W.E.B. Du Bois

Quick Look At Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a Civil Rights Activist, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, and poet, but activism displayed itself in all of his work. W.E.B. Du Bois was one of many prominent leaders in the Civil Rights movement you may have heard of, but he fought for rights in a different way; through his writing and teaching, and he laid the foundation for young leaders like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and so many more.

Early Life

W.E.B. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington Massachusetts. At just the age of two, his father, Alfred Du Bois left his mother, Mary Silvina Burghardt, leaving Du Bois to grow up without a father. He grew up in a majority-white neighborhood. From a young age, Du Bois proved to be an excellent scholar, and he constantly excelled in school. His scholarship was supported and encouraged by his white teachers, despite racial tension that was occurring throughout the country. As his mother insisted, Du Bois became the first person in his family to attend high school. As a sophomore, he made money by writing for newspapers including Freeman and New York Globe. In 1884, Du Bois graduated high school as the valedictorian.

College and Later Education

After graduating high school, Du Bois moved to Nashville, Tennessee to start his college education. He attended Fisk University, an African American college that still stands today. Several churches in Du Bois's home town helped to pay his tuition for college. As a result of moving to Tennessee, he experienced true racial tension, and the severity of Jim Crow in the south for the first time in his life. While he was at Fisk University, he worked as an editor for his student magazine entitled, Herald. Du Bois graduated from Fisk University with a bachelor's degree, and after this, he studied social science abroad at the University of Berlin. Due to the fact that he studied with some of the best social scientists, he was introduced to many political views which likely influenced his career. He then got into Harvard University, paying his tuition with money earned from summer jobs and loans from friends. In 1891, he received his Master of Arts degree, and later, in 1895, Du Bois became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, despite not being allowed to stay on the campus after 6 pm due to discrimination. On top of this, his dissertation was published as number one in his class and in the Harvard Historical Series. After this, Du Bois continued to hop around to different colleges and get multiple degrees in all kinds of different areas including sociology, history, and education.


In 1896, Du Bois was granted a position at the University of Pennsylvania where he conducted a study of Philadelphia's Seventh Ward. During his study, he held hundreds of door-to-door interviews with African Americans of the Seventh Ward. In 1899, Du Bois published his study and titled it The Philadelphia Negro. This was the very first published study of an African American community, as well as one of Du Bois's very first published studies, and it was a true reflection of his scholarship and greatness. The following portion of his career was probably the busiest. In 1897, Du Bois was offered two positions. One as a professor of history and economics at Atlanta University, and another on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). During his time with the BLS, Du Bois conducted five groundbreaking studies of the African American community, one of which, took place in Virginia, two in Alabama, and the other two in Georgia. He also wrote an extraordinary essay for the Atlantic Monthly describing to its White readers how it felt to experience racial discrimination, and follow Jim Crow laws. As a professor at Atlanta University, Du Bois opposed Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise quite publicly. Atlanta Compromise was an agreement saying that college education for African Americans was more important to them than other social advancements. Du Bois believed that Washington should have demanded full equality for African Americans. This was the beginning of him becoming a spokesperson for full equal rights for African Americans. Following this, Du Bois edited and co-edited 16 publications that advocated for African American rights. In addition, he published a series of 11 essays called The Souls of Black Folk, along with many other publications to fight for Black rights.

In 1905, Du Bois, along with many others formed the Niagara Movement which led up to the forming of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Niagara Movement was when 30 prominent African Americans met in Niagara Falls to write a manifesto demanding equal civil rights, and the end of discrimination. In 1909, These same people met with White Liberals in New York and joined together to form the NAACP. Following the founding of the NAACP, Du Bois moved to New York City and served as the editor for The Crisis, the NAACP's monthly magazine. He held this position for 24 years, and in his time working for the NAACP, Du Bois published his first-ever novel, The Quest of The Silver Fleece.

After his time working with the NAACP, in 1961 Du Bois became a Pan-Africanist and helped free many African colonies that were under European power. This was one of his last accomplishments. Du Bois died on August 27th, 1963, and was given a state funeral.

In his life, Du Bois completed a total of over 40 publications and he was awarded multiple honorary degrees. W.E.B. Du Bois was a true hero in so many ways. He was a scholar, a leader, but most importantly, Du Bois was an inspiration.