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W.E.B. Du Bois Day - African American writer, teacher, sociologist and activist

W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the most important activist scholars of the 20th century, was born on Feb. 23, 1868. Du Bois, a sociologist, historian, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor, was one of the co-founders of the NAACP in 1909, leader of the Niagara Movement, and editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis.

W.E.B. Du Bois, or William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, was an African American writer, teacher, sociologist and activist whose work transformed the way that the lives of Black citizens were seen in American society. Considered ahead of his time, Du Bois was an early champion of using data to solve social issues for the Black community, and his writing—including his groundbreaking The Souls of Black Folk—became required reading in African American studies.

'The Souls of Black Folk'

Du Bois and family moved to Atlanta University, where he taught sociology and worked on his additional Bureau of Labor Statistics studies.

Among the books written during this period was The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of sociological essays examining the Black experience in America. Partially derived from his Atlantic article, it embraced Du Bois’ personal history in his arguments.

The book also introduced the idea of “double consciousness,” in which African Americans are required to consider not only their view of themselves but also the view that the world, particularly whites, has on them during all parts of life. It also expressly differentiated Du Bois from more conservative Black voices like Booker T. Washington.

In 1899, Du Bois’ son Burghardt contracted diphtheria and died after Du Bois spent the night looking for one of three Black doctors in Atlanta, since no white doctor would treat the child. A resulting essay, “The Passing of the First Born,” appeared in The Souls of Black Folk.

In 1910, Du Bois accepted the directorship of the recently-formed NAACP. He moved to New York City and served as the editor of the organization’s monthly magazine The Crisis.

The magazine was a huge success and became very influential, covering race relations and black culture with Du Bois’ forthright style. The magazine stood out for its continual endorsement and coverage of women’s suffrage. Du Bois worked for the NAACP for 24 years, during which time he published his first novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece.

After a brief second stint at Atlanta University, Du Bois returned to the NAACP as director of special research in 1944 and represented the organization at the first meeting of the United Nations.

W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Horace Mann Bond, ca. 1956. Source: Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, U Mass Amherst Libraries




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