W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a scholar, educator, editor, and civil rights activist. He was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. and a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Du Bois was also a strong advocate of women’s rights.
Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. As a child, Du Bois reported for the local newspaper, and in 1884 he graduated as valedictorian from his high school. He went on to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and received a bachelor degree in 1888. While in Tennessee, Du Bois spent his summers teaching at rural African American schools. Upon receiving his degree, Du Bois moved on to Harvard University, where he received another bachelor degree in 1890 and his masters in 1891. While still at Harvard in 1895, Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. His degree was in history and his dissertation focused on the African slave trade. Next, Du Bois went to the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught sociology and conducted the first sociological study of an urban community. This study and his dissertation established Du Bois as one of the leading scholars in the country and the first great African American scholar.
From 1898 to 1910, Du Bois taught at Atlanta University. Early in his career he believed that social sciences would help end racism, but soon he realized that agitation was the only option. Du Bois challenged other African American leaders like Booker T. Washington. In his book, The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois makes his ideas about Washington and his followers very clear. Du Bois believed that whites needed to be challenged if African Americans were to truly become equal. He also felt that Washington accommodated whites too much, which allowed for the continuation of white supremacy. This disagreement created two groups within the African American intellectual community, the more conservative supporters backing Washington, while the radicals supported Du Bois.
Du Bois fought hard against the idea that African American education should be vocational. He stressed the need for higher education. In 1905, Du Bois helped found the NAACP. He became the director of research and editor of its journal, The Crisis. Du Bois then used the paper to attack President Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, when he allowed the federal government to become segregated. He also wrote many essays in support of women’s suffrage, which were published in The Crisis. One article, published in 1915, encouraged readers to vote yes, “The Crisis sincerely trust that everyone of them [African American votes] will vote Yes.” However, to continue to show his support for learning Du Bois also published a letter against suffrage. He wanted his readers to understand both sides of the issue before they voted.
By the 1930s, Du Bois was having issues with Walter White, the head of the NAACP. Du Bois encouraged voluntary segregation because he thought African American children would get a better education from African American teachers. This dispute led to Du Bois’ resignation from the NAACP in 1934.
For the next ten years, Du Bois taught at the Atlantic University. While there, he published two books: Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America 1860-1880 and Duck of Dawn. Then in 1951, Du Bois was tried by the United States federal government for his involvement with the Communist Party. While the case was thrown out, Du Bois had been an active socialist most of his life. Discouraged by the government, in 1961 he officially joined the Communist Party and moved to Ghana. Du Bois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963.