Wednesday, December 26, 2007


DUBOIS, W. E. B. One of the most prominent and influential black leaders of the twentieth century, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in the pre­dominantly white community of Great Barrington, Massachu­setts. Educated at Fisk University (A.B., 1888), the University of Berlin and Harvard (A.B., 1890; Ph.D., 1895), Du Bois went on to become an articulate intellectual and distinguished scholar.

His first book, Suppression of the African Slave Trade (1896), was a pioneering work which, until recently, was considered the definitive study of the slave trade in the United States. An­other early book, The Philadelphia Negro (1897), vividly out­lined the inadequate housing, health and educational facilities for blacks in late nineteenth century Philadelphia. Regarded as a pioneer study in the area of sociological examination and analysis, The Philadelphia Negro provided subsequent sociolo­gists interested in the plight of urban minorities with an excel­lent frame of reference. A prolific writer, Du Bois' other books include John Brown (1909); Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911); The Negro (1915); The Gift of Black Folk (1924); Black Re­construction (1935); Black Folk: Then and Now (1939); Color and Democracy (1945); and The World and Africa (1947). In addition to his writing, Du Bois held teaching positions at Wilberforce University, University of Pennsylvania, and Atlanta University.

Du Bois is best remembered as the leader of those early twentieth century black intellectuals who challenged the accommodationist leadership of Booker T. Washington. Washington, of course, stressed the concept of industrial and vocational education for blacks, conciliation with the white South, and submission and silence as to Afro-American civil and political rights. Writing in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois asserted that this program "practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro." The function of education, according to Du Bois, was to train individuals for social leadership. Blacks would continue to be led by whites until an African American intelligentsia (or what Du Bois called the "talented tenth") was allowed to emerge. By straightjacketing blacks with vocational education, as op­posed to traditional liberal arts education, such an emergence would never occur. "Mr. Washington's programme," Du Bois commented, "ignores the Negro's right to vote, his right to attend universities to secure a liberal arts education and his right to share equally in the American dream. To accept such a program, I submit, invites the future emasculation of the Negro race."

In 1905, Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement and, five years later, became a founder of the NAACP. Throughout this time, he continued to hammer away at Washington's leadership of American blacks. "We have no right," he said, "to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children." To prevent this, Du Bois advocated and gen­uinely believed in what modern sociologists call cultural plural­ism. Rejecting the concept of the Melting Pot, he realized that complete amalgamation of the races in America probably would never occur. He insisted, however, that blacks wanted to be both black and American, maintaining their racial identity and integrity while associating with and participating in the Amer­ican culture to the fullest extent. As early as 1897, Du Bois had written that "one feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon."

A major influence over all twentieth century black protest, Du Bois worked within the NAACP until after the second World War, serving as editor of the organization's monthly magazine, The Crisis, from 1910-1934. He was also devoted to the cause of Pan-Africanism and, as a result of his persistent attacks upon colonial rule in Africa, is often referred to as the "God­father of African Independence." During his later life, Du Bois became increasingly discouraged by the lack of genuine racial progress in the United States. As a result, he emigrated to Ghana and, at the age of ninety-three, joined the Communist Party. A close friend of Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, Du Bois be­came a citizen of Ghana two months before his death in 1963. See also: NAACP, NIAGARA MOVEMENT, PAN-AFRICAN­ISM and BOOKER T. WASHINGTON.

No comments: