|W. E. B. Du Bois
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W. E. B. Du BoisWilliam Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23,
1868 - August 27, 1963) was an African American civil rights activist,
sociologist, historian, writer, editor, poet, freemason, and scholar.
Although born in the United States, he became a naturalized citizen
of Ghana in 1963, at the age of ninety-five.
Early life and education
Du Bois 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 where the tuition was much less costly.
At Fisk, Du Bois 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 1888 from Fisk,he then went on
to 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 and 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, Du Bois 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
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 people 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
Fisk-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
In 1913, Du Bois wrote The Star of Ethiopia, a historical pageant,
to promote African-American history and civil rights.
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.
Du Bois 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.
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. Du Bois quit the NAACP
in 1934 to return to teaching at Atlanta University.
Du Bois was a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest
intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African
It is worth noting that while Du Bois consistently worked against
biological conceptions of racial inequality, Du Bois 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")
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
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 news more widely
emerged concerning the disastrousness of the Great Leap Forward
and the consequences of Stalin's policies, Du Bois was criticized
for such statements, but he never retracted them.
Du Bois 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.
Du Bois became increasingly disillusioned with both black capitalism
and the United States. In 1959 Du Bois received the Lenin Peace
Prize. He joined the Communist Party, USA in 1961 and agreed to
announce this in The New York Times.
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
Renunciation of U.S. citizenship
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 because of his communism, he and his wife, Shirley
Graham Du Bois, renounced their citizenship and became citizens
of Ghana. 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"
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.
"One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a
Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings;
two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone
keeps it from being torn asunder." - "Of Our Spiritual
Strivings" in his book The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
"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."
'It is the obligation of all honorable men and women "to
see that in the future competition of the races the survival
of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful,
and the true: that we may be able to preserve for future civilization
all that is really fine and noble and strong, and not continue
to put a premium on greed and imprudence and cruelty."
"The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not
simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame."
"In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing
but a nigger." - to an audience in Beijing in 1959.
"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of
"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." 
"The cause of war is preparation for war". 
"One can hardly exaggerate the moral disaster of [religion].
We have to thank the Soviet Union for the courage to stop it."
"The price of freedom is less than the cost of repression."
"To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land
of dollars is the very bottom of hardships."
- The Suppression of the African Slave Trade" (Harvard Ph.D.
- The Study of the Negro Problems (1898)
- The Philadelphia Negro (1899)
- The Negro in Business (1899)
- "The Evolution of Negro Leadership" published in The Dial,
31 (July 16, 1901).
- The Souls of Black
- "The Talented Tenth," published as the second chapter of The
Negro Problem, a collection of articles by African Americans
- John Brown:
A Biography (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
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race,
1868-1919, Owl Books 1994
- David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality
and the American Century, 1919-1963, Owl Books 2001
- Manning Marable, W.E.B
Du Bois: Black radical democrat, Paradigm Publishers 2005
- W.E.B Du Bois, The autobiography of W.E.B Du Bois, International
publishers, New York.
References and external links
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