W.E.B. Du Bois

Born: 1868

 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an American sociologist, civil rights activist, and historian. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868, Du Bois was raised primarily by his mother, whose family was part of a small free black population in the area and possessed generational land in the state. As a child, Du Bois attended integrated schools and excelled academically; his apparent knack for writing and studies resulting in his congregation at the First Congregational Church of Great Barrington to raise the tuition for him to attend college. He would initially attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he first experienced the true extent of Southern racism from its Jim Crow laws, extreme suppression and prejudice, and terrifying pervasion of lynchings. He then attended Harvard University, where he would become the first African American to earn a doctorate, and the University of Berlin, which gave him the ability to travel extensively throughout Europe—an experience he valued as he felt like he was treated as an equal member of the intellectual elite there rather than entirely othered like in the United States. Following his graduation, Du Bois held jobs at several colleges throughout the country, such as Tuskegee Institute, Atlanta University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he would conduct and later publish his study The Philadelphia Negro—the first case study focused on a Black community in the United States. Throughout his career, Du Bois was a founder and editor of many groundbreaking civil rights organizations and literary publications, such as The Niagara Movement and its Moon Illustrated Weekly and The Horizon periodicals, as well as the hugely influential National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its monthly magazine The Crisis. An adamant socialist and peace activist, his writing for these journals was pointedly anti-capitalist, anti-war, and pro-women’s suffrage, on top of his core pursuit of the dismantling of systemic racism and discrimination. Possessing a large and hugely influential body of work, Du Bois is perhaps most notably the writer of the authoritative essay collection The Souls of Black Folks (1903) and his monumental work Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 (1935). Du Bois never stopped fighting for and evolving his beliefs, joining the Community Party at the age of 93. He died in Accra, Ghana in 1963 at the age of 95; the United States Civil Rights Act was enacted less than a year later.