William Edward Burghardt DuBois was a scholar, writer, and revolutionary who sought to bring freedom to African-Americans in America through uniting them with other oppressed groups around the world particularly in Africa. He also wanted blacks to gain an intellectual education which he believed could propel them to new heights and positions of leadership. As the nation's first black sociologist, DuBois dispelled the popular myths of racial inferiority through his scientific research. He later became the leading proponent of black separatism, calling for direct civil rights action as the only means of achieving social, political, and economic equality.
DuBois was born in February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was always keenly interested in the history of the black race. To this end he gladly accepted a position working for the New York Globe at the age of 15. At the same time he excelled in his studies and set his sites on Harvard.
It would not be Harvard right away for DuBois but Nashville's Fisk College which he was able to attend on scholarship. While in Nashville he was exposed to massive racial discrimination for the first time and he grew in his knowledge of the race issues that prevented African-Americans from becoming full citizens of the United States. DuBois taught school in the country during his summers where he witness the terrible conditions in which people were forced to live.
DuBois graduated from Fisk and finally got into Harvard where he received a bachelor's degree in 1890 and his master's in 1891. DuBois was selected by the school to study abroad and DuBois found himself at the University of Berlin. In Berlin he unified his study of history, economics, and politics. He returned to Harvard to write his doctoral dissertation "The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in America."
After earning his doctorate DuBois accepted a teaching position in Ohio. In 1896 he left Ohio to study the slums of Philadelphia on a special fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, Dubois believed racism was caused by ignorance. He developed a scientific approach to the study of the underlying problems within the slums. This was one of the first complete social science studies of its kind.
After Philadelphia he accepted a position at Atlanta University. He wrote and studied about morality and urbanization. It was during this time that DuBois and Booker T. Washington had their personal battles on how to best move the black population forward in American society.
Washington thought African-American youth should learn practical skills first combined with a general education to prepare them for the workforce. He thought blacks should stay out of politics until after they learned to work within the system. Washington also believed in integration of blacks within American society a position which DuBois would eventually rule to be a lost cause. DuBois was a strong proponent of higher education which he saw as a way to a higher civilization. He, as an outspoken individual, believed in loud and strong public advocacy of change.
As a counter to Washington's position and power in the country, the Niagara Movement was founded in 1906. The original objectives of the Movement were to advocate civil justice and abolish caste discrimination. The Movement had its problems both internally and externally and in 1909 all the original members except for one merged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which was at the time run by white liberals. DuBois was named the Director of Publications and Research although he was never comfortable with the NAACP.
DuBois was a lightening rod. He became editor-in-chief of the "Crisis" magazine and his editorials led to battles within the NAACP. Nevertheless, DuBois kept calling for the leadership of blacks instead of whites in the organization and discussing the injustices suffered by blacks.
After World War I, DuBois tried to found a Pan-African movement because he believed for American blacks to be free blacks everywhere would have to be free. He did not garner much support for this effort but he did not let that stop him.
He decided to try again in 1921 but ran headlong into Marcus Garvey who had established the Universal Negro Improvement Association to unite Africa and its descendents. DuBois tried to ignore Garvey and have a conference in 1923. The turnout was minimal.
DuBois decided on returning to America that it might be time to change his approach to that of what he had seen in Russia in 1927. He felt integration would not happen in the near term. He felt power needed to be placed in the hands of the masses that provided the labor for America. He firmly believed a segregated, socialized economy was the only hope for black Americans.
By 1933 he decided he could no longer co-exist within the NAACP. He left "Crisis" magazine and returned to Atlanta to write two books "Black Reconstruction" and "Dusk of Dawn." He continued his attacks on imperialism and in 1945 served as a consultant to the American delegation at the founding of the United Nations. He claimed the organization would be controlled by imperialist nations and that their colonies would not have a voice. Consequently, he called for a fifth Pan-African Congress and this time he received support (Garvey had died in 1941 in exile).
African revolutionaries and others involved with the international revolutionary movement attended the conference and named DuBois International President. As the chairman of the Peace Information Center, he demanded the outlawing of atomic weapons. His constant activist rhetoric antagonized the Department of Justice who demanded he register as a foreign agent. When DuBois refuse, the government pressed charges but lacked sufficient evidence to enforce the action and DuBois was acquitted.
DuBois' distrust and hatred of the system was further inflamed and he spread his disaffection around the world. This time he would not return to the United States. The president of Ghana asked him to direct an effort called Encyclopedia Africana and DuBois accepted. He became a Ghanian citizen and an official member of the Communist party.