WEB DuBois: Sociologist, Philosopher, Black Leader

His Life

As remarked once by Martin Luther King Jr. "history cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man."

Born February 23, 1868, William Edward Burghardt DuBois in Great Barrington, Massachusettes. DuBois became one of the most successful social activist, scholar and writer of the twentieth century. He descended of African, French, and Dutch lineage, hence his name.

DuBois was one of 25-50 blacks who lived in Great Barrington out of 5,000 whites. So therefore signs of blatant Jim Crow and racism were not made blatant, there was a tone underlying the attitudes of those whom lived there. DuBois' personality became abrupt and sullen as he got older as opposed to cheeful and outgoing as he had been when he was young.

His Education

DuBois was very intellectually gifted, doing very well in high school. He got a full scholarship to Fisk University in Tennessee, a black institution. After receiving his A.B. he then attended Harvard where he was to receive his B.A. graduating cum laude. His speech on Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was to make a stir and make news in the national press. It would be the first of many scholarly honors he would receive and also the turning of heads.

STudying in Europe was a dream of DuBois' and after earning his M.A. in History at Harvard he went on to study at the University of Berlin with some of the great German minds in philosophy and sociology and economics. DuBois returned to the states to become the first man of African descent to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University.

The Scholar at Work

In his lifetime, DuBois accomplished much putting his intellectual gifts to work. In 1897, he directed the Atlanta Conferences which convened annually to generate concise scientific research on the living conditions of African Americans. From those conferences he collected, collated, and analyzed socioeconomic data about every conceivable facet of being a black person in America. Ambitious at the time and still is he published about sixteen volumes on his findings.

In 1903, he published his first of remembered works The Philadelphia Negro and later the Souls of Black Folks. The latter being his most prophetic and remembered. His essays on race and society and economics were published in such journals as The Independent, Nation, The Southern Workman, Harper's Weekly, World's Work, The Outlook, The Missionary Review, the Literary Digest, the annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Dial. DuBois plunged himself into anthropological, sociological, historical, economic, and philosophical studies of blacks in America hoping to elude a "cure" for the race problem in America.

He was editor for the Crisis, the official magazine for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancment of Colored People) which he helped to find in 1910. He used his knowledge and position to write many influential articles on blacks in America. Making him extraordinarily popular.

As a representative of the NAACP he went to the Peace Conference after the Armstice was signed at the end of World War I. He organized a Pan African Conference (he wasn't the founder) to discuss the situations of AFricans everywhere, realizing for blacks to be free they must be free everywhere.

Throughout his career, his ideas of "educate and agitate" certainly agitated other black leaders and revolutionaries such as the likes of Marcus Garvey and his Back to Africa Movementor Booker T. Washington founder of Tuskegee Institute. His rivalry with Washington the most famous as Washington produced as many results as he did. His belief was firmly in the idea of "racial uplift" and using agriculture as a way to do that. Washington also was for reconciling with the South and forgetting past discrepancies against blacks when they were once slaves and even after emancipation facing Jim Crow and lynchings for those who did not abide the "seperate but equal" doctrines. DuBois was a firm believer of the "Talented Tenth" of blacks and working toward making them the leaders and educators of the race. As well as forging ahead to make the black race of great repute in America.

His Later Years

DuBois in his later years was to remain controversial and the social activist. He was to become an ardent supporter of Communism. He gave up the idea of eventual racial unity perhaps distrustful now of white capitalists and politicians.

And set out to get rid of most of the white members and directors of the NAACP. He continued to challenge imperialism in AFrica. And as the chairman of the Peace Information Center he demanded the outlawing of atomic weapons. The US Department of Justice ordered him to register as a "foreign priniciple" and for refusing was immediately indicted under Foreign Agents Registration Act. He was acquitted. But the damage was done icing further feelings he had toward the present system in America. In China he told an audience he was lecturing "In my country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a NIGGER."

He expatriated to Ghana where he resided til his death. There he became an official member of the Communist Party and a Ghanian citizen.

He died August 27th, 1963 in Accra Ghana, on the eve of the March on Washington.