W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois also known as William Edward Burghardt (b. Feburary 23, 1868) was a an African-American historian, civil rights activist and the first sociologist to ever have an article published on the rights of African-Americans. His great-grandfather was French-American and his family had English, Dutch and African ancestry. Born in Great-Barrington Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in an American-European society that was tolerant comparative to a lot of other communities in the US. As such Du Bois frequently played with white school mates and until he decided to attend Fisk College, was relatively unaware of the bigotry faced by many African-Americans of the time. Du Bois traversed through Europe after the completion of his bachelor’s degree at Fisk and would later return to America to pursue a second bachelor’s degree at Harvard University. He eventually became the first African-American to earn his PhD from an Ivy League College in 1895.

In 1894, W. E. B. Du Bois decided to move to Ohio, where he had accepted a teaching job at Wilberforce University.  At Wilberforce, Du Bois was greatly inspired by Alexander Crummell’s theory that it was only by aspiring to ideal morals that one could effectively bring change to society. It was in Ohio that Du Bois also married Nina Gomer, who was one of his black students. Later, Du Bois took a job at the University of Pennsylvania as an ‘assistant in sociology’ in 1896. It was when Du Bois moved to Georgia to teach at University of Atlanta that he wrote his first major academic work, The Philadelphia Negro, a breakthrough for African-American researchers being the first of its kind.

In 1900, Du Bois attended the first ever Pan-African conference which was held in London from July 23 to July 26.  During this conference Du Bois and the other delegates penned and sent ‘Address to The Nations of the World’ to various heads of states where the populace was oppressed. Du Bois was spurred on by the lynching of Same Hose which he heard of in 1899. This  was one of the most horrific lynchings in black history and it was after he heard that the victim’s burnt knuckles were for sale in a shop that Du Bois realized he needed something stronger to bring about social change. This was why he and several other African-American civil rights activists met near Niagara Falls and furthered their agenda to bring equal rights to blacks.

In 1910, NAACP leaders offered W. E. B. Du Bois the position of Director Publicity and Research – his main duty was to edit The Crisis and as he did so, he also supported the rights of black women whom he felt were routinely being preyed on by black men. Soon after he composed an essay on how bigotry had affected the black soldiers who were sent to France as part of the US army. In 1935, he wrote his magnum opus titled Black Reconstruction in America and was responsible for challenging the perception that blacks were responsible for the failure of the Reconstruction Era.

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