Biography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced DU-boyce) was born of mixed African, French Huguenot, and Dutch descent in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on February 23, 1868. His father, Alfred Du Bois, was the son of Alexander Du Bois, a light-skinned man born of a union between a mulatto slave girl in Santo Domingo and a wealthy American of French Huguenot descent. He lost his father early and was reared by his mother, Mary Burghardt, whose family traced its roots to a freed slave in the days of the American Revolution. The Burghardts were proud of their long, stable residence in Massachusetts as free farmers, but because they were black, they remained outside the social elite.
Du Bois grew up as part of a small black community of about fifty people among some five thousand whites in Great Barrington. Though his childhood was basically happy, he learned early that African Americans were not fully accepted as equal, even in New England. Determined to be a leader of his people, Du Bois studied hard and dreamed of getting a degree from Harvard. Books and writing interested young Du Bois more than athletics, although he did enjoy games and socializing with his friends. When he was graduated from high school in 1884 at the age of sixteen, he was the only African American in his class of twelve and was...
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IntroductionWilliam Edward Burghardt Du Bois (better known as W. E. B. Du Bois) is primarily remembered today for two of his achievements: he was the first African-American to earn a PhD from Harvard (in 1895); and then, in 1903, he published The Souls of Black Folks. Part sociological study, part philosophical reflection on race, part moving and poetic autobiography, Souls introduced the idea of “double-consciousness,” which refers to the divided experience and vision of African-Americans. This concept, and others stemming from it, actively influence both popular and academic discussions of race in America today. Still taught regularly, The Souls of Black Folks is one of the most honest and profound discussions of race ever published.
- Du Bois’ family background was complex and no doubt helped shape his perspective on race. His father was born in Haiti and had some French background; his great grandmother Elizabeth Freeman was a slave who sued to earn her freedom, an action that contributed to the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts.
- Du Bois was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, a civil rights group that eventually developed into the NAACP.
- Du Bois investigated many possible solutions to the race problem in America, including socialism. He was given the Lenin Peace Prize (a Soviet analogue to the Nobel Prize) in 1959 and joined the Communist Party two years later.
- In the 1950s, Du Bois was charged with being a foreign agent for his antiwar activities.
- Du Bois became a citizen of the West African nation of Ghana in 1963, when he was 95 years old.
Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in the western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington, to a family whose ancestry was French Huguenot on his father’s side and Dutch and African on his mother’s side. Du Bois’ father Alfred Du Bois left his family when his son was a young boy. Du Bois lived with his mother Mary Sylvina Burghardt Du Bois until her death in 1884. Left penniless, Du Bois moved in with an aunt and worked as a timekeeper at a local mill to support himself. He graduated from high school that same year, the only black student in his class. An outstanding student, Du Bois was encouraged by his principal to attend college. With the aid of a scholarship, he enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1885. Du Bois graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1888 and entered Harvard University as a junior, where he graduated, cum laude, with a second Bachelor of Arts degree in 1891. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin in Germany for two years before returning to Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in 1895. He was the first African American to receive this degree from Harvard. From 1895 to 1897, Du Bois taught Latin, Greek, German, and English at Wilberforce University in Ohio. While Du Bois was at Wilberforce, his dissertation, “The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870,” was published in 1896 as the first installment in the Harvard Historical studies series. Also in 1896, Du Bois...
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William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, into a large white community in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The racism he experienced as a child in New England formed the basis of his lifelong struggle for equal rights. Endowed with outstanding intellect, Du Bois traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk College on scholarship in 1885. His contact with the post-Civil War South in the capacity of student and teacher solidified his commitment to education and mobilization of African Americans. Following three years in the South, Du Bois completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Harvard, focusing on history and philosophy. He completed the bulk of his doctoral work during two years in Berlin, where he came to the understanding of racism as a worldwide issue, opposed to a national issue.
Following the completion of his doctoral thesis entitled The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in America, Du Bois began his lifelong career as educator, researcher, and social advocate. His studies embodied the first scientific approach to examining social issues, and as a result, he is considered to be the father of social science. Du Bois worked for social reform through his study of all aspects of African-American life, in an effort to educate blacks and promote understanding between the relationship of blacks to white America. Du Bois was diametrically opposed to the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, the most popular black man in America, who espoused the idea that African Americans should accept their low social status and work for modest goals through technical training only (foregoing civil rights, higher education, and political power). In 1906, Du Bois founded the Niagra Movement, an organization of black men aimed at aggressive advocacy for civil rights. The organization was joined by a group of white liberals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). For twenty-five years, Du Bois edited the NAACP magazine The Crisis, strongly advocating that blacks lead themselves out of oppression, with whites serving only as support.
Trips to Africa and Russia in the 1920s resulted in a revision of Du Bois' ideology; he became convinced that integration in America was unrealistic and that white capitalism was geared toward keeping minorities down. By 1933, he had left the NAACP and resumed teaching, writing, and organizing the Pan-African conference. During World War II and the beginning of the Cold War he became a peace advocate and spoke out strongly against the use of atomic weapons, resulting in his indictment as a foreign agent by the Department of Justice. Although he was acquitted, the incident served to further alienate him from the nation of his birth. In 1959, he moved to Ghana and became a Ghanaian citizen and a member of the Communist party. He died in Accra, Ghana, on August 27,1963, the day before the ‘‘March On Washington.’’
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (dyew-BOYS) was a thinker, writer, editor, teacher, and activist. Among his many distinctions, he was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and his ninety-five years saw the United States change from a land of small towns and farms to a nation of cities and industry. He was called many things—visionary, propagandist, scholar, communist, prophet, atheist. Each label held some truth.
Three years after the Civil War ended, W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a town of approximately four thousand people with a scattering of African American families. His bloodline contained French and Dutch strains but was primarily African, descended from Tom Burghardt, a black freedman. Du Bois’s father left after two years, and his mother raised him. They were poor.
Du Bois worked hard and made excellent grades in school. His life was much like that of his white contemporaries until his teens, when he became aware of being different. A girl’s scornful rebuff and his arrest for stealing a few grapes were two experiences that initially shaped Du Bois’s emerging concept of the African American “double consciousness,” a conflict between being both black and American.
While in high school, Du Bois’s letters and political commentaries began appearing regularly in the New York...
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W. E. B. Du Bois was a towering intellectual who created a new language of protest and ideas to understand and guide the African American experience. He wrote fiction and nonfiction, infusing his writings with eloquence and anger. He envisioned a world with equality for all people, emphasizing social justice for Africans and their descendants throughout the New World.
Du Bois’ chronicle of his childhood begins with a tale of small-town conventionality in rural Massachusetts, where he experienced a loving home. In 1888, he entered Fisk University and saw firsthand the “color line” dividing the South. After graduating from Fisk, he returned to Massachusetts, where he earned a doctorate in history at Harvard.
His first important academic position was a marginal one at the University of Pennsylvania, but it resulted in his brilliant exposition, The Philadelphia Negro. In that work he outlines the historical background of the black community in Philadelphia and documents its patterns of daily life.
In 1897, he accepted a position at the University of Atlanta, where he worked until 1910. He held a yearly conference, resulting in a series of edited books on such topics as African Americans and business, religion, and social life. In 1903, Du Bois published the literary masterpiece The Souls of Black Folk, the first of four autobiographies that connect his personal experience with that of his community.
In 1909, Du Bois helped...
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Biography (Ethics (Ready Reference series))
After a successful early career as a publishing scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois recognized that the resolution of American racial problems could not be accomplished solely by revealing the truth; therefore, he became an activist. His famous statement, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” demonstrates the focus of his ethical inquiries. Well-read in history, Du Bois argued that the premature end of Reconstruction left not only practical problems but also ethical ones. He believed that it was unethical for America to blame the freed slaves for the vices that had been instilled in them during generations of enslavement. Slavery, followed by a system of strict racial segregation, had left African Americans economically and psychologically vulnerable. Economically, slavery was replaced by peonage, a system in which indebted African American sharecroppers were forced to work in the fields or face starvation or imprisonment. Psychologically, black “double consciousness” caused a divided and vitiated purpose. The solutions to the problems were economic independence and the creation of an environment that would be free of racism and in which “true self-consciousness” could be attained. Du Bois is most famous for his disagreements with Booker T. Washington, the most prominent African American of the turn of the twentieth century. Du Bois believed that Washington, in his efforts to secure industrial training...
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