We’re celebrating what would’ve been his 155th birthday!
W.E.B. Du Bois was born William E. Duboise in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868, History.com reports. He is best known as a thought leader and scholar on the plight of Black Americans, publishing his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, in 1903. His work would eventually spearhead many proposed solutions to many of the social ills plaguing the Black community. This year makes six decades since his passing and as we reflect on his life’s work and glean lessons that can still be used today, we want to do our best to educate the masses on why Du Bois and his work were so critical to our advancement as a people. In service of that goal, here are 4 inspiring things you never learned about W.E.B. Du Bois:
Du Bois was an HBCU graduate and the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Scholarships from local churches in his hometown funded his college career at Fisk University, where he became an editor for the Herald, the student newspaper. Upon graduation in 1888, he attended Harvard University, working towards his Ph.D. there and at the University of Berlin in 1892. He then returned to the states to make history as the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. His doctoral thesis, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, became his very first book and required reading in the educational system for understanding the history of slavery.
He was a sociologist who used data to solve for issues impacting the Black community.
Over the years, Du Bois taught at several colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania and Wilberforce University in Ohio. He conducted several studies of Black communities over the years, becoming one of the first to use statistical research for sociological purposes. In Philadelphia, he studied the greatest challenges impacting the Black community, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics even brought Du Bois on in 1897 to study the effects of slavery on the personal lives of Black households in Virginia, as well as other studies in Alabama and Georgia. It was Du Bois' work that set the tone for investigation and data analysis as critical elements of sociology, which previously only existed in theoretical frameworks.
Du Bois was a founding member of the NAACP.
His work challenged the theories of other leading Black intellectuals at the time and made Du Bois a prominent figure in the fight for Black rights. He eventually became a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), heading up their publicity and research arm and launching the NAACP’s official journal, The Crisis, in 1910, the NAACP reports.
He served as editor of the journal until 1934 and under his leadership, they garnered more than 100,000 readers in 1920, bringing with them an influx of supporters. Through Du Bois’ efforts, the NAACP became a leading organization for African-Americans.
He was a Pan-Africanist.
For most of his life, Du Bois promoted a Pan-Africanist theology, coining the term double consciousness and encouraging Black people to embrace and return to their African heritage even while existing as American citizens. He attended the very first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 and was instrumental in organizing a series of Pan-African Congress meetings around the world in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927, bringing together people from the U.S., Africa, and the West Indies. After separating from the NAACP for a decade, Du Bois returned as Director of Special Research from 1944-1948, attending the founding convention of the United Nations on behalf of the NAACP and working to galvanize a global acknowledgement of the suffering of Black Americans, urging the United Nations to use its platform to invoke change.
Du Bois eventually gained dual citizenship in Ghana, moving to the country in 1961 at the age of 93 to spearhead a new encyclopedia about the African diaspora, funded by the Ghanaian government. He would pass away in Ghana just two years later on August 27, 1963, one day before Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington.
We remember the work and contributions of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. Because of him, we can.
4 inspiring things you never learned about W.E.B. Du Bois/Photo Courtesy of Alamy Stock Photo/The Guardian