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W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. DuBois

“A little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work and manly striving, would do us more credit than a thousand civil rights bills.”

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He supported Pan Africanism and championed the idea of intellectual and complete equality for African-Americans. He was arguably the most important African-American intellectual of the early 20th century.

Du Bois was born Feb. 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His parents, Alfred and Silvina Du Bois, were part of a free black community in Great Barrington, where Du Bois attended integrated public schools. His instructors encouraged his intellectual growth. With donations from the congregation at his church, Du Bois was able to attend college. He was the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, in 1895. His achievements in academics form the foundation of his belief in the power of education.

During his life, Du Bois championed the idea of intellectual and complete equality for African-Americans.

As leader of the Niagara Movement, an African-American activist group that advocated equal rights for blacks, Du Bois gained national prominence. It was named for Niagara Falls because hotel accommodations were not available to blacks in the United States, so Du Bois booked the meeting north of the border in Canada.  His ideology put him in direct opposition to Booker T. Washington, whose Atlanta Compromise held that blacks should submit to whites and their political power as long as blacks could receive a basic education and due process of law.

A level playing field

Upon graduating from Harvard, Du Bois began a long and distinguished academic career. He published the first case study of a black community, “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study,” in 1899. As part of the study, he created the phrase “the talented tenth,” which referred to the possibility of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race. In 1903, he published The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of 14 essays.

Du Bois co-founded the NAACP with eight other activists, among them Ida B. Wells, on Feb. 12, 1909. The association’s mission was to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all people and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.

Du Bois supported Pan Africanism, defined as the idea or advocacy of a political alliance or union of all the African nations. He helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to free African colonies from European powers.

Du Bois died at age 95 in the Republic of Ghana on Aug. 27, 1963, the day before the historic March on Washington.



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