Re-Introducing W.E.B Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer, and editor. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a majority-white community.

While many of Du Bois’ contemporaries theorized about race, Du Bois applied sociological principles to identify meaningful solutions to the problems associated with racism. Researching racism as a social system, he was determined to learn as much as he could in an attempt to find the “cure” for prejudice and discrimination. His investigation, statistical measurements, and sociological interpretation of this endeavor were published as "The Philadelphia Negro." This was the first time such a scientific approach to studying social phenomenon was undertaken, which is why Du Bois is often called the Father of Social Science.

In 1903, Du Bois published a groundbreaking collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, which challenged the civil rights strategies of black leaders like Washington while inspiring a cadre of young black activist scholars to use their work to combat racial oppression. Du Bois developed arguments that race was socially constructed, during and in the Jim Crow south and at a time when many white sociologists viewed blacks as biologically and culturally inferior to whites. Souls of Black Folk predicted that the problem of the twentieth century would be the problem of the “color line.” Du Bois presented the concept of “double consciousness” as a framework for understanding the black psyche. For Du Bois, Black people are both haunted and hunted by this twoness-- how white people view them, and how Black people view themselves. Du Bois introduces the concept of “the veil”—the border of an all-black world. In a society that for centuries has drawn absolute boundaries between black people and white people—social boundaries, legal boundaries, economic boundaries, physical boundaries—black social life under conditions of segregation has developed its own reason and rhythm. The veil, derived as it is from the painful constraints of slavery Jim Crow and its aftermath.

Du Bois argued that White Americans needed to take responsibility for their contributions to the problem of racial inequality. He delineated the flaws he saw in Washington’s argument, but he also agreed that Black Americans must take better advantage of educational opportunities to uplift their race as they simultaneously fought racism directly. Du Bois' concern for racial equality was not limited to the United States, as he was an activist for equality for people of African descent throughout the world. As a leader of the Pan-African movement, Du Bois organized conferences for the Pan-African Congress, including its inaugural gathering in 1919. Leaders from Africa and the Americas assembled to discuss racism and oppression—issues that people of African descent faced worldwide. In 1961, Du Bois moved to Ghana and renounced his U.S. citizenship. With the support of Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Du Bois became the editor of the proposed Africana Encyclopedia. Before the project was completed, Du Bois died in Accra, Ghana on August 27, 1963.

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Written by Mazen Alsafi

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