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A Biography of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

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A Biography of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

To the many who admired him, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was, by strong-willed dedication and intellectual perseverance, an assailant of inequality and a guardian of liberty. A herald of "Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism" (Hynes), he passed away in self-imposed isolation with his ancestors in his land of comfort, the magnificent Africa (Hynes). Branded as a "radical," he was overlooked by those who held on to the hope that his substantial offerings would be hidden in his grave beside him (Hynes). As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

History cannot ignore W.E.B. Du Bois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. Du Bois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man. (Hynes)

Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (Hynes). At that point in time, Great Barrington had between twenty-five and fifty Black people out of a total populace composed of more than five thousand (Hynes). As a result, there were very modest signs of explicit discrimination. However, its toxin circulated through a steady stream of evocative overtones and the malicious attitudes of its inhabitants (Hynes). This greatly transformed the persona of William in his youth, from pleasant and sociable to surly and reserved. This was toughened and reinforced later by internal abandonment in the face of real prejudice. His characteristics of introspection disturbed him all through his life (Hynes).

Du Bois was published in the community's newspaper by the age of fourteen. He graduated from high school early and enrolled at Fisk University (Wager). Upon receiving his Baccalaureate degree, Du Bois accepted a scholarship at the University of Berlin, where he studied for two years (Wager). Following this, he went to Harvard, where he received his doctoral degree, being the first African American to do so. His dissertation, approved in 1895, was published as The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (Wager). Regarded as a masterpiece of historiography, this work remains an outstanding example of Du Bois' scholarship (Wager). By the turn of the century, Dr. Du Bois was on his way to becoming a career academician. From 1894 to 1896, Du Bois served as professor of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University in Ohio (Wager). After his term was completed, he accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania, as an assistant instructor teaching sociology. It was, of course, during this time that he conducted the research for his landmark work, Philadelphia Negro (1899) (Wager). It was characteristic of the times that Du Bois was not allowed to stay on the segregated campus. In 1896, Du Bois married Nina Gomer, who would later bear him two children, Burghardt (who died at the age of three) and Yolande (Wager). From 1897 to 1910, he served as Professor of Economics and History at Atlanta University. He served as Chairman of the Sociology department there from 1934 to 1944 (Wager). Education was important to him, and helped him develop a theory and solution to the racial divide that the world faced.

Du Bois was trying to combat two injustices; one was the injustice that he saw within American society, and the other was the injustice he saw in international culture. In the book W.E.B. Du Bois the Quest for the Abolition of the Color Line, Zhang said that Du Bois felt that "African Americans were deprived of civil and political rights and equal opportunities in every aspect of American society, and suffered from racial discrimination and segregation"(ix). On the international level, Zhang went on to say

Du Bois saw the connection between the American Ð''Negro problem' and the worldwide problem of color. He thought that the American Ð''Negro problem' was but a part of a greater problem which is as wide as the world. He believed that African Americans could not achieve real freedom as long as the colored people and race all over the world were kept in slavery by imperialist power. (xii).

This is what Du Bois saw as a problem with the overall society, but Du Bois not only defined the problem, but gave us a solution.

In his book Dusk of Dawn, we can see a solution to the growing problem of race relations in the world. His plan comes in two different sections. The first is "to make it possible for Negro group to await its ultimate emancipation with reasoned patience" (Du Bois 200). The second part of his plan, "the ultimate object", was "to obtain admission of the color group to cooperation and incorporation into the white group on the best possible terms" (Du Bois 200). What Du Bois was getting at was the unfairness and wrongness of segregation. Another way Du Bois try to combat racism was thought the Niagara Movement.

After a black activist named Monroe Trotter was arrested in 1905 for inciting what authorities called a "riot" when he criticized Booker T Washington during one of his speeches, Du Bois rebelled, and call "for organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth."(248) Niagara Movement was integrated January 31, 1906 when 29 men from 14 states met in Canada at a Fort Erie hotel The object for this movement was to discuses and support the following issues:

Freedom of speech and criticism, An unfettered and unsubsidized press, Manhood suffrage, The abolition of all caste distinctions based simply on race and color, The recognition of the principle of human brotherhood as a practical present creed, The recognition of the highest and best human training as the monopoly of class or race, a belief in the dignity of labor, and United effort to realize these ideals under wise and courageous leadership (249).

The Niagara Movement lost momentum over the next two years and became merged with the push that created the National Association for Colored People in 1909.

Du Bois was involved in Pan-Africanism, which he led from its beginnings in 1919, when the First Pan African Congress was held in Paris. Du Bois firmly opposed the back-to-Africa movement popularized in the 1920's by Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. "Du Bois suggested the establishment of a Ð''great central Negro State of the world' in the Congo free state" (Rudwick 208). Pan- African congress which Du Bois was sectary



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