On the Periphery: Three African Americans

By Seaton, Corey | Kola, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

On the Periphery: Three African Americans


Seaton, Corey, Kola


African Americans have made a tremendous contribution to the social sciences over the last one hundred years. They have changed the way we do research, changed perspective, and changed how scholarship interacts with activism. The path that these intellectuals took was fraught with challenges from within and out. They were studying at a time when the vast majority of people in school were of white and they had to fight to get into school and with the intent trying to uplift their people by breaking down barriers and fighting for equality. Even when they had achieved their degrees there were many barriers that prevented them from gaining prominence within the discipline. Despite these barriers many African American social scientists have made names for themselves by developing new techniques that were not common among their white contemporaries.

This essay will focus on the three African American intellectuals that made contributions to the social sciences: Ellen Irene Diggs, St-Clair Drake, and W.E.B Du Bois. For each contributor a brief biography chronicling their major influences, education, and career path will be given. Also, some analysis will be given to some of their work and contributions to the field of anthropology. Through this analysis we will see that these scholars developed methods that allowed for fluid and diachronic study that took in all aspects of culture through space and time with the goal of uplifting a down trodden people.

W.E.B. Du Bois

WE.B Du Bois was born February, 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Silvina Burghardt. Great Barrington was a predominately Anglo-American town with a small population of Free Blacks that owned land in the state (Hynes). While he faced little to no overt racism as a child, the constant comments, innuendo, and vindictiveness of the residents changed Du Bois. His parents married in 1867, but his father would desert the family by the time Du Bois was two years old leaving him to grow very close to his mother (Hynes). Years later, his mother would suffer a stroke that would leave her unable to work. After this, they moved often and survived with the money Du Bois would make doing chores after school, odd jobs, and from family members. Despite coming from a predominately white town; Du Bois did not feel separate because of his skin color (Hynes). He only felt out of place when new-comers came to visit Great Barrington. One event in particular affected Du Bois and shook him to his core. It was when white girl that was new to the town refused to take one of his cards during a game because he was Black. This was the when he realized that there would always be a barrier between races (Hynes). Despite the setbacks that had occurred during his youth, Du Bois was gifted academically and his teacher's recognized this and encouraged him to pursue classical courses in high school. Du Bois saw that with his academic gift he could uplift not only his family's lives, but to empower African American community as a whole.

Initially, Du Bois was not financially able to further his education, but with the help of his family, friends and a scholarship he was able to attend Fisk College. The three years he spent at Fisk College greatly increased his knowledge of the race problem and allowed him to be witness to unimaginable discrimination; this steeled his resolve to emancipate his people (Hynes). While at Fisk, Du Bois spent his summers working for a county school so he could learn more about his people and the South. From this South, he learned firsthand of poverty, ignorance, and prejudice. However, the most important thing he learned is that Blacks had a deep desire for knowledge (Hynes). All of this firsthand knowledge gave him a belligerent attitude toward the color line.

In the fall of 1888, Du Bois entered Harvard University with the help of a $250 scholarship. As a student his education focused on philosophy, history and eventually turned toward economics and social problems. …

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