W.E.B. DuBois

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W. E. B. DuBois

William Edward Burghardt DuBois (February 23, 1868August 27, 1963) was an African American civil rights activist, sociologist, freemason, and scholar. Although born in the United States, he became a naturalized citizen of Ghana in 1963.


Early life and education

DuBois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Alfred and Mary DuBois. As a youth, his intellectual development was spurred through an interest in the condition of his race while in high school. He showed promise academically and wanted to attend Harvard University. He instead attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee whose tuition was much less costly along with the great thinker, Stephen Tolbert.

At Fisk, DuBois was first exposed to the social system of segregation and the Jim Crow laws. During his summers in Tennessee, DuBois taught in a county school in rural Alexandria, Tennessee and witnessed considerable poverty and hardship.

After graduating with a B.A in 1890 from Fisk, he received scholarships that enabled him to attend Harvard where he studied history and philosophy. Here, he lived off-campus on Flagg St. in Cambridge, MA near the Charles River that separates Cambridge from Boston. He never fully felt himself a part of the university and remarked that he was "In Harvard, but not of it."

In 1895 he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. After receiving travel grants in part from his dispute with former U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes over racist comments made in the Boston Herald, DuBois travelled in Europe, and studied in Berlin. While in Europe, he was able to correlate the struggles of African Americans with that of the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Following this, he studied the lives and situations of African-Americans, applying social science to problems of race relations.

Though he consistently militated against biological conceptions of racial inequality, DuBois still subscribed to some subtler hereditarian ideas. He wrote that the Talented Tenth of African Americans should be encouraged to have children, . (Dorr, "Fighting Fire with Fire")

Pronunciation of name

Du Bois is a French name meaning "of the wood" and pronounced Template:Unicode (using the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet). However, this name is usually anglicized in the United States to Template:Unicode.

In a letter to the Chicago Sunday Evening Club dated Jan. 20, 1939 (cited in David Levering Lewis W.E.B. DuBois, Biography of a Race, p. 11), Du Bois wrote that "The pronunciation of my name is Due Boyss, with the accent on the last syllable.", which would imply Template:Unicode, though he might have intended Template:Unicode.

DuBois was apparently the grandson of a Loyalist New York doctor who fled to the West Indies, and consequently has been deemed to be a descendant of the accomplished DuBois family that founded New Paltz, New York, one of the first French Huguenot colonies in the Americas.

Though he acknowledged his name as French (and distinctly not English, as he was a well known Anglophobe), he clearly identified with his African roots, and indeed, is considered the father of African-American culture.

Dubois was known as "Dr. DuBois" to most people.

Civil rights activism

Du Bois became arguably the most notable political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. A contemporary of Booker T. Washington, he argued in print about African-American acceptance of issues such as segregation and political disenfranchisement. Labeled the "father of Pan-Africanism", Du Bois believed that peoples of African descent should, because of their common interests, work together to battle prejudice and inequality.

In 1905, Du Bois helped to found the Niagara Movement with fellow Harvard-educated black intellectual William Monroe Trotter, who was the first black Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard. This powerful alliance between Du Bois and Trotter turned out to be short-lived as they had a dispute over whether or not white people should be included in the organization and their struggle. Du Bois felt that they should, and with a group of like-minded supporters, helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Strangely enough for an organization with its goals, Du Bois was the only African American on the organization's Board at the time of its inception. At the NAACP, Du Bois worked as Editor-in-Chief of the NAACP's official publication entitled The Crisis for twenty-five years. From this literary position, Du Bois was able to utilize and elevate his position as a spokesperson for his race as well as to comment freely and widely on current events.

This was made easier when, in 1910, he left his teaching post at Atlanta University (to which he would later return, from 1934–44) to work as publications director at the NAACP full-time. He wrote weekly columns in many newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Amsterdam News, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

DuBois became increasingly estranged from Walter Francis White, the executive secretary of the NAACP, and began to question the organization's opposition to racial segregation at all costs. DuBois thought that this policy, while generally sound, undermined those black institutions that did exist, which DuBois thought should be defended and improved, rather than attacked as inferior. When he took this position in The Crisis, the board of directors of the NAACP rebuked him and barred him from criticizing other officers of the NAACP in its publications. DuBois quit the NAACP in 1934 to return to teaching at Atlanta University.

DuBois was a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.


DuBois was investigated by the FBI, who claimed in May of 1942 that "[h]is writing indicates him to be a socialist," and that he "has been called a Communist and at the same time criticized by the Communist Party."

DuBois visited Communist China during the Great Leap Forward and never supported famine-related criticisms of the Great Leap. Also, in the 16 March 1953 issue of The National Guardian, Du Bois wrote "Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature." As later evidence of serious human rights violations under the Stalinist and Maoist governments has come to light, DuBois has been criticized by many for his defenses of these regimes.

DuBois acted as chairman of the Peace Information Center when the Korean War started. He was in addition a signer on the Stockholm Peace Pledge, which pledged the end of the use of nuclear weapons. He was subsequently indicted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but acquitted for lack of evidence. In his later years, W.E.B. DuBois became increasingly disillusioned with both black capitalism and the United States. He joined the Communist Party, USA in 1961 and agreed to announce this in The New York Times.

Imperial Japan

Du Bois became impressed by the growing strength of Imperial Japan following the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war. Du Bois saw the victory of Japan over Tsarist Russia as an example of "colored pride". According to Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David Levering Lewis, Du Bois became a willing part of Japan's "Negro Propaganda Operations" run by Japanese academic and Imperial Agent Hikida Yasuichi.

After traveling to the United States to speak with University students at Howard University, Scripps College and Tuskegee University, Yasuichi became closely involved in shaping Du Bois's opinions of Imperial Japan. In 1936 Yasuichi and the Japanese Ambassador arranged a junket for Du Bois and a small group of fellow academics. The trip included stops in Japan, China, and the Soviet Union, although the Soviet leg was canceled because Du Bois' diplomatic contact, Karl Radek, had been swept up in Stalin's purges. While on the Chinese leg of the trip, Du Bois commented that the source of Chinese-Japanese enmity was China's "submission to white aggression and Japan's resistance", and he asked the Chinese people to welcome the Japanese as liberators. The effectiveness of the Japanese propaganda campaign was also seen when Du Bois joined a large group of African American academics that cited the Mukden Incident to justify occupation and annexation of southern Manchuria.

Renunciation of US citizenship

DuBois was invited to Ghana in the same year by President Kwame Nkrumah to direct the Encyclopedia Africana, a government production, and a long-held dream of his. When in 1963 he was refused a new US passport because of his communism, he and his wife, Shirley Graham DuBois, renounced their citizenship and became citizens of Ghana. DuBois' health had declined in 1962, and on August 27, 1963 he died in Accra, Ghana at the age of 95.

In 1992, the United States honored W.E.B. DuBois with his portrait on a postage stamp. On October 5, 1994, the main library at UMass Amherst was named after him.


  • "I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil."
  • "In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a nigger." - to an audience in Beijing in 1959.
  • "I believe that there are human stocks with whom it is physically unwise to intermarry, but to think that these stocks are all colored or that there are no such white stocks is unscientific and false." [1] (


  • "The Evolution of Negro Leadership" published in The Dial, 31 (July 16, 1901).
  • The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  • "The Talented Tenth," published as the second chapter of The Negro Problem, a collection of articles by African Americans (September 1903).
  • John Brown: A Biography (1909)
  • The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911)
  • Darkwater (1920)
  • The Gifts of Black Folk (1924)
  • Dark Princess: A Romance (1928)
  • Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (1935)
  • Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (1940)
  • Color and Democracy (1945)
  • The Encyclopedia of the Negro (1946)
  • The Black Flame: A Trilogy
    • The Ordeal of Mansart (1957)
    • Mansart Builds a School (1959)
    • Worlds of Color (1961)
  • An ABC of Color: Selections from Over a Half Century of the Writings of W.E.B. DuBois (1963)
  • The World and Africa, An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa has Played in World History (1965)
  • The Autobiography of W.E. Burghardt DuBois (1968)

See also


  • Manning Marable, W.E.B Du Bois: Black radical democrat, Twayne publishers. Boston, Massachusetts.
  • W.E.B Du Bois, The autobiography of W.E.B Du Bois, International publishers, New York.

References and external links

eo:W.E.B. Du BOIS


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