W. E. B. Du Bois : biography
William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (pronounced ; February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After graduating from Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta Compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which provided that Southern blacks would work and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities. Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. He referred to this group as the talented tenth and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop its leadership.
Racism was the main target of Du Bois’s polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included colored persons everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in their struggles against colonialism and imperialism. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to free African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France and documented widespread bigotry in the United States military.
Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature; and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction era. He wrote the first scientific treatise in the field of sociology; and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. In his role as editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, he published many influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States’ Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.
In July 1897, Du Bois left Philadelphia and took a professorship in history and economics at the historically black Atlanta University.Horne, p. 26.Lewis, pp. 143, 155. His first major academic accomplishment was the 1899 publication of The Philadelphia Negro, a detailed and comprehensive sociological study of the African-American people of Philadelphia, based on the field work he did in 1896–1897. The work was a breakthrough in scholarship, because it was the first scientific sociological study in the U.S., and the first scientific study of African Americans.Donaldson, Shawn, "The Philadelphia Negro", in Young, p. 165. In the study, Du Bois coined the phrase "the submerged tenth" to describe the black underclass, anticipating the "talented tenth" term he would popularize in 1903 to describe society’s elite class.Lewis, p. 148. Du Bois’s terminology reflected his opinion that the elite of a nation, black and white, was the critical portion of society that was responsible for culture and progress. Du Bois’s writings of this era were often dismissive of the underclass, employing characterizations such as "lazy" or "unreliable", but he – in contrast to other scholars – attributed many societal problems to the ravages of slavery.Lewis, pp. 140, 148 (underclass), 141 (slavery).