Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

W.E.B. Du Bois Papers

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

W.E.B. Du Bois Papers

Article excerpt

Special Collections & University Archives

University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts

Background: W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois (1868-1963) was a scholar, writer, editor of The Crisis and other journals, co-founder of the Niagara Movement, the NAACP, and the Pan African Congresses, international spokesperson for peace and for the rights of the oppressed, he articulated the strivings of African Americans and developed a trenchant analysis of the problem of race in the twentieth century.

After receiving his bachelor's degree from Fisk in 1888, Du Bois continued his studies at Harvard, enrolling as a junior and receiving his second bachelor's degree in 1890, followed by his MA in 1891 and PhD in 1895. At the University of Berlin between 1892 and 1894, he was introduced to contemporary German social scientific theory.

In 1894, he accepted an appointment on faculty of Wilberforce University; in 1895, he completed his dissertation; and in 1896, he got married - to Nina Gomer (d.1950), with whom he had two children, Burghardt (1898-1900) and Yolande (1901-1960) - and published his first book, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States, 1638-1870, the first volume published in the Harvard Historical Series (1896). In 1896, he moved to an appointment as assistant instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, undertaking an intensive analysis of the African American population of Philadelphia. The resulting publication, The Philadelphia Negro (1899), is often considered his most original and compelling scholarly contribution, and it is a foundational work in the field of urban sociology.

Moving next to Atlanta University to teach history and economics, from 1897 to 1910, Du Bois built a Department of Sociology with a national reputation. Perhaps the key to this reputation was the series of annual conferences Du Bois established in 1896. Each year, he and his colleagues focused on a single issue confronting African Americans, publishing the results in the Atlanta University Publications series.

Not all of Du Bois' work was purely academic. He wrote numerous articles for the popular press and his book The Souls of Black Folk (1903) brought him national attention, a book that spotlights the growing tensions in the African American community between the accommodationism of Booker T. Washington and Du Bois' more radical demand for full and immediate equal rights. Du Bois helped found the Niagara Movement in 1905 which pave the way for the establishment in 1909 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an interracial organization based upon similar, though somewhat less radical principles.

Du Bois left Atlanta University in 1910 to become director of research and publicity for the NAACP, and he was also appointed editor of the monthly journal of the NAACP, The Crisis. His numerous articles and editorials in Crisis solidified his position as a major spokesman for African American rights. Freed of his purely academic commitments, he also continued to write for the popular press, publishing a number of highly regarded books, including The Negro (1915), Darkwater (1920), The Gift of Black Folk (1924), and the novels The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) and Dark Princess (1928). Among his most ambitious projects was a pageant of Black history and Black consciousness, The Star of Ethiopia, written both to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and to provide a counterweight to the racist Hollywood cinematic epic, Birth of a Nation.

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 and the intransigence of whites on racial matters gradually led him toward a Black nationalist solution of the race problem, stressing Black control of businesses, cooperatives, and other similar institutions as the key to Black survival. In this position, Du Bois began to depart from the mainstream of the leadership within the NAACP, resulting in Du Bois' resignation from the organization in 1934 and his departure from the editorship of Crisis. …

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