William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an American historian, author, editor, and social activist. He, along with American civil rights activist and Nobel laureate Martin Luther King Jr, was perhaps the most prominent Black protest leader in the US during the 20th century. The facts about W.EB. Du Bois are often the source of inspiration for people fighting against social injustice and hatred. Du Bois was one of the founder members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. He worked tirelessly to promote social equality, treating every individual as equal.
W.EB. Du Bois was born on 23 February 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His name in the birth certificate read as William E Duboise. Two years after his birth, William’s father Alfred Du Bois left him and his mother Mary Silvina Burghardt. W.EB. Du Bois was the first person in his extended family to attend high school. This, he did, only after his mother insisted. Du Bois started to write for journals and papers like the ‘Freeman’ and ‘New York Globe’ even before he turned 15.
Du Bois attended Frisk University, a traditionally black college, from 1885-1888. He then attended Harvard University and earned the John F Slater Fund grant to study at the University of Berlin. He returned to the US before earning his doctorate and rejoined Harvard. Du Bois, in 1895, became the first African-American to get a PhD from Harvard. His dissertation was titled ‘The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the United States of America: 1638-1871‘.
Du Bois married Nina Gomer in 1896 and joined the University of Pennsylvania in the same year. He carried out a study on the city’s Seventh Ward and published his first major paper ‘The Philadephia Negro: A Social Study’. The work took up so much of his time and he missed the birth of his first son in Great Barrington.
‘The Philadephia Negro’ has since been acknowledged as one of the earliest statistical thesis on sociology. It involved extensive fieldwork and Du Bois conducted hundreds of door-to-door interviews.
Du Bois in his 1903 book ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, discussed the concept of ‘double consciousness,’ which he said is an existential state experienced by persecuted groups in oppressive societies. It’s marked by a sense of divided identity. A black, he said, feel two souls. One is that of a Negro and the other an American. These two souls harbor two un-reconciled strivings, two thoughts, and two warring ideals in one dark body. Du Bois’s mentor James praised the book upon its release.
Du Bois taught as a summer school teacher at Booker T Washington’s Tuskegee University. Booker T was a leading educator and author and the adviser to a number of US presidents. However, friction between the two men led Du Bois to join the Niagara Movement, which comprised many of Booker T’s rivals. The Niagara movement sought equality and justice for African-Americans. The group, however, failed. But during its existence, Du Bois published ‘The Moon Illustrated Weekly’ which was the first magazine of its kind for African-Americans.
Among the most important facts about W.EB. Du Bois is that he cofounded NAACP in 1910, alongside personalities like lawyer Moorfield Storey and journalist Mary White Ovington. The NAACP was formed as a biracial organization to protest against social inequalities. It fought the Jim Crow laws in the South that demarcated public facilities. NAACP opposed President Woodrow Wilson’s policy of segregation in federal workplaces. The organization lobbied hard for the rights of African-American people. By 1915, the organization had 6,000 members across 50 branches in the US.
Du Bois served as the editor of the NAACP’s monthly magazine ‘The Crisis’. The magazine became very influential and was a huge success. It covered black culture and race issues in line with the W.EB. Du Bois philosophy. ‘The Crisis’ stood out for its coverage of women’s sufferings. The magazine endorsed equal rights and social justice and leading journalists, columnists, thinkers, and philosophers wrote in it. Du Bois was involved with NAACP for 24 years. During this time, he published ‘The Quest of the Silver Fleece’, his first novel.
Du Bois’s fight for equality and civil rights went beyond the American borders. He helped in organizing several pan-African conferences after attending his first international event in this regard in London in 1900. There, he wrote the ‘Address to the Nations of the World’, which urged the US and European countries to end colonialism and fight systemic racism.
Du Bois was also among the three-member NAACP delegation to attend the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945. As an activist, Du Bois fought for freedom and equality for all Africans, irrespective of the countries they lived in.
9. Charged with being Agents of a Foreign Principal
Around 1945, Du Bois became increasingly interested in international issues and communism. He started to openly support left-wing and liberal groups. This generated problems with NAACP leadership. Du Bois left the organization in 1948 and ran for the Senate as a Progressive Party candidate but lost the election. He and four other members of the Peace Information Center (PIC) were accused of being agents of a foreign country since the PIC had Soviet leanings.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started a case against Du Bois accusing them of non-registering PIC with the government. The jury didn’t pass a verdict. The judge, however, dismissed the case when defense attorney Vito Marcantonio informed the court that eminent scientist Albert Einstein would testify as a witness for Du Bois. Einstein, earlier, had written for ‘The Crisis’. Du Bois and the co-accused would have faced up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 if they were convicted.
After his wife died in 1950 W.EB. Du Bois married American playwright, author, composer, and social activist Shirley Graham in 1951. Du Bois, courtesy Graham’s interest, started to explore Communism further. He delved deep into the American Communist community and became known for his apologetic view of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. He officially joined the American Communist Party in 1961.
During the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy, hundreds of Americans were accused of being communist sympathizers. Repression was profound across the US. Du Bois’s passport was revoked for eight years. He traveled to Ghana in 1961 at the age of 93. When the US refused to renew his passport, Du Bois became a Ghanaian citizen as a mark of protest. One of the most interesting Facts about W.EB. Du Bois is that he never renounced his US citizenship, though often erroneously mentioned otherwise in various texts.
W.EB. Du Bois first conceived Encyclopedia Africana in 1908. It was supposed to be a compendium of the history and achievement of African people, including those from the diaspora and/or sharing the lineage. He was unable to raise funds for the work. He couldn’t resume the project until 1935 and finally pledged to publish the work after he was invited to be a citizen of Ghana. The encyclopedia was never published as Du Bois died on 27 August 1963. He was given a state funeral by the government of Ghana.
Du Bois was 95 when he died. He was buried at his house in Accra. The house was later turned into the Du Bois Center, a small museum that pays tribute to the times he spent in Ghana. On 28 August 1963, a day after Du Bois breathed his last, American civil rights activist and Nobel laureate Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech at Washington for Jobs and Freedom protest march. Fate, it seems, wasn’t entirely void of a sense of poetry.
The facts about W.EB. Du Bois are as fascinating as the man himself. He strongly protested discrimination in education and employment. The Du Bois philosophy continues to inspire people all over the world to fight against racism and social inequalities. He was a prolific writer and his 1940 autobiography ‘Dusk of Dawn’ is considered among the first scientific treatises in American sociology.
Foodie, lazy, bookworm, and internet junkie. All in that order. Loves to floor the accelerator. Mad about the Himalayas and its trekking trails. Former life forester. Also an occasional writer and editor