W.E.B. DuBois, a short biography

W.E.B. DuBois


“W. E. B. Du Bois was an important American thinker” (Morse, 2008) . In 1868, he was born William Edward Burghardt.  DuBois was originally from Great Barrington, Massachusetts.  The political climate of New England towards young African-Americans at the turn of the century was gaining in favor, but perhaps particularly in Massachusetts according to the account of Dubois.  And, although he “was born…five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which began the freeing of American Negro slaves” (Dubois, W.E.B. Dubois – My Birth and Family, 2001), he knew little of segregation’s woes until later in school. Thus, during this time he began to feel “both an American and an African, but never an African-American” (Morse, 2008).  DuBois came to embody social mobility in an era that saw a great deal of change for Americans.

Thanks to the easing of racial tensions during the era, “he had a happy early childhood, largely unaware of race prejudice” (Morse, 2008).  “He did not experience racial oppression himself until his early college years” (Nedrow, 2003). And, it was in college that he began to use his intelligence, place in society, and panache for social study for not merely academics, but progressive civil rights platforms as well.

 W.E.B. Dubois “earned his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University. In 1888, he entered Harvard University” (University of Virginia, 2010) and studied abroad in Germany for a period of his time there. “Oppression [he experienced during this part of Dubois’ life] propelled his academics, driving him to be the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University” (Nedrow, 2003). “That same drive led him to the role of social advocate.” (Nedrow, 2003).  This ‘drive’ seems to be at the very heart of Dubois and embodies the spirit of his work.

While at Harvard, the topic of his thesis was “The Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade in America” (University of Virginia, 2010).  This is a good example of the nature of Dubois’ work.  He was constantly and intensely seeking an end to racial tyranny as he saw it.  Other works of his include “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study”, written during his “teaching appointments” (University of Virginia, 2010) at the University of Philadelphia, and “The Souls of Black Folk”, “arguably…Dubois’ most famous work, [in which] he introduces… concepts that describe the quintessential Black experience in America” (Carter, 2002).

Among his many studious accomplishments, Dubois was a pillar of the African-American community and civil rights movement.  He was actually “one of the original founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,” (Nedrow, 2003) the NAACP.  His writings about black Philadelphia are considered amongst social scientists today as “the first serious sociological study of the emerging black urban population” (University of Virginia, 2010).  Considering the increasing influence of African-Americans in American culture, Dubois’ work is a profound bank of their sociological history and ultimately, American history.

Oddly enough, the only conspicuous criticisms that came to Dubois were in the form of his contemporary African-American leaders, whom he would ultimately come to challenge in authorship and persuasiveness as a leader in their shared community.  This helps to explain the critical nature of an argument against Dubois.  Of course, Dubois’ work in the social sciences propelled him into the role of civil rights activist.  However, this role outshined much of his work as a social scientist, as it was much more sensational.  Being that as it may, the African-American community was somewhat torn between followers of Booker T. Washington, a then long-time activist.  Ironically, it was W.E.B. Dubois who would cast a much larger shadow over Washington in critiques of his own (W.E.B. Dubois Critiques Booker T. Washington, 1903) (Gibson).

Dubois’ legacy is certainly one that does a great deal to establish the argument of ‘nature vs. nurture’, a psychological theory that would come to dominate behavioral psychology.  As he and his African-American contemporaries were among the first generations able to prove themselves as equals to that of their European counterparts, largely free of stymieing.  Prove himself Dubois did.  He not only excelled at institutions reserved for those who were perhaps his most distrustful audience, but also at spearheading efforts for those that embodied that of his own.  To social scientists, the work of Dubois is meaningful in that it seeks to break with traditions that have come unraveled on their own merit many years later; an example being biological racism of the 19th century that dominated the discipline of society and anthropology (Robbins).

“A prolific scholar and social activist, DuBois is considered to be one of the greatest intellectuals of his time” (University of Virginia, 2010) .  For his contributions to American history, the African-American community, civil rights, and abolishment of acts and laws of segregation, he is not merely significant, he is vital to the health of humankind everywhere.  His efforts to further reform the social patterns that were particularly damning to people of color did a great deal to improve the condition of those who were lucky enough to be his contemporary peers.



Works Cited

Carter, K. (2002, January 22). defpg. Retrieved from University of Virginia American Studies: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG03/souls/defpg.html

Dubois, W. (2001, June 13). W.E.B. Dubois – My Birth and Family. Retrieved from Dead Socialogists Index: http://media.pfeiffer.edu/lridener/dss/DuBois/DUBOISP1.HTML

Gibson, R. A. (n.d.). 78.02.02 Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois: The Problem of Negro Leadership. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute: http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1978/2/78.02.02.x.html

Morse, D. J. (2008, January 13). DuBois, William Edward Burghardt. Retrieved from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – University of Tennessee at Martin: http://www.iep.utm.edu/dubois/

Nedrow, A. (2003). WEB DuBois. Retrieved from The Pennsylvania Center for the Book – Pennsylvania University Libraries: http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/DuBois__WEB.html

Robbins, R. H. (n.d.). Anthropology and Racism. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from State University of New York at Plattsburgh Anthropology Department: http://faculty.plattsburgh.edu/richard.robbins/legacy/editors_choice/scientific_racism.htm

University of Virginia. (2010, November 30). Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, History. Retrieved from Office of African American Affairs, University of Virginia: http://www.virginia.edu/oaaa/his_dubois.html

(1903). W.E.B. Dubois Critiques Booker T. Washington. In W. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk. Retrieved from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/40/


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