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DuBois, W.E.B. (1868-1963)

W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963): Scholar, Editor, and Founding Member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

By Catherine A. Paul

W.E.B. DuBois
W.E.B. DuBois
Photo: Public Domain

William Edward Burghardt DuBois, or W. E. B. DuBois, was born February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and died August 27, 1963 in Accra, Ghana. DuBois was a sociologist and is credited as one of the most important protest leaders of the early 1900s. Moreover, DuBois helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. In his later life, DuBois became associated with communism (Rudwick, n.d.).  

DuBois graduated from Fisk University in 1888 and received his PhD from Harvard University in 1895. Upon graduating, DuBois spent over a decade conducting empirical sociological investigations about black life in America, and he subsequently produced 16 research monographs as a professor at the University of Georgia. Furthermore, DuBois authored The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study in 1899, which was the first case study analyzing a black community (Rudwick, n.d.).

At the beginning of his career, DuBois believed that America’s social problems, specifically regarding race, could be solved through the application of social science. However, his exposure to racism, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, and race riots led him to believe that agitation and protest were the only viable tools of social change. This point of view contrasted the urgings of Booker T. Washington, one of the most influential black leaders of the time. Washington, conversely, believed that African Americans should accept discrimination in the short term and work towards economic progress to gain the respect of the white community. In response to Washington’s position, DuBois wrote The Souls of Black Folk, criticizing Washington’s point of view as a way to perpetuate, rather than stamp out, racism. This criticism polarized the black community generally into two camps: conservative supporters of Washington and radical supporters of DuBois (Rudwick, n.d.). Despite these disagreements, however, the personal relationship between Washington and DuBois remained cordial (Alexander, 2015).

In 1905, DuBois helped found the Niagara Movement in hopes of undermining Washington’s platform. Though it only met regularly for four years, the Niagara Movement provided the foundation for the establishment of the NAACP. DuBois became the NAACP’s director of research, and he edited The Crisis, the NAACP magazine. Though his roles were primarily integrationist, DuBois frequently exhibited separatist-nationalist ideals. This was especially evident in his advocacy of Pan-Africanism, the belief that all people of African descent had common interests and needed to collaborate as they worked towards freedom (Rudwick, n.d.).

DuBois led the first Pan-African conference in 1900 in London, and he created four Pan-African Congresses, held between 1919 and 1927. Moreover, DuBois asserted the “Beauty in Black,” urging his community to develop black literature and art. He also requested that African Americans develop their own group economy to combat economic discrimination (Rudwick, n.d.). DuBois’ efforts in aiding artistic endeavors in the black community earned him a prominent position in the “Negro Renaissance” (DeMarco, 1983).

In 1934, DuBois resigned from the NAACP, criticizing them as a tool of the black bourgeoisie, rather than a support system for the larger black community. DuBois moved to Atlanta to teach at Atlanta University. He also founded “Phylon,” the school’s “Review of Race and Culture” magazine. Dubois also published Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 and An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. The former provided readers with a Marxist lens through which they could examine the Reconstruction era, and it was the first compilation of information regarding the role of African Americans in American history. The latter publication described DuBois’ role in the African and African American fight for freedom, using his career to highlight the complexities of racial conflict (Rudwick, n.d.).

In 1944, DuBois returned to the NAACP, but left again in 1948, becoming increasingly radical. In 1951, DuBois was indicted as an unregistered agent for a foreign power after identifying with pro-Russian causes. Though he was acquitted, DuBois joined the Communist party, moved to Ghana, and renounced his American citizenship (Rudwick, n.d.).

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

For further reading:

The Crisis, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania


Alexander, S. L. (2015). W. E. B. Du Bois: An American intellectual and activist. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

DeMarco, J. P. (1983). The social thought if W. E. B. DuBois. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Rudwick, E. (n.d.). W. E. B. Du Bois: American sociologist and social reformer. In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved from

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2017). W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963): Scholar, editor, and founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from

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