W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois (February 23, 1868- August 27, 1963)

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois was born in 1968 into a working-class family in racially segregated Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois experienced some of the humiliation and fear that characterized the African-American experience. By the age of 15 he began writing for T. Thomas Fortune and got a scholarship from his local church to attend the all-black Fisk University, where he learned that race was not a biological category, but a social one. Du Bois claimed that Fisk turned him into a Negro, but it was more accurate to say that there he became a New Negro. The title became the heading of one of his undergraduate essays, long before anyone thought of a renaissance in Harlem.

After attending Harvard, and the University of Berlin, he applied to Booker T. Washington for a job. The “Wizard of Tuskegee” hesitated to hire the young race radical. Du Bois, who ended up teaching in Atlanta University while he worked toward becoming Harvard’s first black Ph.D, decided that race was not just any social construct, but a powerful cultural determinant. At the gathering of international race leaders in London in 1900, he famously said, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line;” an assertion that developed in 1903 into the groundbreaking Souls of Black Folk.

Du Bois' Revolutionary Novel: The Souls of Black Folks

Despite Washington’s instructions to the black press to ignore it, Souls became Du Bois’s best known work. The success of Souls charted a way out of the inferno of Jim Crow and into a new racial era led by the “Talented Tenth” of the race. It also helped to inspire the founding of the NAACP. In the summer of 1910, Dubois moved to 409 Edgecombe, Harlem to join the NAACP.

NAACP Photo with Du Bois (center with hat).

One of his first acts at the NAACP was founding The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, a monthly magazine whose message of interracial cooperation and uplift, backed by a forceful confrontation with racial discrimination, was praised by many African Americans at the time. W.E.B. Du Bois resigned from the editor position of The Crisis and the NAACP in 1934, yielding his influence as a race leader and blaming the organization for dedicating too much interest for the black bourgeoisie and ignoring the problems of the masses. Du Bois’s interest in cooperatives was a part of his nationalism that developed out of his Marxist interests.

The Crisis: A Du Bois Publication

At the turn of the century, he had been an advocate of black capitalism and black support of black business, but by about 1905 he had been drawn toward socialist doctrines. Although he joined the Socialist Party only briefly in 1912, he remained sympathetic with Marxist ideas throughout his life. In 1961 he joined the Communist Party and moved to Ghana. A year later he renounced his American citizenship. He died in Ghana in 1963 at the age of 95.


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