Skip to Content

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois

"History cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man." — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

W.E.B. DuBois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. A prolific scholar and social activist, DuBois is considered to be one of the greatest intellectuals of his time, regardless of race.

DuBois earned his bachelor's degree from Fisk University. In 1888, he entered Harvard University and spent two years at the distinguished University of Berlin. In 1895, he became the first African American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard. His doctoral thesis, The Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade in America was the first volume in Harvard's Historical Series.

DuBois accepted appointments to teach at Wilberforce University and the University of Pennsylvania before heading the departments of history and economics at Atlanta University. While in Pennsylvania, DuBois studied the African-American immigrants in Philadelphia and published The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899), the first serious sociological study of the emerging black urban population.

In 1903, DuBois published The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays on the Black experience since emancipation. Souls proved to be prophetic as DuBois proclaimed, "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line." A world classic, The Souls of Black Folk is the most celebrated of DuBois' work, and it continues to influence struggles for peace, justice and self-determination. This year marks the 100th anniversary of The Souls of Black Folk.

In 1909, DuBois merged his organization, the Niagara Movement, with a group of white intellectuals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He served as the director of publicity and research and edited Crisis magazine for twenty-five years.

DuBois dedicated his life to advocacy for equality and independence. His political activism and socialist ideals warranted criticism and governmental attacks. In 1961, DuBois moved to Ghana and began work on a ten volume Encyclopedia Africana. In 1963, he became a Ghanaian citizen and died in Accra on August 27 at the age of ninety-five. Harvard professors Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. were inspired by DuBois's dream and completed Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience.