Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Higher Education as a Means of Communal Uplift: The Educational Philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Higher Education as a Means of Communal Uplift: The Educational Philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois

Article excerpt

Higher education is not for itself and its own enjoyment but furnishes the power and the leverage by which the mass of people can obtain not only economic security but cultural progress.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Letter to Benjamin F. Hubert, 1942a

W.E.B. Du Bois understood higher education to be one of the most effective tools of emancipation for the Black community-a way to alleviate the dreadful economic, political, and social conditions that were, during Du Bois' lifetime, referred to as the "Negro Problem" (Du Bois, 1958, pp. 5-6). As a means to uplift the Black community from these imposed conditions, Du Bois advocated for an education grounded in Black culture and community. Believing higher education was the foundation of the American educational system, on which to create a passionate intellectual army of activists to advance the Black community, Du Bois sought to uplift the Black race through the education and advancement of men and women highly trained in the cultural, political, and social needs of the Black community. Du Bois' focus on racial uplift, Black culture, and the creation of strong social, economic, and political communities was a central aspect of his Black-centered educational philosophy. Du Bois understood the higher education of an intellectual elite to be central to providing cohesive, community-based environments necessary to ensure the Black community maintain a strong cultural base from which to navigate and uplift society.

Throughout his lifetime, Du Bois amassed one of the most comprehensive sets of personal and professional writings from which historians, educators, and social scientists can obtain a contextualized perspective of his educational philosophy. During his lifetime, Du Bois published over twenty books, one hundred articles and essays, and hundreds of letters and personal correspondence, many of which provide insight into his thoughts regarding the public purpose of higher education (Lewis, 2009). Through the examination of Du Bois' immense written work and the insights of educational scholars and historians, it is evidenced that Du Bois' educational philosophy is grounded in the civic mission of higher education and the advancement of the Black community.

The Educational Upbringing of W.E.B. Du Bois

In order to best understand Du Bois' educational philosophy, a brief historical overview of his life, intellectual development, and scholarly training is necessary to provide context for his evolution of thought. Du Bois, affectionately termed the "Father of the Negro Intelligence" grew up in an environment of intellectualism and thereby witnessed very few direct displays of blatant Jim Crowism (Harris, 1925, p. 2). An exemplary scholar from a young age, Du Bois excelled in high school and had hopes of attending Harvard or Yale upon graduation. However, due to financial issues, he instead chose to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, receiving financial assistance from local townsmen due to his outstanding high school record (Bond & Lewis, 2002; Broderick, 1958).

While at Fisk, Du Bois studied the classical curriculum, reading The Iliad and The Odyssey, taking courses in ethics, French grammar, and rhetoric (Broderick, 1958). During his time at Fisk, Du Bois did not limit his involvement solely to the classroom. He was involved with several extracurricular activities and served as the editor of the school paper. His interest in journalism would continue throughout his life, influencing his later work regarding the creation of the NAACP's official magazine, The Crisis (Bond & Lewis, 2002; Lewis, 2009).

It was during his time at Fisk that Du Bois was first exposed to the social climate of the segregated South. During the summer months he spent time teaching at local schools and gaining a firsthand experience about the extensive racism, prejudice, and poverty that permeated southern Black communities (Bond & Lewis, 2002). This exposure to the South and time spent at Fisk further instilled in Du Bois a commitment to working toward the uplift of the Black community. …

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