Today in Black History we celebrate the birth of American author, sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. This man is one of the most important figures in the struggle for equality in the African American community. As a founding member of the NAACP, Dubois spent his entire professional career fighting to make sure that Blacks are afforded the same rights as any other race.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23rd, 1868. His parents, Alfred and Mary Silvina Du Bois were members of a small free Black community in Great Barrington and were long time land owners. The freedom of the Du Bois family goes back to W.E.B.’s maternal great-great-grandfather Tom Burghardt. He was born a slave but served in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War and earned his freedom through his valor.
Thanks to donations from his community, Du Bois was able to attend Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee. His time in the South was his first experience with southern racism being that he grew up in one of the few Black communities of the country. After receiving his bachelor’s he went to study at Harvard University from 1888 to 1890. Du Bois paid his way through Harvard with money he earned at summer jobs, his inheritance, scholarships, and loans from friends. In 1890 Du Bois earned his second bachelor’s, cum laude, in history.
In 1892 Du Bois received a fellowship from the John F. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen to attend the University of Berlin for graduate work. While studying in Berlin Du Bois traveled Europe. There he studied under some of Europe’s leading social scientists including Gustav von Schmoller, Adolph Wagner, and Heinrich von Treitschke. When he returned in 1895, Du Bois was the first African American to earn a Ph. D. from Harvard.
In July of 1897 Du Bois left Pennsylvania and went to teach at Atlanta University in Georgia. While there he published his fist major academic work titled “The Philadelphia Negro” which was a detailed and comprehensive sociological study of the average African-American person living in Philly. This was the first scientific study of African Americans. He also hosted the Atlanta Conference of Negro Problems annually during his time in Georgia.
Du Bois attended the first Pan-African Conference in London, England from July 23rd to the 25th. Du Bois played a leadership role at thus conference drafting the Address to the Nations of the World to urge European leaders against racism, grant colonies in Africa and the West Indies to govern themselves, and demand political and civil rights for African Americans. The address lead to European nations to “acknowledge and protect the rights of people of African decent” and respect the integrity and independence of “the free Negro States of Abyssinia, Liberia, and Haiti”.
In 1910, Du Bois was apart of the National Negro Committee who founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the suggestion of Du Bois they used the word “colored” instead of “black ” to include “dark skinned people everywhere”. Du Bois was offered the position of Director of Publicity and Research.
During the rest of his career, Du Bois worked tirelessly to help Blacks gain equality in the US. He led countless protests combating racism in many different forms. He fought against the racist silent film The Birth of a Nation, lynching in the south, and the inability of Blacks to serve in the military. He worked with fellow Black leaders like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey to help combat oppression. Du Bois traveled the world studying and educating world leaders on the necessity of racial equality.
Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois has been awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal 1920 and the Lenin Peace Prize in 1959. He has many buildings and scholarships named after him and the home he grew up in has been a designated National Historical Landmark since 1976. He has written 33 books and countless papers and articles. He passed on August 27th 1963 in Accra, Ghana at the age of 95. His legacy will live on forever in the souls of Black folk everywhere for the amount of work he did for the betterment of the race.