Make your own free website on Tripod.com
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag


W.E.B Du BOIS

W.E.B Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is not only remembered as one of the most revered African-American civil rights activist and intellectual, but also an orator extraordinaire. His life was filled with accomplishments, including but not limited to co-founding the National Association for the Advencement of Colored People(NAACP), the oldest civil rights organisation in America. He is known to have been very critical of Marcus Garvey , specifically for his Back to Africa program. Garvey and Booker T. Washington were known to advocate separatist societies where whites and blacks lived separately. They also urged blacks to get educated and financially stable before demanding equal rights with whites. Du Bois on the other hand advocated an intergrated society where all races lived together in harmony, and enjoyed similar rights regardless of their economic or social status. Looking at the way things stand right now, it appears the world adopted Du Bois' ideology. Its important however to note that although Du Bois and Garvey clashed bitterly ideologically, they shared mutual respect for each other as prominent black civil rights activists.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23rd in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, USA to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Salvina Burghardt. Great Barrington was a middle-class town and home to some 5,000 inhabitants only 50 of whom were black. His mother's family, the Burghardts were among the earliest inhabitants of Great Barrington. His great-great grandfather from his father's side, Dr James Du Bois was a white plantation owner in the Bahamas who fathered 2 sons with one of his slaves. W.E.B. Du bois' father Alfred thus acquired very light features, which combined with his handsome looks evoked some uneasiness from the Burghadts when he proposed to their child Mary Salvina. Alfred did not strike the Burghardts as one who would remain loyal to his wife and children. Skepticism from the Burghardts turned into reality soon after William's birth in 1868 when Alfred left for Connecticut supposedly to look for a home for his family but never came back. Other than this sad incident, the young William lived a relatively happy and event free childhood and benefitted from the strict discipline at the Burghardts. The strict discipline and good work ethics instilled in him proved priceless as he began attending public school in 1874. By the time he joined Great Barrington High School in 1881, he had established himself as one of the brightest students in the community. While in High School he worked part-time selling the New York Globe, a black newspaper. He later co-edited his High School newspaper the Howler and worked for the Globe and Springfield Republican as Correspondent and Reporter respectively. The young Du Bois also actively participated in Town Hall meetings where he developed debating skills that would later come in handy as a civil rights activist. During his High School years he also formed the Sons of Freedom Club which was basically a grouping of blacks from Great Barrington who sat together and brainstormed on issues affecting them and ways they could tackle such issues. It was almost like a youth town hall meeting.

Du Bois graduated from High School in 1884 as the only black student in his class and the first black student ever to graduate from Great Barrington High School. He did so well in High School that he was chosen to be one of the commencement speakers. His commencement speech appropriately featured Wendell Phillips, who had established himself as one of the major proponents for the abolition of slavery. His ambition after High School graduation was to attend Harvard College, which was in his home state and regarded as one of the best colleges in the world. His success in High School attracted a number of leading white figures in Great Barrington, among them School Principals and Church Ministers who organised a scholarship fund for him to see him through college. A large part of this was because at that time most black people were not even graduating from High School, let alone aspiring to attend colleges like Harvard. They thus saw a lot of promise in the young Du Bois, which they felt obligated to harness to fruition.

In the Fall of 1885, Du Bois was sent to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, a traditionally black institution. Eventhough Fisk was a far cry from Harvard, the then 17 year old was glad that he would be studying among his own people, something he never experienced in his home town Great Barrington. The Fisk faculty was so impressed with Du Bois' credentials that they let him bypass his freshman year and enroll as a Sophomore(2nd year). At Fisk, like he had done in High School, Du Bois maintained a keen interest in writing and public speaking. His literary skills saw him rise to become editor of the University's newspaper Fisk Herald, a newspaper he used to discuss black rights. Du Bois graduated from Fisk in 1888, where again he was chosen to give a commencement speech. Already an accomplished speaker by this time, he made the topic of his speech the German Chancellor Leopold Von Bismarck, who he credited for "creating a nation out of a mass of bickering people". He argued that if Bismarck could do it in Germany, he saw no reason why the same could not be done in America. His speech, like his previous ones, drew huge applause from the audience. After his graduation from Fisk University, he gained admission to Harvard University. His admission to Harvard however had a catch. Because Harvard did not believe the academic curriculum at Fisk was nearly as rigorous as theirs, they accepted Du Bois on condition that he enroll as an undergraduate junior(3rd year). Du Bois, confident of his academic abilities was more than willing to give up some credit hours to attend his dream school. At Harvard Du Bois took a keen interest in Philosophy. All evidence indicates that Du Bois continued to excel even at Harvard, winning the Matthews Scolarship in 1889 and earning a 2nd place in the Boylston Prize for oratory. In 1890, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. On his graduation from Harvard, he was again chosen as one of the commencement speakers and this time decided to focus on Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States and a proponent of slavery. In his speech, that again drew overwhelming applause, Du Bois accused Jefferson of working hard to uplift one sector of society(whites) at the expense of the whole. This he said, amounted to "shortsightedness" and unbefitting any worthwhile leader. Du Bois then stayed on at Harvard for his Graduate studies and in 1891, received his Master of Arts Degree.

After leaving Harvard, there was no question that Du Bois had established himself as one of the most prominent black intellectuals. Yet he still wanted to go a step further and round off his academic achievements with studying at a leading European institution. Most accomplished American scholars during his time considered studies in Europe an integral part of their academic resumes. German Universities in particular were highly recommended and attracted the attention of Du Bois. In 1892 on a Slater Fund Scholarship then headed by then U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, Du Bois proceeded to Wilhelm University in Berlin, Germany. His studies at Wilhelm centered on Economics, Politics and History. From his own accounts, his experiences in Europe had a profound impact on his life. He was very surprised by the respectable way whites in Europe treated him throughout his stay at Wilhelm. The Europeans looked at him as the intellectual that he was, and seemed less interested in the fact that he was black. This was in stark contrast to his days at Harvard where even with his exemplary academic accomplishments, he was constantly reminded of his race and subjected to the second class treatment that comes with it. It thus dawned on him that the race relations in America were not the norm around the world and in fact was opposed by a lot of white people worldwide. Du Bois thus set as one of his goals upon his return to the States, the struggle to end racism.

After completing his 3rd semester at Wilhelm University, his fellowship money ran out and after the Slater Fund declined to advance him additional money, he had no otherwise but to return to the U.S. without a Doctorate Degree. For him to get a Ph.D, he was required to complete 5 semesters at the University. Du Bois returned to a much different U.S. in 1894. The racial problems he thought were so profound when he left were pale in comparison to the situation he returned to. Racial hostility had risen to crisis levels, thanks mostly to the severe economic depression that swept the country around that time. The depression left a lot of whites, especially southerners struggling for menial jobs that were traditionally reserved for blacks. Many innocent blacks thus became the subjects of terrorism and were often robbed of their small pieces of land and meagre belongings. The same year he returned to the U.S., Du Bois landed a teaching job at Wilberforce University, a traditionally black school in Ohio. His experiences at Wilberforce however proved to be quite different from what he had accepted. The young Du Bois, fresh from Europe and filled with grandiose ideas of what a University and its faculty ought to be, soon realized that his ideas just didnt belong at the tightly-knit religious conservative community that characterized Wilberforce University. He increasingly felt like an outsider, and almost lost his job once for failing to adhere to some of the school's religious rituals. His tribulations at Wilberforce were made worse by the fact that he was not allowed to teach his favourite field sociologogy but instead taught the classic languages Greek and Latin. In 1895, a dissertation he had began at Harvard University before he left for Germany was finally accepted and he was awarded a Ph.D in Philosophy. The text from his dissertation was later published into a book in 1896, making it his first publication.

In 1896 he left Wilberforce University after accepting a one-year position as an Assistant Instructor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. It was at the Philadelphia school that Du Bois established himself as one of the most respected black scholars. This was as a result of his research project at the University of Pennsylvania, which aimed at identifying the root causes of crime, violence and poverty prevalent in Philadelphia's urban black communities, particularly the city's notorious 7th Ward. The information his research attempted to unearth had long been sought by Civic leaders in Philadelphia, and indeed nationwide, desperate to come up with solutions to inner city problems. However in a surprising turn of events, the University of Pennsylvania which had sanctioned the study, ignored his findings and let Du Bois go in 1897 when he finished his study. The decision to let Du Bois go was quite surprising because his findings had attracted a lot of praise both nationally and internationally and were in fact published two years later in 1899 under the title The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study that received rave reviews. It was also recognized as the first sociological study of a black ghetto in the U.S. Luckily for Du Bois, in 1897, one of the admirers of his Philadelphia project, Horace Bumstead, President of Atlanta University, gladly offered him a position as Professor of History and Economics at his institution and encouraged him to continue exploring urban black problems at the University as he had done in Philadelphia. It was at Atlanta University that Du Bois launched a series of annual conferences to discuss urban black problems and come up with viable solutions. His annual conferences at Atlanta became very popular worldwide because before them, most ideas forwarded regarding black people had hinged largely on racist propaganda and age old stereotypes. His conferences on the contrary provided a more scientific approach to the study of blacks in America, basing their conclusions on gathered empirical data. As a Professor at Atlanta University, Du Bois once said regarding black people, "The ultimate evil was ignorance and its child stupidity....The cure for it was knowledge based on study", a notion that still holds true to this day.

In 1900 Du Bois left on his second trip to Europe, this time to attend an Exposition on African-American life in Paris, France. It was during this European trip that he attended the first Pan-African Conference in London. The purpose of the Pan-Africanism movement was to unite all peoples of African descent and press for their stronger civil rights no matter where they lived. The 1900 conference led to the establishment of the Pan-African Association with Du Bois as its Chairman. From then on, Du Bois became known as the Father of Pan-Africanism, and set his sights on bigger civil rights endeavours far beyond the borders of the U.S. In 1902 a collection of his essays, particularly on Pan-Africanism were published in a book called The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches which became his first major military success. In one of his essays, he mounted a scathing attack on Booker T. Washington's ideology and laid the ground for what would become one of the fiercest rivalries in American civil rights history. But Booker T's policies of a separate America for whites and blacks was widely endorsed by a lot of influencial white policy makers and gave him a lot of political clout. His powerful white associates came to be called the Tuskegee Machine and they helped Washington to curtail Du Bois' efforts. In fact the Tuskegee Machine also led to the decline of Atlanta University when they pressured the University's financial backers to cease funding the school and kick out Du Bois. Du Bois however marched on and in June 1905, led a group of about 29 blacks to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada for a meeting to chart out a new cause of action for blacks in America and counter the effects of the Tuskegee Machine . The meeting which took place a few miles from the Niagara Falls led to the formation of the Niagara Movement. To advance the views of the new movement, Du Bois found and edited a journal called the Moon, which to his surprise, never made any inroads and wounded up less than a year from its inception. He then started another journal the Horizon, which did much better.

The Niagara Movement however was still no comparison to the Tuskegee Machine and in fact saw a number of defections to the same. However when race riots began to rock the U.S., particularly the 1906 riots in Brownsville, Texas and the 1908 one in Springfield, Illinois, many white liberals, especially from the northern states became outraged and started agitating for black rights. Among the prominent white social reformers was Du Bois good friend Mary Ovington, who he had helped in a sociological study of New York blacks. Mary Ovington helped organise a conference to discuss the status of blacks in the U.S. The conference which was held on May 31st 1909, attracted about 60 particicipants, mostly white and some supporters of Booker T. Washington. This became the perfect speaking forum Du Bois, who like many times before, gave a very impressive speech, attacking the Tuskegee Machine and laying out an elaborate strategy for the civil rights movement in the U.S. During the conference, a Negro National Committee was established and during the same year, developed into a permanent organization called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP). During the new organization's national elections that were held in 1910, Du Bois became the Director of Publicity and Research for the NAACP, the only black in the organization's board. Soon after that Du Bois and his family moved to New York , the NAACP headquarters. With the NAACP in place, Du Bois finally found a legitimate weapon with which to attack the Tuskegee Machine.

In 1910 Du Bois founded and edited NAACP's newspaper the Crisis that got off to a resounding start in November when its first copy was published. The main reason why Crisis enjoyed wide readership was that it advocated black militancy especially in light of the fact that attacks by white mobs were on the rise at that time. It quickly began stealing some of Booker T's followers and reports have it that by the turn of the century, Crisis was enjoying a readership of about 100,000 and had helped bolster the NAACP membership to 90,000. Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Machine however were still very powerful and worked hard for the downfall of the NAACP and Crisis. Wind however began to blow in Du Bois' favour in 1912 with the election of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. The Tuskegee Machine was in large part a collection of powerful Republican insiders, and with their fall from grace in the 1912 elections, there was little they could do to assist Booker T. Washington. Booker T's submissive message also became increasingly harder to sell among the black masses especially in the face of all the white attacks on innocent blacks. Support for the Tuskegee Machine thus seriously dwindled and by the time Washington died in November 13 th 1915, his movement had ground to a halt. With Washington out of the picture, Du Bois soon found new enemies, this time within the NAACP. There was growing among senior NAAACP officials about the increasingly militant tone of the Crisis. They feared this might lead to a race war in America which was not among the organization's objectives.

In 1920 Du Bois received the prestigious Spingarn Award, the NAACP's highest honour. But it was also in the 1920's that he would face one of his fiercest black opponents in the name of Marcus Garvey, who had just moved to New York from Jamaica. Garvey supported Booker T's separatist ideas and dismissed the NAACP as a white man's organization with no real intention of helping blacks. At that time it was quite hard for Du Bois to effectively counter Garvey's criticisms and took beating after beating from the rising Jamaican. Garvey's major blunder, that led to his eventual downfall came in 1922, when he struck an "unholy" alliance with non other than the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan. Though Garvey obviously never supported the Klan's notorious attacks on innocent blacks, he solicited their help in his Back To Africa movement, which the Klan endorsed. From then onwards, it became open season for Du Bois who used this incident to discredit Garvey for doing the unthinkable. Blacks across the board understandably rejected Garvey's association with the Klan and disassociated with him. With Garvey sidelined, Du Bois took centerstage in the civil rights movement in the 1920's and took an active role in Pan-African movement. He attended several Pan-African Congresses in the 1920's including the one in 1921 that was held in 3 European cities Paris, London and Brussels, 1927 in New York and 1929 in the African country Tunisia. These Pan-African meetings attracted a host of African nationalists like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Jomo Kenyatta and lay the foundation for the struggle against colonialism in Africa. The NAACP also became the America's leading civil rights organization.

In 1934, Du Bois through his Crisis articles, urged blacks to use their meagre economic resources only on black enterprises so as to guard themselves against the harrowing economic conditions in the U.S. that had began in 1929 with the Great Depression. This seriously enraged the NAACP leadership, which was opposed to any kind of segregation, economic or otherwise. As a result the NAACP executive secretary Walter White began efforts to bring back the Crisis newspaper completely under umbrella of the organization and ensuring that it only expounded the organization's objectives. Before that eventhough the Crisis was recognized as the NAACP newspaper, Du Bois had been given a free hand to write whatever he wanted, and often angered the NAACP board. Now it seemed they had had enough from Du Bois and they wanted him disciplined. On May 21st 1934, Du Bois angered by the efforts to restrict his thinking, resigned from his editorial post at the Crisis and quit the NAACP altogether. That same year, Du Bois rejoined the Atlanta University faculty, this time as the Chairman of the Sociology Department. In 1940, Du Bois the consumate writer began another journal called the Phylon, a social science quarterly. He also wrote several other books during his renewed tenure at Atlanta University. His tenure at Atlanta University however came to an end in 1944, when he was surprised by news that he was being retired. When Atlanta University President John Hope brought Du Bois back to Atlanta University in 1934, he had made it clear to him that his tenure would be for life. However after Hope died in 1936, the Atlanta University Board put in place a requirement that all Professors retire at the age of 65. Therefore in 1944, well above the retirement age, Du Bois found himself out of a job. But in another surprising turn of events, this time pleasant, Walter White NAACP Executive Secretary extended a job offer to his old nemesis Du Bois, this time as the organization's Director of Special Research. Du Bois readily accepted the offer, and looked forward to mending some of his broken relationships at the NAACP.

But Du Bois soon got tired of his new job at the NAACP. The freedom to operate that he had thrived under as editor of Crisis was not there any more. Feeling increasingly boxed in, he began to lash out at senior NAACP officials, especially the Executive Secretary Walter White. His tensions with White came to a head in 1948 when he refused to draft several memorandums for a Human Rights Commission meeting which White was scheduled to attend. As a result Du Bois was dismissed from his NAACP post. In 1948 soon after he was dismissed from the NAACP, Du Boi was invited to join the Council on African Affairs, an organization dedicated to assisting African Nationalists and regarded subversive by the U.S. government. In 1950, already under the watchful eyes of the government, the brave Du Bois went on to become Chairman of the Peace Information Center which was feared by the U.S. government as a Soviet propaganda machine. That same year he tested the American political waters by vying for the U.S. Senate on an American Labour Party ticket but lost.

Legal troubles for Du Bois came in 1951 when he was indicted but later acquitted on charges that his Peace Information Center had failed to register as an agent for the Soviet Union. Largely considered a communist by the U.S State Department, he was denied a visa to travel to a peace conference in Brazil in 1952, the government saying the meeting was contrary to American interests. Following this incident, it became apparent to Du Bois that there was an active effort by some government operatives to sideline and eventually silence him. Growing increasingly frustrated by the U.S. government's efforts to silence him, Du Bois alligned himself more with the Communists and even began planning visits to communist China and the Soviet Union. Also while he was getting continually humiliated in the U.S., he discovered that his popularity back in Africa was at its peak and most African Nationalists adored him as The Father of Pan-Africanism. One of his biggest admirers was Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah.

In 1958 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Department of State had no legal authority to ascertain American citizen's political beliefs as a condition for issuance of a passport. This greatly delighted Du Bois who finally ot his travel documents. That same year he visited the Soviet Union and met with Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev. He then followed this with a visit to China in April 1959, where he met Chinese President Mao Tse-tung. When Du Bois returned to the U.S. in the summer of 1959, he was again surprised when the U.S. State Department confiscated his passport. At this point, he lost all faith in the American government and began actively planning to settle abroad, preferably in his ancestral Africa. In July 1960, Du Bois travelled to Africa to attend the inauguration of Kwame Nkrumah as Ghana's first President. While in Ghana, Nkrumah encouraged Du Bois to settle there and carry out a study of Africans, Encyclopedia Africana. Du Bois did not take him up on the offer immediately but when his only daughter Yolande died the same year, he saw nothing left for him in the U.S. and began preparing his move to Ghana. On October 1st 1961, Du Bois made his final assault at the U.S. government before leaving for Africa. He issued a scathing attack on Capitalism and joined the American Communist Party. That same month he relocated to Ghana where he began working on the Encyclopedia Africana.

When his U.S. passport expired in 1963, the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana refused to renew it. Du Bois thus renounced his American citizenship and became a Ghanaian. On August 27th 1963, President Nkrumah paid a visit to Du Bois on word that he had fallen ill. This meeting was reportedly charged with emotions, especially on the part of Nkrumah who knew only too well that he was sharing the final moments with one of the most accomplished sons of Africa. During the visit Du Bois reportedly told Nkrumah, "I want to thank you for all you've done to make the ending of my life bountiful and beautiful----Good-bye! And bless you!". Later that evening, Du Bois passed away. His funeral attracted a host of world dignitaries, the only disappointment coming from his native U.S., who even in his death refused to honour him by sending a representative from their Consulate in Ghana. Nevertheless, Du Bois was accorded a hero's burial with full Ghanaian honours.

Return to the Home Page

Copyright©AfricanTribute.com Inc., 2002
All Rights Reserved

World Banner Exchange Banner
World Banner Exchange BannerWorld Banner Exchange Banner


The Africa Banner Network