The Life of W.E.B. Du Bois

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William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is credited as one of the greatest African-American leaders and scholars in America during his time. W.E.B. Du Bois was born in February 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to a barber father and a domestic worker mother. His father left shortly after he was born and he was raised mostly by the extended family of his mother lineage. At the time of his birth, African-Americans living in Great Barrington, Massachusetts were outnumbered by whites by a ratio of almost 1 to 200. Consequently, Du Bois experienced the racism and effects of Jim Crow laws all through his life in Massachusetts. During his early childhood, he showed exceptional promise in academics graduating as a valedictorian from his High School in 1884 at 16 years despite his mother dying earlier on in the same year.

After his High school graduation, Du Bois joined Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee on a full scholarship where he studied Liberal Arts. In between his academics, the scholar spent his holidays teaching in African American schools in the various parts of rural Nashville. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1888, he joined Harvard University where he studied arts and graduated with honors in 1890. The following year, he got his masters of arts from Harvard. He joined the University of Berlin of a funded scholarship where he pursued history and economics and graduated in 1894. Upon completion of his studies at the University of Berlin, Du Bois served as a Greek and Latin Professor at Wilberforce University in Ohio for almost two years. He would then go back to Harvard where he obtained a doctorate in History In 1895. During the same year, his dissertation, which focused on the African slave trade in America, won the Harvard Historical Series prize for the best historical piece.

Between 1896 and 1897, Du Bois served as an instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. During his tenure at the University, he is credited with conducting one of the first successful sociological study of an urban community. This extensive scholarly background provided Du Bois with the opportunity to trade ideas with some of the most influential thinkers of the time and served as the basis of his seventy-year career that combined academics, and activism in the struggle for African American rights. One of the most instrumental influencers in Du Bois's life was William James, his professor at Harvard who shaped his ideologies regarding American Philosophy. Another notable influence in his life was Alexander Crummell whom he met at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Alexander shaped most of Du Bois's ideologies regarding morality and effecting social change (Graham and Bois 640). Despite his many academic achievements, Du Bois relied on money from friends, scholarships, well-wishers, and his summer teaching jobs to fund his education since his family was not well off.

He married Nina Gomer whom he met while teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio and with whom they had two children, Yolande and Burghardt Du Bois (Blight 15). Most of his life after his education was dedicated to activism. In 1905, Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement. The movement was composed of African American scholars and was aimed at protesting the racial segregation and prejudice that African Americans were being subjected to at the time. In a bid to make the voice of the Niagara Movement heard, he founded two publications, the Moon, and the Horizon, in 1906 and 1907 respectively, which he edited. In 1909, Du Bois together with a handful of other African American scholars founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Unlike the Niagara Movement, the NAACP championed for integration and took a bolder approach in championing for African American rights. From 1910 to 1934, Du Bois served as NAACPs director of research, and a member of the board (Carle 97). Further, he was in charge of The Crisis, NAACPs monthly publication. While at the NAACP, Du Bois attracted many critics and supporters owing to his radical views on fighting racism. Some of these ideas were expressed in his book The Souls of Black Folk published in 1903 in which he criticised Booker T. Washington's policies for putting the black people down.

Washington was one among many African Americans whom Du Bois openly criticised for their views. Others include Marcus Garvey whose idea of racial equality through separation he strongly objected (Taylor 904-915). Despite falling out with other great black American leaders, Du Bois was arguably the voice of the African American community between 1910 and 1930's ("The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow). Apart from fighting for African American rights in the United States, Du Bois was an active participant in the Pan-African movement which championed the rights of people of African descents living all over the world. He arranged and attended pan-African congresses around the world between 1919, and 1927. Other notable achievements of Du Bois were his large portfolio of writings. He published numerous poems, plays, novels, essays, journals, articles, and books on various issues throughout his life. In particularly, Du Bois wrote 21 books, edited 15 books from other authors (Blight 15). He died in Ghana in 1963 where he had been naturalized as a citizen a few years earlier.

Works Cited

"The Rise And Fall Of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories. People . W.E.B. Du Bois | PBS". Pbs.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_people_dubois.html

Blight, David. "The Enduring Du Bois". The American Prospect (2001): n. pag. Web. 22 Sept. 2016. http://prospect.org/article/enduring-du-bois

Carle, Susan D. "Race, Class, and Legal Ethics in the Early NAACP (1910-1920)". Law and History Review 20.1 (2002): 97. Web. http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois

Graham, Hugh Davis and W. E. B. Du Bois. "The Autobiography Of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy On Viewing My Life From The Last Decade Of Its First Century.". The Journal of Southern History 34.4 (1968): 640. Web.

Taylor, Paul C. "W.E.B. Du Bois". Philosophy Compass 5.11 (2010): 904-915. Web.

 

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