Born in 1868, William Edward Burghardt DuBois grew up in Great Barrington, Mass. during a time of great racial turmoil.
But DuBois faced little discrimination in the New England town.
An extremely intelligent child, he graduated from high school at the age of 16.
Dubois soon received a scholarship from Fisk University where he eventually earned his bachelor’s degree.
His next step was to attend Harvard.
He was not accepted into the master’s program, however, because his bachelor’s degree was seen as inadequate.
Registering as an undergraduate, DuBois received his second bachelor’s degree and went on to pursue his master’s and doctorate from Harvard, becoming the first African American to do so there.
DuBois was quickly becoming the most influential and respected African American intellectual of his time.
DuBois soon moved to Philadelphia and conducted a comprehensive analysis of the socio-economic conditions of African-Americans living in the city.
This groundbreaking study, titled “The Philadelphia Negro,” became the first one of its kind published in America.
DuBois also authored a series of essays, which he compiled into a volume entitled “The Souls of Black Folk.”
In this text DuBois expressed the complexity of finding an identity as an African-American.
“One ever feels his twoness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder,” he wrote.
Due to his unique perceptions of racial issues, DuBois would often butt heads with other African American leaders of the time, such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey.
DuBois objected to Washington’s eagerness for African-Americans to focus less on academic studies and more on honing their industrial skills and opposed Garvey’s
black separatist campaign.
In 1905, DuBois organized a group of leaders to discuss ways to improve the African American situation.
This later became known as the Niagara Movement because the men were denied hotel accommodations near Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Movement was productive in that it allowed these men to make a list of demands for the black community.
The event planted the seeds for the beginning of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, of which DuBois was a founding member as well as editor of their magazine, “The Crisis.”
Throughout his life DuBois maintained his interest in Africa. After years of being tormented by government officials and being labeled a communist for his condemnation of nuclear weapons, DuBois eventually registered for the Communist Party and moved to Ghana.
It was there that he continued to author works about African-Americans until his death in 1963 at the age of 95.
The impact that W.E.B. DuBois made on American society continues today.
His dedication to equality and excellence for African-Americans makes him one of the most influential individuals in history.
For more information on W.E.B. DuBois, check out:
“W.E.B. DuBois, Race and the City: The Philadelphia Negro and Its Legacy” (Michael Katz and Thomas Sugrue).
“W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919 – 1963” (David Levering Lewis).
Milli Protheroe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.