William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois was
born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. He is considered
by most historians to be one of the most influential African Americans that
ever lived and one of the greatest intellectuals of any race.
Dubois received his primary schooling in Great
Barrington. In 1890 he earned his bachelor's degree from Fisk University in
Nashville, Tennessee. Dubois studied for his master's under the tutelage
of Harvard professors George Santayana, William James and Josiah Royce. During
this time he also attended the University of Berlin for two years. He received
his doctorate from Harvard University in 1895. His thesis, The
Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States 1638-1870,
became the first volume in the Harvard Historical Studies.
Dubois taught at Wilberforce College in Ohio
from 1895 to 1896. It was here that he met and married Nina Gomer, one of his
students. In 1896 he moved to Philadelphia and began a sociological study of
the city's Black neighborhoods for the University of Pennsylvania. After
concluding this study he took a position at Atlanta University in 1897 where
he wrote The Philadelphia Negro in 1899, the first sociological text on
a Black community ever published. In 1903 he published a collection of
essays called The Souls of Black folk in which he describes the Black
experience, especially the efforts of African Americans to reconcile their
African heritage with their pride in being U.S. citizens.
Dubois opposed the views of Booker T.
Washington who advocated accommodation. He wrote in his essays, "When
Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, he does not rightly value the
privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste
distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our higher
minds. We must unceasingly and firmly oppose him."
On February 12, 1909 Dubois and a group of
black and white intellectuals met in New York, New York and founded the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, (NAACP). Dubois
became the editor of the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis and also headed the
publicity and research department. He resigned from the organization in 1934
because he was unwilling to accept the NAACP position on Racial Integration.
He believed that Blacks should join together, separate from Whites to start
their own businesses and industries and allow Blacks to advance themselves
Dubois returned to Atlanta University in 1934
where he began a new journal called Phylon. He was forced to retire in
1944 because of continued conflicts with university staff. He wrote a Marxist
interpretation of the reconstruction era called Black Reconstruction in
1935 and an autobiography, Dusk of Dawn in 1940.
He rejoined the NAACP and headed it's research
department in 1944 but was fired in 1948 after he accused the executive
director of the NAACP of selling out the cause of Black civil rights for his
Dubois became the chairman of The Peace
Information Center in 1950, an organization dedicated to the banning of
nuclear weapons. The Secretary of State, Dean Acheson labeled the organization
a Communist-front. Dubois was brought to trial as an agent of the U.S.S.R. in
1951. He was acquitted after a highly publicized trial. However, the
government and the FBI continued to harass him and even denied him a passport
to travel abroad.
Dubois was finally granted a passport in 1958
and traveled to Russia and China. His passport was revoked once more after he
returned to the U.S. He also received the Lenin Peace Prize that year.
Totally fed up by this time, Dubois moved to
Ghana in 1961, joining the U.S. Communist party before he left in one last act
of defiance. After he arrived in Ghana he began work on the Encyclopedia
Africana, a work completed by Harvard professors Kwame Anthony Appiah and
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and titled Africana - The Encyclopedia of the
African and African American Experience.
Dubois renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1963
and became a citizen of Ghana. He died a few months later on August 27, 1963