W.E.B. DU BOIS

W.E.B. DU BOIS

1868-1963

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was bom in Great Bar¬ rington, Massachusetts. Through founding the Niagara Movement and Crisis magazine, and moti¬ vating innumerable leaders, Du Bois became an influential role model for generations of African- Americans.

He was the first black man to graduate from Har¬ vard with a Ph.D. in Social Sci¬ ences, and his doctoral disserta¬ tion, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade, became his first book, published in 1896.Du Bois accepted a position as professor of history and economics at Atlanta University, and while there helped in the formation of the first formal black academic committee, the American Negro Academy.

His eloquent and educational essays were published in a famous collec¬ tion called The Souls ofBlack Folk, where Du Bois covered numerous issues related to race, including his negative opinion of Booker T. Washington’s tactics of appease¬ ment (see no. 24) in the overwhelmingly white world of education and economics.

It was also during his time at Atlanta that Du Bois and others formed the Niagara Move¬ ment (1905), an organization in direct oppo¬ sition to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Movement. The Niagara Movement was based on such principles as: a militant response to all racial discrimination, the idea of complete equality between races, and the education of what Du Bois called “a talented tenth” of the Negro population who could then lead the entire population toward “self-realization and its highest cultural pos¬ sibilities.”

It was the Niagara Movement that grew into perhaps the most influential African-American coalition in history, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).Though the conflict¬ ing ideas of Du Bois and Washington split African-American communities into sepa¬ rate factions, they also managed to inspire a debate that drove peo¬ ple to envision new futures for African- Americans in American society.

And neither man stopped there. Du Bois began to publish the monthly magazine Cri¬ sis, which highlighted the issues and writ¬ ings of black leaders. In 1910, he left Atlanta to lead the NAACP, as director of research and publicity, and Crisis grew into a forum for the ideas of African-American writers and artists who would later be asso¬ ciated with the Harlem Renaissance (see no. 36), including Langston Hughes (see no. 64), Marian Anderson (see no. 63), and Ama Bontemps.

He was a consistently fine writer whose works include Black Reconstruction and The World and Africa. He co-founded the Pan-African Congress in 1919, and later became a devoted peace activist who chaired the Peace Information Center against the proliferation of atomic weapons.

Investigated and indicted for his relation¬ ship to a “foreign agent,” in 1951 Du Bois’ passport was denied. He was shunned by many of his associates and unable to con¬ tinue much of his work until 1958, when the US Supreme Court struck down the validi¬ ty of the court’s original statute. Du Bois toured Asia, Europe and the Soviet Union before moving to Ghana on President Kwame Nkrumah’s invitation, where he began to edit the Encyclopedia Africana. He remained in Ghana until his death.