W. E. Burghardt Du Bois

W. E. Burghardt Du Bois books and biography


W.E.B. Du Bois


W. E. B. Du Bois in 1904
W. E. B. Du Bois in 1904

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced [dʊˈboɪz]) (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American civil rights activist, leader, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, scholar, and socialist. He became a naturalized citizen of Ghana in 1963 at the age of 95.

David Levering Lewis, his acclaimed biographer, wrote, "In the course of his long, turbulent career, W.E.B. Du Bois attempted virtually every possible solution to the problem of twentieth-century racism—scholarship, propaganda, integration, cultural and economic separatism, politics, international communism, expatriation, third world solidarity." [1]



W.E.B. Du Bois was born on Church Street on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington at the south-western edge of Massachusetts, to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Silvina Burghardt Du Bois, whose February 5, 1867, wedding had been announced in the Berkshire Courier. Alfred DuBois had been born in San Domingo, Haiti [2]. Their son was born one year after the Fourteenth Amendment [3] was ratified, and added to the U.S. Constitution. Alfred DuBois was descended from free people of color, including Dr. James DuBois of Poughkeepsie, New York, a physician. In the Bahamas, James Du Bois had sired three sons, including Alfred, and a daughter, by his slave mistress.

DuBois was also the great-grandson of Elizabeth Freeman (“Mum Bett”), a slave who successfully sued for her freedom, laying the groundwork for the eventual abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. [4]

After graduating from Fisk University in 1888, DuBois took a bachelor's degree cum laude from Harvard College in 1890 (Harvard having refused to recognize the equivalency of his Fisk degree), and in 1892 received a stipend to attend the University of Berlin. While a student in Berlin, he travelled extensively throughout Europe, and came of age intellectually while studying with some of the most prominent social scientists in the German capital, such as Gustav von Schmoller. In 1896, DuBois became the first non-white person to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. After teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio and the University of Pennsylvania, he established the department of sociology at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University).

Du Bois wrote many books including three major autobiographies. Among his works considered most significant were The Philadelphia Negro in 1896, The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, John Brown in 1909, Black Reconstruction in 1935, and Black Folk, Then and Now in 1939. His book, The Negro (published in 1915) influenced the work of pioneer Africanist scholars as Drusilla Dunjee Houston and William Leo Hansberry.[5][6]

In 1940, at Atlanta University, Du Bois founded Phylon magazine. In 1946, he wrote The World and Africa: An Inquiry Into the Part that Africa has Played in World History. In 1945, he helped organize the historic Fifth Pan-African Conference in Manchester, England. [7]

Du Bois was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.

While prominent white voices denied African American cultural, political and social relevance to American history and civic life, in his epic work, Reconstruction Du Bois documented how black people were central figures in the American Civil War and Reconstruction. He demonstrated the ways Black emancipation—the crux of Reconstruction—promoted a radical restructuring of United States society, as well as how and why the country turned its back on human rights for African Americans in the aftermath of Reconstruction.[8] This theme was taken up later and expanded by Eric Foner and Leon F. Litwack, the two leading contemporary scholars of the Reconstruction era.

Civil rights activism

Du Bois was the most prominent intellectual leader and political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. A contemporary of Booker T. Washington, the two carried on a dialogue about segregation and political disenfranchisement. He was labeled "The Father of Pan-Africanism." In 1905, Du Bois helped to found the Niagara Movement with William Monroe Trotter but their alliance was short-lived as they had a dispute over whether or not white people should be included in the organization and in the struggle for Civil Rights. DuBois felt that they should, and with a group of like-minded supporters, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

In 1910, he left his teaching post at Atlanta University to work as publications director at the NAACP full-time. He wrote weekly columns in many newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Amsterdam News, three African-American newspapers, and also the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle.

For 25 years, Du Bois worked as Editor-in-Chief of the NAACP publication, The Crisis, which then included the subtitle A Record of the Darker Races. He commented freely and widely on current events and set the agenda for the fledgling NAACP. Its circulation soared from 1,000 in 1910 to more than 100,000 by 1920.[9]

Du Bois published Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer. As a repository of black thought, the Crisis was initially a monopoly, David Levering Lewis observed. In 1913, Du Bois wrote The Star of Ethiopia, a historical pageant, to promote African-American history and civil rights.

The seminal debate between Booker T. Washington and DuBois[citation needed] played out in the pages of the Crisis with Washington advocating an accommodational philosophy of self-help and vocational training for Southern blacks while Du Bois pressed for full educational opportunities.

Du Bois 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 Du Bois thought should be defended and improved, rather than attacked as inferior. By the 1930s, Lewis said, the NAACP had become more institutional and DuBois, increasingly radical, sometimes at odds with leaders such as Walter White and Roy Wilkins. In 1934, after writing two essays in the Crisis suggesting that black separatism could be a useful economic strategy, Du Bois left the magazine to return to teaching at Atlanta University.

During WWI, Du Bois was offered an Army Commission as an officer. He accepted but failed to pass the physical. See Woodrow Wilson.

White historians

In 1899, the American Historical Association (AHA) convened in Boston and Cambridge. According to David Levering Lewis, "The Association then numbered fifteen hundred members and was presided over by James Ford Rhodes, successful Ohio businessman and even more successful author of the arbitral, multi-volume History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850. At this 1899 meeting, there were no Jews, no Negroes, no women to speak of, and all the gays were in the closet."

In 1909, W.E.B. Du Bois addressed the AHA. "His would be the first and last appearance of an African American on the program until 1940."[10]

In a review [11] of Part II of Lewis's biography of Du Bois, Michael R. Winston observed that one historical question not often addressed is also fundamental to an understanding of American history. That questions is "how black Americans developed the psychological stamina and collective social capacity to cope with the sophisticated system of racial domination that white Americans had anchored deeply in law and custom."

Winston continued, "Although any reasonable answer is extraordinarily complex, no adequate one can ignore the man (Du Bois) whose genius was for 70 years at the intellectual epicenter of the struggle to destroy white supremacy as public policy and social fact in the United States."

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 historian 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 Japan's occupation and annexation of southern Manchuria.

Joined Communist Party at age 93

Du Bois 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."

Du Bois visited Communist China during the Great Leap Forward. 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."

Du Bois was chairman of the Peace Information Center at the start of the Korean War. He was among the signers of the Stockholm Peace Pledge, which opposed the use of nuclear weapons. In 1950, he ran for the U.S. Senate on the American Labor Party ticket in New York and received 4% of the vote. He was indicted in the United States under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and acquitted for lack of evidence. W.E.B. Du Bois became disillusioned with both black capitalism and racism in the United States. In 1959, Du Bois received the Lenin Peace Prize. In 1961, at the age of 93, he joined the Communist Party USA and announced his membership on The New York Times.

Becomes citizen of Ghana at age 95

Du Bois was invited to Ghana in 1961 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 U.S. passport, he and his wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois, became citizens of Ghana, making him dual citizens of Ghana and the United States. Du Bois' health had declined in 1962, and on August 27, 1963, he died in Accra, Ghana at the age of ninety-five, one day before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

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

References in popular culture

  • From "Gun Music" by hip hop artist Talib Kweli:

Bringing the funk of dead bodies, go ahead bring in your boys/ You'll see the souls of black folk like W.E.B Du Bois

Also, a character from Adult Swim's show The Boondocks is named Thomas Du Bois, a possible tribute to W.E.B.


  • David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 (Owl Books 1994). Winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography[12]
  • David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963 (Owl Books 2001). Covers the second half of the life of W.E.B. Du Bois, charting 44 years of the culture and politics of race in the United States. Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography [13].
  • Manning Marable, W.E.B Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat (Paradigm Publishers 2005).
  • Edward J. Blum, "W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).

Books by W.E.B. Du Bois

  • The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America: 1638–1870 PhD dissertation, 1896, (Harvard Historical Studies, Longmans, Green, and Co.: New York) Full Text
  • The Study of the Negro Problems (1898)
  • The Philadelphia Negro (1899)
  • The Negro in Business (1899)
  • The Evolution of Negro Leadership. The Dial, 31 (July 16, 1901).
  • [1903] (1999) The Souls of Black Folk. ISBN 0-393-97393-X.
  • The Talented Tenth, second chapter of The Negro Problem, a collection of articles by African Americans (September 1903).
  • Voice of the Negro II (September 1905)
  • John Brown: A Biography (1909)
  • Efforts for Social Betterment among Negro Americans (1909)
  • Atlanta University's Studies of the Negro Problem (1897-1910)
  • The Quest of the Silver Fleece 1911
  • The Negro (1915)
  • Darkwater (1920)
  • The Gift of Black Folk (1924)
  • Dark Princess: A Romance (1928)
  • Africa, its Geography, People and Products (1930)
  • Africa: Its Place in Modern History (1930)
  • 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)
  • What the Negro has Done for the United States and Texas (1936)
  • Black Folk, Then and Now (1939)
  • Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (1940)
  • Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace (1945)
  • The Encyclopedia of the Negro(1946)
  • The World and Africa (1946)
  • Peace is Dangerous (1951)
  • I take my stand for Peace (1951)
  • In Battle for Peace (1952)
  • The Black Flame: A Trilogy
  • The Ordeal of Mansart (1957)
  • Mansart Builds a School (1959)
  • Africa in Battle Against Colonialism, Racialism, Imprialism (1960)
  • Worlds of Color (1961)
  • An ABC of Color: Selections from Over a Half Century of the Writings of W.E.B. Du Bois (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 (International publishers, 1968)

Articles by W.E.B. Du Bois

  • The American Negro Academy Occasional Papers, 1897, No. 2 "The Conservation Of Races" full text

Further reading

  • Eric J. Sundquist, ed.; The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader Oxford University Press. 1996
  • Broderick Francis L. W. E. B. Du Bois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis Stanford University Press, 1959.
  • Horne Gerald. Black and Red: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War, 1944-1963 State University of New York Press, 1986
  • Meier August. Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington University of Michigan Press, 1963.
  • Rampersad Arnold. The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois. Harvard University Press, 1976.
  • Rudwick Elliott M. W.E.B. Du Bois: Propagandist of the Negro Protest. 1960
  • Blum, Edward J. "W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet". 2007.

See also

Portal:African American
African American Portal
  • African American literature
  • Marvel Cooke Secretary to DuBois when he was editor of The Crisis.
  • Double Consciousness
  • Drusilla Dunjee Houston, lecturer, syndicated columnist, author: Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire, 1926.


  1. ^ W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963
  2. ^ David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ [The Baltimore Sun, June 8, 1997, "A New and Changed NAACP Magazine"
  10. ^
  11. ^ [November 5, 2000, The Washington Post
  12. ^
  13. ^

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The Conservation Of Races

By W. E. Burghardt Du Bois
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