Over Half a Century of the Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, Seven Seas Publishers (Berlin), 1963.

The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century, edited by Herbert Aptheker, International Publishers, 1968.

The Seventh Son: The Thought and Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, edited by Julius Lester, Random House, 1971.

The Correspondence of W. E. B. Du Bois, University of Massachusetts, edited by Aptheker, Volume 1: 1877-1934, 1973, Volume 2: 1934-1944, Volume 3: 1944-1963, 1978.


The Quest of the Silver Fleece, A. C. McClurg, 1911.

Dark Princess: A Romance, Harcourt, 1928.

The Ordeal of Mansart (first novel in trilogy), Mainstream Publishers, 1957.

Mansart Builds a School (second novel in trilogy), Mainstream Publishers, 1959.

Worlds of Color (third novel in trilogy), Mainstream Publishers, 1961.

The Black Flame (contains The Ordeal of Mansart, Mansart Builds a School, and Worlds of Color), Kraus Reprint, 1976.


Haiti (play), included in Federal Theatre Plays, edited by Pierre De Rohan, Works Progress Administration, 1938.

Selected Poems, Ghana University Press, c. 1964.

Editor of over fifteen monographs published in conjunction with the Annual Conference for the Study of Negro Problems, Atlanta University Press, 1896-1914. Columnist for newspapers, including Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News, and San Francisco Chronicle. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly and Worlds Work. Editor, Crisis, 1910-34; founder and editor of numerous other periodicals, including Moon, 1905-06, Horizon, 1908-10, Brownies Book, 1920-21, and Phylon Quarterly, 1940. Editor-in-chief, Encyclopedia of the Negro, 1933-46. Director, Encyclopaedia Africana. Author of several pageants.

Works translated into numerous foreign languages.



Aptheker, Herbert, Afro-American History: The Modern Era, Citadel Press, 1971.

Branch, Taylor, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches, Library of America edition, Vintage Books, 1990.

Du Bois, W. E. B., The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois, International Publishers, 1968.

Franklin, John Hope, and August Meier, editors, Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Logan, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, editors, Dictionary of American Negro Biography, Norton, 1982.

Marable, Manning, W. E. B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat, Twayne Publishers, 1986.

Rampersad, Arnold, The Art and Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois, Harvard University Press, 1976.


Crisis, October, 1963.

Michael E. Mueller

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Du Bois, W. E. B.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1868-1963


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a leading public intellectual whose extensive body of research, social analysis, and cultural critique helped to establish the foundations for the social sciences, the study of race relations, and Africana studies in the United States. Widely recognized as a historian and sociologist, he also engaged anthropological discourse on race during the era of Franz Boas (18581942) (Baker 1998; Harrison 1992). His influence on African American anthropologists W. Allison Davis (19021983), St. Clair Drake (19111990), and Irene Diggs (19061998), who studied with both him and Fernando Ortiz (18811969), is particularly significant. Beyond his work in the social sciences, his immense interdisciplinary breadth encompassed autobiography, philosophy, journalism, and creative writing. In his two earliest novels, The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) and Dark Princess: A Romance (1928), he explored important political and economic themes, situating them in the context of romance and dramatic psychosocial plots featuring female protagonists in complex settings. Novels represented one of the many genres in which Du Bois expressed his evolving vision of the possibilities of antiracist and anticolonial agency.

Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1884 he graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class. In 1885 he went to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend the historically black Fisk College (now University). During his summers in Tennessee, he taught in segregated rural schools. That experience gave him a close look at the poverty and racial discrimination that African Americans faced in the South. It also exposed him to their dynamically expressive cultural life. Memories from that period inspired some of his later writings, namely, The Souls of Black Folk (1903). After three years, he graduated from Fisk with a BA. With a scholarship, he continued his studies at Harvard, where he was classified as a junior because of the presumed inferiority of his education at Fisk. He studied with philosophers William James (18421910) and George Santayana (18631952), and with economist Frank William Taussig (18591940), completing his bachelors degree in philosophy cum laude in 1890. He remained at Harvard for graduate training in history and political science, earning his MA and PhD in 1891 and 1895, respectively. Historian Albert Bushnell Hart (18541943) encouraged his research on the transatlantic slave trade.

Financed by a Slater Fund Fellowship, Du Bois spent 1892 to 1894 at the Friedrich-Wilhelm III Universität at Berlin, known also as the University of Berlin, where he concentrated in history and political economy, and developed a scientific approach to the study of social problems. He took courses from political theorist Rudolph von Gneist (18161895) and economist Adolph Wagner (18351917). He also attended lectures by Max Weber (18641920), whose temporary lectureship at Berlin coincided with Du Boiss second year there. The most significant aspect of his graduate studies in Germany was his training in economics and sociology under the tutelage of Gustav von Schmoller (18381917), the leader of the younger German historical school that revealed economics interrelations with the other social sciences. This school of thought also questioned theories of universal laws, emphasizing that economic behaviors were contingent upon historical, social, and cultural contexts. Schmollers methodology valorized the use of induction to accumulate historical and descriptive facts. In his view, the goal of social science was the systematic, causal explanation of social phenomena (Green and Driver 1978, p. 6). He also believed that methodologically rigorous social scientific research could be used as a guide to formulate social policy (p. 6). This empirical approach strongly influenced Du Boiss early career as a social scientist who applied sociological techniques to study the problems presented by the color line.

Du Boiss experiences in Europe expanded his thinking considerably. He realized that the racial discrimination he had encountered in the United States was not universal and that racisms scope was larger than the problems in the United States. American racism, colonial oppression in Africa and Asia, and Europes political-economic development were all components of the same set of interrelated problems. Du Bois also gained greater exposure to Marxism and socialist analysis from attending meetings of the Social Democratic Party. The maturation of thinking that began to emerge in Germany was reflected many years later in Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace (1945) and, even before that, in Black Reconstruction (1935). In the latter book, he innovatively used Marxist categories and anticipated Gramscian and poststructural approaches to hegemony and discourse in his analysis of the socioeconomic, political, and ideological conditions that prevailed in the U.S. South after the Civil War (18611865) (Nonini 1992). Contrary to the Dunning schools notion that freed blacks were incapable of exercising the rights of citizenship, Du Bois posited that African Americans played a major role in building democracy after emancipation. He further argued that the racism and ambivalent allegiance of poor whites to the white elite could be attributed to a public psychological wage. These ideas were controversial but seminal in influencing later generations of scholars, such as those who study the social construction of whiteness (e.g., Roediger 1991).

Although he intended to complete his doctorate in economics in Germany, Du Bois had to return to the United States. Despite Schmollers and Wagners strong support for his exemption from the doctoral programs four-semester rule, a professor of chemistry was adamant against it. However, even more of an obstacle was the paternalistic Slater Fund. It refused to renew his fellowship for only one more semester because of the higher priority it gave to channeling African Americans into elementary and industrial education. Du Bois was urged to devote [his] talent and learning to the good of the colored race (Lewis 1993, p. 146). A comparative study of the household economies and quality of life among German peasants and rural African Americans in Tennessee was not viewed as a suitable goal for an educated black person.

The following year, while teaching at the African Methodist Episcopal Churchaffiliated Wilberforce University in Ohio, he earned his PhD from Harvards Department of History and Government, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate from that university. His dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 16381870, was published as the first volume in the Harvard Historical Studies series (1896). Representing a new historiography of interpretation, the dissertation provided thorough documentation for the argument that due to an interregional bargain [between the North and South] sealed by profits, the United States continued to participate in the slave trade after it was internationally abolished in 1807 to 1808 (Lewis 1993, pp. 156, 160). Despite federal and state laws codifying suppression, a clandestine nonenforcement persisted for half a century.

In 1896 Du Bois assumed a temporary position as assistant instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, which created a position beneath its lowest rank to accommodate hiring a Negro. Du Boiss charge was to conduct research on the cause of urban problems in the predominantly African American seventh ward of Philadelphia. The citys reforming elites had commissioned the research, which Du Bois conducted over fifteen months, collecting survey and demographic data, and conducting interviews with five thousand people (Lewis 1993, p. 180). The result was The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899), an exemplary treatise that was the first large-scale empirical study in U.S. sociology and the first scientific investigation of African Americans (Green and Driver 1978, p. 113; Lester 1971, p. 26). Given many of the projects substantive concerns as well as the centrality of participant observation, The Philadelphia Negro may also be placed in the context of the history of urban anthropology (Harrison 1992). In a social and intellectual climate dominated by social Darwinism, Du Boiss analysis demonstrated that the problems of poverty and crime were not caused by innate black inferiority. They were instead symptoms of institutionalized racial inequality. Although his empirical results challenged conventional thinking, his elitist disposition, nonetheless, led him to play into the moralizing judgments of his patrons. Despite the intellectual and public policy significance of this research, Du Bois was not retained in either a temporary or permanent position at the University of Pennsylvania, where white classmates of lower rank became full professors (Du Bois 1968, p. 199).

After Philadelphia, Atlanta University appointed Du Bois professor of economics and history with the responsibility of directing the Sociological Laboratory and the Atlanta University Conference. The latter was a series of annual conferences to report the results of the laboratorys research on the impact of urban problems on black Americans. The emphasis, especially during the earlier years, was on the collection of factual evidence on social conditions rather than on social reform, which was believed to be possible only after ignorance was countered by knowledge. The goal of the research was the careful search for truth that would offer an empirical alternative to the speculative theories and vindictive ignorance of much of the social science of that time (Green and Driver 1978, p. 14). Du Bois published the results of this research program in the monograph series that made up the Atlanta University Publications (18961914). The studies addressed a wide range of issues: health and physique, housing, black businesses, education, artisans, the black church, crime, economic cooperation, the family, morals, and manners. In Health and Physique of the Negro American (1906), for example, Du Bois offered a critique of early physical anthropologys biological determinism and scientific racism. Using craniometric and public health data, he documented the adverse effects of social conditions on the black body.

Du Boiss tenure at Atlanta University ended in 1910 when he shifted his focus from that of a detached social scientist to an activist, following the path of sociology as an inseparable part of social reform (Green and Driver 1978, p. 20). Convinced at this point that knowledge and truth were insufficient for promoting social change, he became editor of the newly established NAACPs magazine, The Crisis. This transition into the life of an activist intellectual followed his antiracist activism of three years earlier in cofounding the Niagara Movement, which had a short life. Du Bois served as Crisis editor until 1934, when friction over his editorial independence from the NAACPs executive secretary, Walter F. White (18931955), and board led him to resign. During the twenty-four years of his editorship, he became the most influential black public intellectual in the United States, educating the public on the plight of African Americans and others in the African world, articulating a vision for civil and human rights and black empowerment (one that was often more radical than that of the NAACP), and providing an outlet for talented young writers and scholars.

A prolific scholar, Du Bois published across a wide interdisciplinary terrain. His most widely read book was The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays, some autobiographical, written in a compellingly lyrical, poetic style. Positing that the color line was the problem of the twentieth century, the book redefined the meanings of black identity and lived experience, illuminating the dilemmas of double consciousness as well as the enhanced social vision that could potentially emerge from it. The book also offered a poignant view of the South, including an examination of everyday life in the Black Belt and the limits of Booker T. Washingtons (18561915) accommodationist stance. Souls is also invaluable for its pioneering excursion into the sociology of music (Lewis 1993, p. 286), religion, education, and politics.

In 1934 Du Bois began his second tenure at Atlanta University, serving as head of the Department of Economics and Sociology. During this phase, he focused his scholarship on comparison and synthesis informed by his commitment to social action and politicization within an international context. Among his publications were Black Reconstruction (1935) and Black Folk Then and Now: An Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro Race (1939)an expansion of The Negro (1915). He also started to work on the Encyclopedia Africana, which he had initially envisioned early in the century. He established Phylon, a journal devoted to critical studies of race and culture, and in the early 1940s he worked to revive the Atlanta University Conference. The conference held in 1943 featured a number of prominent black and white sociologists, including E. Franklin Frazier (18941962), Charles S. Johnson (18931956), Howard W. Odum (18841954), and Edgar T. Thompson (19001989).

Despite his success, the university administration, wary of his radicalism, forced Du Bois to retire. He accepted an offer from the NAACP to serve as its director of special research, a position he held for only four years. He sought to revitalize the Pan-Africanist movement, help define international human rights standards for the newly established United Nations, and examine the global scope of racism. His radical anticolonial views, however, were not consistent with the NAACPs policies. After his second tenure with the NAACP, Du Bois went on to leadership positions with the Council on African Affairs and the Peace Information Center, which led him to become involved in controversial international affairs related to the cold war. His participation in the leftist peace movement and his travels to the Soviet Union and China during the 1940s and 1950s were viewed as un-American as McCarthyist anticommunism held sway. In 1951 Du Bois was indicted on charges of being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal. Although acquitted of the crime, the prosecution stigmatized Du Bois, alienating him even further from the mainstream civil rights leadership.

Du Bois devoted much of his life to building international networks and deepening anticolonial convictions among activist intellectuals from Africa and the African diaspora. He organized a series of Pan-African Congresses over the first half of the twentieth century. In the last years of his life, he accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah (19091972) to work on the Encyclopedia Africana with support from the government of postcolonial Ghana. Du Bois moved to Accra and became a Ghanaian citizen. His encyclopedia unfinished, he died on August 27, 1963, the day before the historic March on Washington.

SEE ALSO African American Studies; Anticolonial Movements; Boas, Franz; Drake, St. Clair; Frazier, E. Franklin; Garvey, Marcus; Gramsci, Antonio; Hurston, Zora Neale; James, William; Marxism; Marxism, Black; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Nkrumah, Kwame; Ortiz, Fernando; Pan-African Congresses; Pan-Africanism; Poststructuralism; Reconstruction Era (U.S.); Slave Trade; Slavery Industry; Social Science; Veil, in African American Culture; White, Walter



Du Bois, W. E. B. 1896. The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 16381870. New York: Longmans, Green.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1899] 1967. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. New York: Schocken.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1903] 1990. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. New York: Vintage.

Du Bois, W. E. B., ed. 1906. Health and Physique of the Negro American. Atlanta University Study, no. 11. Atlanta, GA: Atlanta University Press.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1911] 2004. The Quest of the Silver Fleece. New York: Harlem Moon.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1915] 1970. The Negro. New York: Oxford University Press.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1928] 1995. Dark Princess: A Romance. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1935] 1992. Black Reconstruction in America, 18601880. New York: Atheneum.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [1939] 1970. Black Folk Then and Now: An Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro Race. New York: Octagon.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1945. Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1968. The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York: International Publishers.


Baker, Lee D. 1998. From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 18961954. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Green, Dan S., and Edwin D. Driver, eds. 1978. W. E. B. Du Bois on Sociology and the Black Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Harrison, Faye V. 1992. The Du Boisian Legacy in Anthropology. Critique of Anthropology 12 (3): 239258.

Lester, Julius, ed. 1971. The Seventh Son: The Thought and Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois. New York: Vintage.

Lewis, David L. 1993. W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 18681919. New York: Holt.

Lewis, David L. 2000. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 19191963. New York: Holt.

Nonini, Donald. 1992. Du Bois and Radical Theory and Practice. Critique of Anthropology 12 (3): 293318.

Roediger, David R. 1991. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso.

Faye V. Harrison

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Du Bois, W. E. B. (1868–1963)

DU BOIS, W. E. B. (18681963)

Scholar, educator, philosopher, and social activist, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is among the most influential public intellectuals of the twentieth century. A pioneer of the civil rights movement, Du Bois dedicated his life to ending colonialism, exploitation, and racism worldwide. Experiencing many changes in the nation's political history, he served as a voice for generations of African Americans seeking social justice.

The Formative Years

Du Bois was born the only child of Alfred and Mary Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In the period following the Civil War, Great Barrington was a small town with fewer than 50 African Americans among its 5,000 residents. Du Bois's father, of French and African descent, left home soon after William was born. His mother, of Dutch and African descent, encouraged Du Bois in his educational studies. Aunts, uncles, and close friends gave poverty-stricken Du Bois adequate clothing, food, and finances for schooling.

Attending an integrated grammar school, Du Bois had little direct experience with color discrimination; much of what he did learn came from the visible social divisions within his community as he discovered the hindrances that African Americans faced. Du Bois, however, was quite aware of his intellectual acuity. He excelled and outperformed his white contemporaries, receiving a number of promotions throughout his public schooling.

By the age of seventeen, Du Bois had already served as a correspondent for newspapers in both Great Barrington and New York. He was the first African American to graduate as valedictorian from Great Barrington High School. Influential community members arranged for Du Bois to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he began studies in 1885. While on a partial scholarship at Fisk University, Du Bois had far greater exposure to African-American culture. In the white South, Du Bois encountered firsthand the oppression faced by the sons and daughters of former slaves, whom he taught in country schools during the summer. As Du Bois witnessed politicians and businessmen destroy the gains of Reconstruction, and African Americans struggle against social, political, and economic injustice, he formed his stance on race relations in America. He began to speak out against the atrocities of racism as a writer and chief editor of the Fisk Herald, until his graduation in 1888.

After receiving his first baccalaureate, Du Bois entered Harvard University in 1888 as a junior. Two years later, he earned a second B.A. in a class of 300 and was one of six commencement speakers. In the fall of 1890, Du Bois began graduate work at Harvard. He studied under legendary professors William James, Josiah Royce, George Santayana, and Albert Bushnell Hart. His studies focused primarily on the subjects of philosophy and history and then gradually shifted into the areas of economics and sociology.

Du Bois acquired his master's degree in the spring of 1891 and chose to further his studies at the University of Berlin (18921894), observing and comparing race problems in Africa, Asia, and America. After two years in Berlin, Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. His doctoral thesis, approved in 1895, was published in the first volume of the Harvard Historical Studies series as The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638 to 1870.

Early Scholarship

In 1896 Du Bois married Nina Gomer; they had two children, Yolande and Burghardt (who died at the age of three). After teaching Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University (18941896), Du Bois accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a research project in Philadelphia. For two years, Du Bois and his wife lived in the heart of Philadelphia's seventh ward, where the no-table work The Philadelphia Negro, A Social Study (1899) took form.

The Philadelphia Negro marked the first major study of American empirical sociology and represented Du Bois's quest to expose racism as a problem of ignorance. Du Bois personally interviewed several thousand residents, and his study documented the living conditions of poor African Americans enduring dilapidated housing, inadequate health care, disease, and violence. In this body of work, Du Bois contended that crime and poverty were manifestations of institutional and structural racism.

In 1897 Du Bois and his family moved to Atlanta, where he taught economics and history at Atlanta University. Here Du Bois witnessed racism, lynching, Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, race riots, and disfranchisement. To challenge these acts, he published papers in the Atlantic Monthly and other journals that explored and confronted discriminatory southern society.

A compilation of unpublished papers led to what many consider Du Bois's greatest work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903). In it Du Bois wrote, "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line" (p. 54). The Souls of Black Folk provided a philosophical framework by which Du Bois addressed the problem of race and the distressing realities of African-American life in America. Within its pages, he challenged the prominent African-American leader, Booker T. Washington. Du Bois firmly opposed Washington's policies of accommodation, calling instead for more social agitation to break the bonds of racial oppression. In addition to his writings, publications, teachings and public speeches, Du Bois served as secretary for the first pan-African congress in London in 1900. He would later go on to organize subsequent sessions in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1945.

In 1905, Du Bois took on the leadership role in organizing a group of African-American leaders and scholars in what became known as the Niagara Movement. The group was opposed to the conservative platform of Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Machine. Despite the failure of the Niagara Movement, it would later serve as a model for another of Du Bois's initiatives in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The Crisis Years

Upon leaving his professorship at Atlanta University, Du Bois joined the central staff of the NAACP in November 1910. Having been instrumental in that group's formation, he became the only African American on its executive board, and, more importantly, director of publications and research. In that position, he assumed control of the Crisis, the official journal of the NAACP.

While the expanding economy provided former slaves with moderate economic and educational gains, discrimination, violence, and lynching were rampant. Black anger, impatience, and heightened consciousness, combined with expanding literacy, provided a growing audience for the Crisis. This journal expanded Du Bois's influence and audience beyond academia to the public. By 1913 its regular circulation reached 30,000.

The Crisis informed people about important events, offered analysis, and sowed themes of uplift and civil rights. Du Bois's voice dominated as though it were his own personal journal. His authoritative editorials spoke against injustice, discriminatory practices, lynching, miseducation, and the widespread mistreatment of African Americans. Du Bois was not hesitant to confront those whom he believed misled his people.

World War I was significant for Du Bois. He believed the enthusiastic participation of black soldiers would lead to returned favors from white America. He traveled to France in 1919 reporting the heroism of black soldiers to the Crisis directly from the front.

Du Bois was optimistic that the new generations of African Americans would advance the struggles for civil rights and racial justice. His magazine produced articles and pictures about young people. In 1920 he launched the short-lived Brownies Book, a Crisis- type publication for children.

Crisis came to be seen as an authoritative and informative resource by many in black America. Beyond ideological commentary, it published and supported black artistic expression. Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, and Alain Locke were among the core group of the "Harlem Renaissance" supported by the Crisis. Columbus Salley (1999) asserts that Du Bois deserves as much credit as anyone in giving birth to the Harlem Renaissance.

While editing the Crisis, Du Bois continued to write books and essays that explained his theories and fueled antagonism. In 1920 he examined global race issues and conflict in Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil. Over the years the internationalist and radical Du Bois clashed regularly with the leadership of the NAACP who were committed to gradualism and legalism. In 1934, under fierce pressure, Du Bois retired from the executive board and the Crisis.

After the Crisis

Du Bois lost his national platform in the midst of economic depression, international fascism, and political uncertainty. With no resources or base from which to operate, in 1934 he accepted and invitation to return to Atlanta University as chair of the sociology department.

Since his study of the Philadelphia Negro (1899), Du Bois was drawn to big research projects. He adhered to the new school of social science, arguing that knowledge of social problems could lead to social change. He proposed that his university along with others undertake large studies of black life including employment, education, family life, and so forth. Additionally, he was hopeful for the eventual publication of an Encyclopedia Africana. Lack of funds, changes in university administration, and a changing political climate all worked against Du Bois.

This period found Du Bois refining his views on pan-Africanism and Marxian socialism. He wrote Black Reconstruction in America (1935), Black Folk Then and Now (1939), Dusk of Dawn (1940), and Color and Democracy (1945). In 1940 he began Phylon, a journal of social science, published at Atlanta University.

Undermined by the new school administration, Du Bois retired from the faculty of Atlanta University in 1943. Declining offers at Howard and Fisk universities, he would never return to academia. As the nation's largest and most recognized civil rights organization, the integrationist NAACP was increasingly drawn into public dialogue. Its leaders, believing that Du Bois could be useful in their research activities, offered him the position of director of special research. Du Bois, fiercely independent and outspoken, challenged American capitalism, imperialism, racial inequality, and the legal system that supported privilege. His linking of pan-Africanism to socialism, and then to democracy, offered an interesting and provocative position. He was denounced by some as a bourgeois intellectual, and by others as a radical extremist.

Although pan-Africanists had gathered since the turn of the century, until 1945 those meetings did little more than unleash indignation from middle-class intellectuals. The 1945 fifth pan-African congress held in Manchester, England, was different. Revolutionary students and activists from throughout colonized sub-Saharan Africa gathered to confront the colonial masters. They resolved to "control their own destiny. All colonies must be free from imperialist control whether political or economic. We say to the peoples of the colonies that they must fight for these ends by all means at their disposal" (Lemelle and Kelley, p. 352). A "third world" movement for independence and social justice now accompanied the modern civil rights movement slowly emerging in the United States. By 1948, Du Bois's support of the Soviet Union, revolution in Africa, strident criticism of American apartheid, and support of Progressive candidate Henry Wallace in the United States alienated him from the NAACP leadership, especially its moderate chairperson, Walter White. He was dismissed from his position in 1948 leading to a final break with the organization.

The Final Years

Once again without funds or an organizational base, Du Bois continued his critique of American capitalism and racial inequality. At the end of World War II and the beginning of the cold war, the nation's political climate moved decidedly to the right. Du Bois's Africanist and prosocialist sentiment placed him at odds with the unfolding hysteria. His social circle now consisted of avant-garde intellectuals, internationalists, and left-leaning cultural workers such as Paul Robeson and Shirley Graham. Amid the new jingoism, Du Bois was drawn to the "peace" community. By 1950 he was chair of the Peace Information Center, drawing the antagonism of federal authorities.

In July 1950 Du Bois's first wife, Nina, died, and later that year he ran for the U.S. Senate in New York on the ticket of the American Labor Party. Surprisingly he received 210,000 votesequivalent to 4 percent of the vote. In early 1951 Du Bois and his Peace Information Center were ordered by the Justice Department to register as foreign agents. Refusing, Du Bois was indicted and jailed but soon exonerated.

Now remarried to Shirley Graham, Du Bois was both vilified and celebrated during the difficult McCarthy period. He watched as friends, associates, and notables such as poet Langston Hughes, actress Lena Horne, Africanist Alphaeus Hunton, actor William Marshall, black professors Forrest Wiggins and Ira Reid, Harlem politician Benjamin Davis, and black Marxists Claude Lightfoot, Claudia Jones, and Henry Winston and others were discredited. Du Bois and his wife were also frequent targets of communist-baiters. As the hysteria escalated, so did Du Bois's defense of those victimized.

Du Bois continued to speak out against the cold war, capitalist exploitation, colonialism, and the international mistreatment of African people. He fore-saw a new period of socialistic pan-Africanism, writing in 1955, "American Negroes, freed of their baseless fear of communism, will again begin to turn their attention and aim their activity toward Africa"(p. 5). Denounced at home, Du Bois was regarded as a champion of human rights around the world.

As the civil rights movement began, Du Bois attended the Stockholm Peace Conference where he delivered an address. After visiting Czechoslovakia and Germany, the Du Boises spent five months in the Soviet Union. Having visited the Soviet Union on several previous occasions, Du Bois marveled at the country's continued progress in employment, housing, education, the status of women, and race relations. During this visit, he lobbied endlessly for increased Soviet interactions with Africans and for more research on that continent. Du Bois's visit to the People's Republic of China profoundly influenced him since China served as a reminder that people of color could successfully engage socialism. He noted that a majority of the world's people lived under socialism and declared that egalitarian socialism was the economic system of the future. He believed that African Americans, given their history of mistreatment, could benefit from this type of social system.

Upon returning to America, Du Bois expressed grave pessimism that black Americans could ever achieve economic and political justice under corporate monopoly capitalism, and continued to advocate connection with Africa. He now had a special relationship with Kwame Nkrumah and the revolution in Ghana.

In 1960 Du Bois had one longstanding unfilled objective, to publish his Encyclopedia Africana, which would explore every aspect of black life. He had contacted scholars, funding agencies, and anyone who would listen to him to accomplish this project. On October 1, 1961, Du Bois joined the U.S. Communist Party and made a statement that began "Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all. this is the only way of human life. In the end communism will triumph."(Manning, p. 212). Four days later he and his wife moved to Ghana. Working on his encyclopedia to the very end, Du Bois died one day before the famous March on Washington.

See also: Multicultural Education; Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.


Du Bois, W. E. B. 1899. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Boston: Ginn.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1935. Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 18601880. Philadelphia: Saifer.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1939. Black Folk Then and Now: An Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro Race. New York: Holt.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1940. Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1945. Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1955. "American Negroes and Africa." National Guardian February 14.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1968. The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of its First Century. New York: International.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1969. Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (1920). New York: AMS.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1995. The Souls of Black Folks: Essays and Sketches (1903). New York: Signet Classic.

Lemelle, Sidney J., and Kelley Robin D. G. 1994. Imagining Home: Class, Culture and Nationalism in the African Diaspora. London: Verso.

Marable, Manning. 1986. W. E. B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat. Boston: Hall.

Patrick, John J. 1969. The Progress of the Afro-American. Winchester, IL: Benefic.

Salley, Columbus. 1999. The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African Americans, Past and Present. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel.

William H. Watkins

Horace R. Hall

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William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was a major African American scholar, an early leader in the 20th-century African American protest movement, and an advocate of pan-Africanism.

On Feb. 23, 1868, W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Mass., where he grew up. During his youth he did some newspaper reporting. In 1884 he graduated as valedictorian from high school. He got his bachelor of arts from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., in 1888, having spent summers teaching in African American schools in Nashville's rural areas. In 1888 he entered Harvard University as a junior, took a bachelor of arts cum laude in 1890, and was one of six commencement speakers. From 1892 to 1894 he pursued graduate studies in history and economics at the University of Berlin on a Slater Fund fellowship. He served for 2 years as professor of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

In 1891 Du Bois got his master of arts and in 1895 his doctorate in history from Harvard. His dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published as No. 1 in the Harvard Historical Series. This important work has yet to be surpassed. In 1896 he married Nina Gomer, and they had two children.

In 1896-1897 Du Bois became assistant instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. There he conducted the pioneering sociological study of an urban community, published as The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899). These first two works assured Du Bois's place among America's leading scholars.

Du Bois's life and work were an inseparable mixture of scholarship, protest activity, and polemics. All of his efforts were geared toward gaining equal treatment for black people in a world dominated by whites and toward marshaling and presenting evidence to refute the myths of racial inferiority.

As Racial Activist

In 1905 Du Bois was a founder and general secretary of the Niagara movement, an African American protest group of scholars and professionals. Du Bois founded and edited the Moon (1906) and the Horizon (1907-1910) as organs for the Niagara movement. In 1909 Du Bois was among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and from 1910 to 1934 served it as director of publicity and research, a member of the board of directors, and editor of the Crisis, its monthly magazine.

In the Crisis, Du Bois directed a constant stream of agitation—often bitter and sarcastic—at white Americans while serving as a source of information and pride to African Americans. The magazine always published young African American writers. Racial protest during the decade following World War I focused on securing antilynching legislation. During this period the NAACP was the leading protest organization and Du Bois its leading figure.

In 1934 Du Bois resigned from the NAACP board and from the Crisis because of his new advocacy of an African American nationalist strategy: African American controlled institutions, schools, and economic cooperatives. This approach opposed the NAACP's commitment to integration. However, he returned to the NAACP as director of special research from 1944 to 1948. During this period he was active in placing the grievances of African Americans before the United Nations, serving as a consultant to the UN founding convention (1945) and writing the famous "An Appeal to the World" (1947).

Du Bois was a member of the Socialist party from 1910 to 1912 and always considered himself a Socialist. In 1948 he was cochairman of the Council on African Affairs; in 1949 he attended the New York, Paris, and Moscow peace congresses; in 1950 he served as chairman of the Peace Information Center and ran for the U.S. Senate on the American Labor party ticket in New York. In 1950-1951 Du Bois was tried and acquitted as an agent of a foreign power in one of the most ludicrous actions ever taken by the American government. Du Bois traveled widely throughout Russia and China in 1958-1959 and in 1961 joined the Communist party of the United States. He also took up residence in Ghana, Africa, in 1961.


Du Bois was also active in behalf of pan-Africanism and concerned with the conditions of people of African descent wherever they lived. In 1900 he attended the First Pan-African Conference held in London, was elected a vice president, and wrote the "Address to the Nations of the World." The Niagara movement included a "pan-African department." In 1911 Du Bois attended the First Universal Races Congress in London along with black intellectuals from Africa and the West Indies.

Du Bois organized a series of pan-African congresses around the world, in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927. The delegations comprised intellectuals from Africa, the West Indies, and the United States. Though resolutions condemning colonialism and calling for alleviation of the oppression of Africans were passed, little concrete action was taken. The Fifth Congress (1945, Manchester, England) elected Du Bois as chairman, but the power was clearly in the hands of younger activists, such as George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah, who later became significant in the independence movements of their respective countries. Du Bois's final pan-African gesture was to take up citizenship in Ghana in 1961 at the request of President Kwame Nkrumah and to begin work as director of the Encyclopedia Africana.

As Scholar

Du Bois's most lasting contribution is his writing. As poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, sociologist, historian, and journalist, he wrote 21 books, edited 15 more, and published over 100 essays and articles. Only a few of his most significant works will be mentioned here.

From 1897 to 1910 Du Bois served as professor of economics and history at Atlanta University, where he organized conferences titled the Atlanta University Studies of the Negro Problem and edited or coedited 16 of the annual publications, on such topics as The Negro in Business (1899), The Negro Artisan (1902), The Negro Church (1903), Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans (1907), and The Negro American Family (1908). Other significant publications were The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (1903), one of the outstanding collections of essays in American letters, and John Brown (1909), a sympathetic portrayal published in the American Crisis Biographies series.

Du Bois also wrote two novels, The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) and Dark Princess: A Romance (1928); a book of essays and poetry, Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (1920); and two histories of black people, The Negro (1915) and The Gift of Black Folk: Negroes in the Making of America (1924).

From 1934 to 1944 Du Bois was chairman of the department of sociology at Atlanta University. In 1940 he founded Phylon, a social science quarterly. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935), perhaps his most significant historical work, details the role of African Americans in American society, specifically during the Reconstruction period. The book was criticized for its use of Marxist concepts and for its attacks on the racist character of much of American historiography. However, it remains the best single source on its subject.

Black Folk, Then and Now (1939) is an elaboration of the history of black people in Africa and the New World. Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace (1945) is a brief call for the granting of independence to Africans, and The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History (1947; enlarged ed. 1965) is a major work anticipating many later scholarly conclusions regarding the significance and complexity of African history and culture. A trilogy of novels, collectively entitled The Black Flame (1957, 1959, 1961), and a selection of his writings, An ABC of Color (1963), are also worthy.

Du Bois received many honorary degrees, was a fellow and life member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He was the outstanding African American intellectual of his period in America.

Du Bois died in Ghana on Aug. 27, 1963, on the eve of the civil rights march in Washington, D.C. He was given a state funeral, at which Kwame Nkrumah remarked that he was "a phenomenon."

Further Reading

Indispensable starting points for an understanding of Du Bois's life are his autobiographical writings (the dates are of the most recent editions): The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decades of Its First Century (1968); Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (1968); Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (1969); and The Souls of Black Folk (1969). Two critical biographies are Francis L. Broderick, W.E. B. Du Bois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis (1959), and Elliott M. Rudwick, W. E. B. Du Bois: A Study of Minority Group Leadership (1960; 1968). Also of importance is the W. E. B. Du Bois memorial issue of Freedomways magazine (vol. 5, no. 1, 1965). This was expanded and published in book form as Black Titan: W. E. B. Du Bois (1970). Arna Bontemps, 100 Years of Negro Freedom (1963), has a biographical sketch. Meyer Weinberg, Walter Wilson, Julius Lester, and Andrew G. Paschal edited Du Bois readers. Philip S. Foner edited W. E. B. Du Bois Speaks (1970), two volumes of speeches and addresses. □

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Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt


W. E. B. Du Bois was an African American intellectual, sociologist, poet, and activist whose fierce commitment to racial equality was the seminal force behind important sociopolitical reforms in the twentieth-century United States.

Although Du Bois may not have the same name recognition as frederick douglass or martin luther king jr., he is regarded by most historians as an influential leader. King himself praised Du Bois as an intellectual giant whose "singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people." Reflecting on Du Bois's legacy, playwright Lorraine Hansberry noted that "his ideas have influenced a multitude who do not even know his name."

Born February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, during the Reconstruction period following the u.s. civil war, Du Bois was of African, French, and Dutch descent. His tremendous potential was apparent to his fellow townspeople, who raised money in the local churches to send him to Tennessee's Fisk University, a predominantly African American school. Du Bois earned a bachelor of arts degree from Fisk in 1888. He then attended Harvard University, where his professors included George Santayana and william james. An outstanding student, Du Bois received three degrees from Harvard: a bachelor's in 1890, a master's in 1891, and a doctor's in 1895.

Du Bois traveled extensively in Europe during the early 1890s and did postdoctoral work at the University of Berlin, in Germany. It was there that he pledged his life and career to the social and political advancement of African Americans. When Du Bois returned to the United States, he accepted his first teaching position at Ohio's Wilberforce University. He later taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Atlanta University.

Du Bois made his mark as an accomplished sociologist and historian, publishing groundbreaking studies on African American culture. In The Philadelphia Negro (1899), he interviewed 5,000 people to document the social institutions, health, crime patterns, family relationships, and education of African Americans in northern urban areas. In his 1903 book The Souls of BlackFolk, he published a beautifully written collection of essays on the political history and cultural conditions of African Americans.

Although his success in academe was well recognized, Du Bois chose to cut a bolder swath as a passionate social activist. He became a symbol of principled social protest on behalf of African Americans. Du Bois combined his scholarly endeavors with the profound outrage he felt over racial injustice and the South's discriminatory jim crow laws. He used his position as a respected intellectual to decry the unequal treatment of African Americans and to push for fundamental change. According to King, Du Bois knew it was not enough to be angry. The task was to organize people so that the anger became a transforming power. As a result, King said, "It was never possible to know where the scholar Du Bois ended and the organizer Du Bois began. The two qualities in him were a single unified force."

Du Bois was a contemporary of booker t. washington, the head of Alabama's famed Tuskegee Institute and the undisputed leader of the African American community at the turn of the twentieth century. A former slave, Washington was a powerful figure who favored the gradual acquisition of civil rights for African Americans. He believed that the best route for African Americans was agricultural or industrial education, not college. Although Du Bois agreed with some of Washington's ideas, he eventually lost patience with the slow pace and agenda of Washington's program.

To Du Bois, Washington's Tuskegee Machine was much too accommodating to the white power structure. Du Bois favored a more militant approach to achieving full social and political justice for African Americans. Because of Du

Bois's talent as a writer, he became an effective spokesperson for the opponents of Washington's gradualism. He became the unambiguous voice of indignation and activism for African Americans. Du Bois insisted on the immediate rights of all people of color to vote; to obtain a decent education, including college; and to enjoy basic civil liberties.

"The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression."
—W. E. B. Du Bois

His beliefs led to the creation of the Niagara movement in 1905. This organization was formed by like-minded African Americans to protest Washington's compromising approach to the so-called Negro problem. Du Bois preached power through achievement, self-sufficiency, racial solidarity, and cultural pride. He came up with a plan called the Talented Tenth, whereby a select group of African Americans

would be groomed for leadership in the struggle for equal rights. The Niagara movement lasted until 1910 when Du Bois became involved in a new national organization.

In 1910, Du Bois helped launch the biracial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp). He became the group's director of research and the editor of the NAACP publication The Crisis. Du Bois's work on The Crisis provided a wide audience for his views on racial equality and African American achievement. His writings influenced scores of African Americans who eventually made their demands for full citizenship heard in the nation's legislatures and courtrooms. Du Bois was a guiding force in the NAACP until 1934 when his interest in communism led him to leave the organization.

On September 9, 1963, the NAACP Board of Directors recognized Du Bois's contributions to the civil rights movement in the following resolution: "It was Dr. Du Bois who was primarily responsible for guiding the Negro away from accommodation to racial segregation to militant opposition to any system which degraded black people by imposing upon them a restricted status separate and apart from their fellow citizens."

Du Bois was also a proponent of Pan-Africanism, a movement devoted to the political, social, and economic empowerment of people of color throughout the world. Later, he became active in trade unionism, women's rights, and the international peace movement. Never one to shy away from controversy, Du Bois also embraced socialism and communism at a time when they were especially unpopular in the United States. He joined the American Communist party in 1961, after winning the Lenin Peace Prize in 1959 from the former Soviet Union.

Du Bois became increasingly disenchanted with the United States, and emigrated to Ghana in 1961. He was a citizen of that country at the time of his death in 1963.

Du Bois's influence on U.S. law was indirect but powerful. He spoke out eloquently against injustice and inspired generations of African Americans to work for racial equality. With 21 books to his credit and a zeal for organizing social protest, he helped plant the seeds for the civil rights and black power movements in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. His unswerving commitment to equal rights helped bring about changes in the laws governing education, voting, housing, and public accommodations for racial minorities.

In 1900, Du Bois wrote Credo, a statement of his beliefs and his desire for social change. The poet in him was revealed when he wrote,

I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love.

further readings

Berman, Nathaniel. 2000. "Shadows: Du Bois and the Colonial Prospect, 1925." Villanova Law Review 45 (December).

Clarke, John Henrik, et al., eds. 1970. Black Titan: W.E.B. Du Bois. Boston: Beacon Press.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1968. The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois. New York: International Publishers.

Logan, Rayford Whittingham, ed. 1971. W.E.B. Du Bois: A Profile. New York: Hill and Wang.

Marable, Manning. 1986. W.E.B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat. Boston: Twayne.

Romano, Mary Ann, ed. 2002. Lost Sociologists Rediscovered. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen.

Wolters, Raymond. 2002. Du Bois and His Rivals. Columbia: Univ. of Missouri.

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DuBois, W. E. B.

DuBois, W. E. B.



William Edward Burghardt DuBois (1868–1963), American Negro leader and sociologist, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was trained at Fisk University, at Harvard, where he received a ph.d. in 1895, and at the University of Berlin. DuBois turned from history to sociology in the hope of providing accurate information as the basis for public policy on Negro rights.

He set himself against the enigmatic abstractions, the “verbal jugglery” of Herbert Spencer. In The Philadelphia Negro (1899), his finest scholarly work, he used the technique of Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People in London to yield a pioneering door-to-door survey of the occupations, values, political influence, social intercourse, and family life of the 45,000 Negroes in the seventh ward of Philadelphia. With the research for this book, he tried to uncover information to replace the “fantastic theories, ungrounded assumptions, or metaphysical subleties” that passed among white men for knowledge about the Negro.

As professor of economics and sociology at Atlanta University, from 1897 to 1910, he edited the Atlanta University Publications, a series of yearly pamphlets on different aspects of Negro life—artisans, college graduates, schools, groups organized for social betterment, criminals, etc. The volumes were partly hortatory, partly factual. The factual section summarized DuBois’ year-long research, generally based on questionnaires distributed in Negro communities throughout the country. His results, although fragmentary, contained valuable data not available elsewhere. DuBois was the first student of Negro life to make empiricism the core of his work. For years he stood almost alone.

The failure of scholarly research to budge the prejudices of white Americans moved him to more active agitation. Contemptuous of the gradualism advocated by Booker T. Washington, DuBois called for full equality as the immediate demand of justice. To lead the Negro’s fight he looked to a college-trained Negro elite, which he called the “talented tenth” (1903a), and in 1905 organized the Niagara movement, consisting of a handful of educated northern Negroes committed to his program. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a biracial group, absorbed most of these men and the lean, aloof DuBois became director of research and editor of its monthly magazine, Crisis. He spoke from this podium during the 24 years from 1910 to 1934, making himself, after Washington’s death in 1915, the most significant spokesman for Negro rights in America and the greatest single influence on the generation of leaders that followed. DuBois supported the association’s program of organization, publicity, and legal action; at the same time, he urged Negroes to free themselves from the white man—create their own ideals and assert control over their own organizations. He broke with the NAACP in 1934, when under the pressure of the great depression he argued for voluntary segregation in a self-sufficient Negro community within America. He again became a professor at Atlanta, where he completed Black Reconstruction (1935), an eccentric blend of racial chauvinism, unassimilated Marxist terminology, and melodramatic fantasy, that nevertheless summarized for the first time the striking achievements of black-and-white governments in the South after the Civil War.

DuBois felt a special kinship with nonwhite peoples, especially black men in Africa, whom he regarded as victims of Western capitalism and white prejudice. To publicize their needs he organized Pan-African congresses, the first of which met in Paris in 1919. DuBois nursed the movement through the 1920s, but it went into eclipse until 1945, when, again at his call, the sixth congress met as Asian and African peoples were breaking out of European colonial systems. Jubilant, DuBois found himself the intellectual “father of Pan-Africanism.” He drew away from the United States. Unsympathetic to American policies and despairing of the Negro leadership of the time, he looked upon the Soviet Union’s campaigns for peace and for world socialism as the most promising paths to the future.

In his later years DuBois traveled widely in China and in eastern Europe, where he was cordially acclaimed at a time when his reputation at home had faded. He was awarded a Lenin peace prize in 1959. The following year he went to Ghana to fulfill a half-century-old dream of editing the first African encyclopedia. Late in 1961, DuBois joined the American Communist party. Finally, caught in the movement of African nationalism, he became a Ghanaian citizen just before his death, in Accra, Ghana, in 1963.

Francis L. Broderick

[For the historical context of DuBois’ work, see the biography of BOOTH. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeRace relations.]


(1896) 1954 The Suppression of the African Slave-trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870. New York: Social Science Press.

1898 The Study of the Negro Problems. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 11:1–23.

1899 The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, Together With a Special Report on Domestic Service by Isabel Eaton. Series in Political Economy and Public Law, No. 14. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania.

1903a The Talented Tenth. Pages 31–75 in The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of Today. New York: Pott.

(1903b) 1963 The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith.

1920 Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil New York: Harcourt.

(1935) 1956 Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. New York: Russell. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Meridian Books.

1940 Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. New York: Harcourt.

(1947) 1964 The World and Africa: An Inquiry Into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History. Rev. ed. New York: International Publishers.


Broderick, Francis L. 1959 W. E. B. DuBois, Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.

Isaacs, Harold R. 1960 DuBois and Africa. Race 7: 3:23.

Rudwick, Elliot M. 1960 W. E. B. DuBois: A Study in Minority Group Leadership. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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Du Bois, W. E. B.

W. E. B. Du Bois: (William Edward Burghardt Du Bois) (dəbois´), 1868–1963, American civil-rights leader and author, b. Great Barrington, Mass., grad. Harvard (B.A., 1890; M.A., 1891; Ph.D., 1895). Du Bois was an early exponent of full equality for African Americans and a cofounder (1905) of the Niagara Movement, which became (1909) the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Unlike Booker T. Washington, who believed that unskilled blacks should focus on economic self-betterment, and Marcus Garvey, who advocated a "back to Africa" movement, Du Bois demanded that African Americans should achieve not only economic parity with whites in the United States but full and immediate civil and political equality as well. Also, he introduced the concept of the "talented tenth," a black elite whose duty it was to better the lives of less fortunate African Americans.

From 1897 to 1910, Du Bois taught economics and history at Atlanta Univ. In 1910 he became editor of the influential NAACP magazine, Crisis, a position he held until 1934. That year he resigned over the question of voluntary segregation, which he had come to favor over integration, and returned to Atlanta Univ. (1934–44). His concern for the liberation of blacks throughout the world led him to organize the first (Paris, 1919) of several Pan-African Congresses. In 1945, at the Fifth Congress in Manchester, England, he met with the African leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta. In 1961 he became a member of the American Communist party, and shortly thereafter he renounced his American citizenship. In the last two years of his life Du Bois lived in Ghana. His books include The Souls of Black Folks (1903), The Negro (1915), Black Reconstruction in America (1935), Color and Democracy (1945), The World and Africa (1947), and In Battle for Peace: The Story of My 83rd Birthday (1952).


See his autobiography, ed. by H. Aptheker (1968); selected writings, ed. by N. Huggins (1986); correspondence, ed. by H. Aptheker (3 vol., 1973–78); biography by D. L. Lewis (2 vol., 1993–2000); studies by G. Horne (1985), M. Marable (1987, repr. 2005), A. Reed, Jr. (1997), and L. Balfour (2011).

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Du Bois, W. E. B.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1868–1963) A Black American intellectual and activist, also in part a sociologist in everything but official recognition, whose work (though largely ignored by modern sociologists) prefigures some of the classic themes of early American sociology.

Du Bois studied at the Universities of Harvard and Berlin ( Max Weber was an admirer), contributed to the American Journal of Sociology
, chaired the Department of Sociology at Atlanta University, and published the first systematic sociological studies of African American communities. His The Philadelphia Negro is a comprehensive report on what nowadays would be called the Black urban underclass. It pre-dates W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant by more than twenty years and could serve equally well as the locus classicus of American urban ethnography. In a famous article published in Atlantic Monthly in 1897 (and reprinted in his Souls of Black Folk, 1899/1903), Du Bois formulated a theory of dual consciousness which shows the influence of William James's ideas about the self (James taught Du Bois at Harvard), noting that ‘it is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels this twoness—an American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength keeps it from being torn asunder.’

Du Bois was a co-founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and a major figure in the renaissance of Harlem as a cultural centre in the 1920s. He was, however, much criticized for his support for African American participation in the First World War. His contribution to the development of sociology is described in the first part of the biography by D. L. Lewis , W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919 (1993)

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Du Bois, W.E.B.

Du Bois, W.E.B. ( William Edward Burghardt) (1868–1963) US civil-rights leader, writer, and educator. In 1905, he co-founded the Niagara movement that evolved into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also helped organize the First Pan-Africanist Congress (1919). His works include The Souls of Black Folk (1903). See also Pan-Africanism

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