Biography of W.E.B. Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W.E.B. Du Bois, was born on February 23rd 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois’ mother, Mary Sylvina Burghardt Du Bois, was part of a free black population from Great Barrington. His father, Alfred Du Bois, was a Haitian native, and descendant of Bahamian mixed raced slaves, fought on behalf of the New York regiment of the Union army. Alfred Du Bois left his wife and child shortly after the birth of their son, William.

Although W.E.B. Du Bois was born without his father, the strength of his mother and support of his community led to success. Throughout his academic career, he was able to attend integrated public schools in Great Barrington, at which he not only excelled, but was also expected by his white peers. Because of his success throughout school, his local community and members of the First Congregation Church of Great Barrington were able to donate money for him to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

As Du Bois had grown up in Western Massachusetts, moving to Tennessee resulted in his first experience with Southern Jim Crow laws. The overt racism he confronted while at his university led to his radicalization. W.E.B. Du Bois came to national recognition when he criticized Booker T. Washington’s 1895 speech in Atlanta. In this speech, Washington urged blacks in the United States to accept their position within American society, and to seek education as a form of empowerment. Du Bois, a firm advocate for racial equity, would not simply accept his position in society due to his race. His dedication to racial equity led him to furthering his studies and to eventually pursue a doctorate in education. Eventually studying at both the University of Berlin and Humboldt University, Du Bois became one of the first black American scholars to study in Europe, and the very first African-American to earn a PhD at Harvard University.

Du Bois wrote some of the earliest social scientific studies of the black American communities, and advocated for a change in the institutionalized and transparent racism in the United States of America. His 1903 publication of the Souls of Black Folk was widely read by the black community in the United States, and consequently resulted in tension amongst the white population. The book’s call for desegregation, the disestablishment of Jim Crow laws, and voter’s rights, resulted in tension amongst the white American community. Shortly after the publication of the Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement, a group that fought for civil rights, and eventually developed into the NAACP, an organization of which Du Bois was the founding member. Throughout his tenure at the NAACP, he also created, wrote, and edited the NAACP journal "The Crisis." Although the NAACP sought to provide racial equity, the organization's relegation of leadership roles to whites resulted in Du Bois' assumption of support positions.

In the early 1900s, he took several trips to the Soviet Union, particularly during the height of the Communist Revolution. During his trips, he learned more about Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel's theories on communism and socialism, and believed that these systems would allow for the equitable treatment of all people in the United States. He used this opportunity to spread this European of equality, and eventually resigned from "The Crisis" due to his discontent with their systemic racist policies. In 1934, Du Bois left his position as editor and created "Python", which would become an academic review of race and culture.

Until his death in Ghana in 1963, W.E.B Du Bois remained a relentless crusader for equal rights. He sought not only the rights of black Americans, but for workers, women, and all who were subjected to system oppression. His fight against oppression continued through his old age, and was made even more prominent on a trip to Beijing, where Du Bois claimed that in these United States, he was "just a nigger.” This statement brought much controversy to Du Bois, and because of this, he relocated to Ghana as per the Ghanaian President's invitation. He died in 1963, in Accra, Ghana; this was mere months after finally obtaining Ghanaian citizenship.


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