W. E. B. Du Bois Biography

W. E. B. Du Bois Biography

W. E. B. Du Bois (the pen name of William Edward Burghardt 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • Du Bois’s 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 ninety-five years old.
Additional Content
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  • Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

(The entire section is 6124 words.)