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William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
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William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

By The Gale Group – An outstanding critic, editor, scholar, author, and civil rights leader, W. E. B. Du Bois is certainly among the most influential blacks of the twentieth century. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868, Du Bois received a bachelor's degree from Fisk University and went on to earn second bachelors, as well as a Ph.D., from Harvard. He was for a time professor of Latin and Greek at Wilberforce and the University of Pennsylvania, and also served as a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University.

One of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, Du Bois served as that organization's director of publications and editor of Crisis magazine until 1934. In 1944, he returned from Atlanta University to become head of the NAACP's special research department, a post he held until 1948. Dr. Du Bois emigrated to Africa in 1961, and became editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Africana, an enormous publishing venture which had been planned by Kwame Nkrumah, since then deposed as president of Ghana. Du Bois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963, at the age of 95.

Du Bois's numerous books include The Suppression of the Slave Trade (1896), The Philadelphia Negro (1899), The Souls of Black Folk (1903), John Brown (1909), Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911), The Negro (1915), Darkwater (1920), The Gift of Black Folk (1924), Dark Princess (1928), Black Folk: Then and Now (1939), Dusk of Dawn (1940), Color and Democracy (1945), The World and Africa (1947), In Battle for Peace (1952), and a trilogy, Black Flame (1957-1961). It is this enormous literary output on such a wide variety of themes which offers the most convincing testimony to Du Bois's lifetime position that it was vital for blacks to cultivate their own aesthetic and cultural values even as they made valuable strides toward social emancipation. In this he was opposed by Booker T. Washington, who felt that the black should concentrate on developing technical and mechanical skills before all else.

Du Bois was one of the first male civil rights leaders to recognize the problems of gender discrimination. He was among the first men to understand the unique problems of black women, and to value their contributions. He supported the women's suffrage movement and strove to integrate this mostly white struggle. He encouraged many black female writers, artists, poets, and novelists, featuring their works in Crisis and sometimes providing personal financial assistance to them. Several of his novels feature women as prominently as men, an unusual approach for any author of his day. Du Bois spent his life working not just for the equality of all men, but for the equality of all people.

Source: The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997.

Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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