Scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African American to obtain a doctorate from Harvard University in 1895. He wrote extensively and was the most famous spokesperson for the rights of African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
Early childhood and Education
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W.E.B. Du Bois, born February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
While growing up in a predominantly white American city, Du Bois identified himself as a mulatto but freely attended school with white men and was enthusiastically supported by his white teachers in his university studies.
In 1885, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University. It was there that he first encountered Jim Crow’s laws. He began by analyzing the deep problems of American racism.
Du Bois graduated from Fisk and enrolled at Harvard University. He made money from summer jobs, scholarships, and loans from friends.
After completing his master’s degree, he was selected to study abroad at the University of Berlin.
Being a student in Germany, he studied with some of the most prominent social scientists of his time and was exposed to the political perspectives which he promoted for the rest of his life.
Du Bois became the first African American to obtain a doctorate from Harvard University in 1895.
He then enrolled as a doctoral student at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now Humboldt-Universität). He received an honorary doctorate from Humboldt decades later in 1958.
Writing and activism
Du Bois published his landmark study, the first African American community case study, Philadelphia Black: A Social Study (1899), which marks the start of his career as a writer.
In the study, he coined the phrase “the tenth talent,” a term that describes the probability that one in 10 Blacks will become the leader of their race.
W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington
While working as a professor at the University of Atlanta, Du Bois achieved national fame by publicly opposing Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise.” An agreement that claims that vocational training for blacks is more valuable to them than social benefits such as higher education or the political office.
Du Bois criticized Washington for not seeking full equality for African Americans, which was granted by the 14th amendment. Du Bois fought what he believed to be an inferior strategy, to become later a spokesperson for equal and full rights in all areas of a person’s life.
“The Souls of Black Folks”
In 1903, Du Bois published a seminary work, The souls of the black folks, a collection of 14 essays. In the years that followed, he vehemently opposed the idea of the biological superiority of whites and vocally supported the rights of women.
Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and was the editor of its monthly magazine, The Crisis.
Du Bois, an advocate of Pan-Africanism, helped organize several Pan-African congresses to liberate the African colonies from the European powers.
Du Bois died on August 27, 1963, the day before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech “I have a dream” during a march in Washington, 95, in Accra, Ghana, working at the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora.