William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a man of many talents. He was a civil rights activist, pan-Africanist, professor, sociologist, writer, editor, and scholar to name a few.
As a civil rights activist, Du Bois was instrumental in the fight for civil and political rights for Blacks in the U.S. In 1905, he led a group of Black intellectuals who disagreed with the idea that Black people should be farmers or carpenters and accept life in a white-dominated society.
Instead, Du Bois and his group argued that Blacks must advance through legal and political means. They formed the Niagara Movement, so named because the group met at the Beach Hotel in Erie, Ont., near Niagara Falls, from July 11-14, 1905.
The Niagara Movement released a “Declaration of Principles.” It read in part, “Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty, and toward this goal the Niagara Movement has started and asks the cooperation of all men of all races.”
The Niagara Movement was the forerunner to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP was founded in February 1909 in New York City. It is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the U.S. It was created in part to respond to the ongoing violence against Blacks. Its legal department led the fight to desegregate schools, facilities, and transportation.
Du Bois served as the NAACP’s director of publicity and research, sat on the board of directors, and founded and edited The Crisis magazine.
Du Bois adopted pan-Africanist beliefs and was concerned about the lives of all peoples of African descent. In 1900, he attended the First Pan-African Conference in London, and the First Universal Races Congress in 1911. He also helped organize a series of Pan-African congresses in 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927 and 1945.
Du Bois had a distinguished academic career. He was the valedictorian of his high school when he graduated in 1884.
He attended Fisk University, a historic Black college in Nashville, Tenn. and received his Bachelor of Arts in 1888.
He then attended Harvard University, and earned a Bachelor of Arts cum laude in 1890.
From 1892 to 1894, he studied history and economics in graduate school at the University of Berlin. This was due to a Slater fund fellowship.
Du Bois was a professor of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University for two years before he received his Master of Arts from Harvard in 1891.
In 1895, Du Bois became the first Black person to receive a doctorate from Harvard.
Du Bois became assistant instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896-97 before moving on to the Atlanta University.
From 1897 to 1910 Du Bois was a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University and served as the chairman of the department of sociology from 1934 to 1944. He founded Phylon, a social science quarterly journal, in 1940. The peer-reviewed journal is still published today.
Du Bois the writer wrote numerous pieces of literature. The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays about racism and Black identity in America, is perhaps his best known work.
Other works include Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, a historical study of the role of Black people in American society, the novels The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Dark Princess: A Romance, and an autobiographical book of essays and poetry, Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil.
Du Bois was born on Feb. 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Mass. He moved to Ghana in 1961 and became a citizen of that country in 1963. He died on Aug. 27, 1963 in Ghana and was honoured with a state funeral. He was 95.
SOURCES: AMERICANHISTORY.SI.EDU, HISTORY.COM, NAACP.ORG, RADAR.AUCTR.EDU/PHYLON, VIRGINIAHISTORY.ORG