The Tremendous and Unforgettable Impact of W.E.B. Du Bois

From a small town in Massachusetts to being a founding member of the NAACP, follow the story of W.E.B Du Bois.

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Founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or the NAACP, W.E.B Du Bois was also an African American teacher, sociologist, writer and activist. He was one of the first activists to use data to help write about and solve issues Black citizens were facing. Writing many essays and books, Du Bois was able to help reshape the way Black citizens were viewed in the United States.

Early Life

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born to parents Mary Silvina Burghardt and Alfred Du Bois on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His mother was a domestic worker, and his father was a barber and a traveling laborer. Alfred Du Bois enlisted in the Civil War as a private but abandoned his position. Unfortunately, he similarly did the same thing after his son William was born, leaving him to be raised by the Burghardt side of the family.

Map of Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
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While being raised by his mother and the rest of the Burghardt family, Du Bois spent his childhood in Massachusetts. He went to a racially integrated high school where he received a college preparatory education and became the first African American graduate. Not only did he excel in his studies, but he also wrote a number of articles for two newspapers, The Republican, and a black-owned newspaper, The Globe.

College Life

Du Bois enrolled at Harvard in 1888. There he earned a Bachelor of Art in 1890, a Masters degree in 1891, and a PhD in 1895. He also completed a study on the Seventh Ward in Philadelphia, published as The Philadelphia Negro, which was part of the Underground Railroad, at the University of Pennsylvania in 1897. The study is one of the first studies to use statics in order to discuss sociology issues. Du Bois concluded from his study that the main issues Black communities faced were crime, poverty, mistrust for others out of the community and lack of education. Soon after this publication, he began teaching at Atlanta University teaching sociology. He also directed empirical studies of the economic, social, institutional, and cultural lives of African Americans.

During his time at Atlanta University, Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folk, which was a collection of essays that discussed the Black experience in the United States. The publication highlighted some of Du Bois’ personal experiences. The essays also touch on “double consciousness”, which says African Americans not only think of how they view themselves but also how the people around them, white people specifically, view them as well. This went on to influence the civil rights movement promoting post-colonial thinking in the United States and worldwide.

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Adult Life

In 1904, Du Bois became part of the Niagara Movement. It was an organization intended to advocate for full civil and political rights for African Americans, but the organization was ultimately unsuccessful. Through the failure of the Niagara Movement came the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or the NAACP, a biracial organization.

Some founders of the NAACP.
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After violence and inequality became more widespread throughout the South, Du Bois joined the NAACP in 1910 as an officer. He was their only Black board member, and he edited their monthly magazine, The Crisis, as well. As the editor of the magazine, Du Bois was able to spread his ideas and beliefs to larger groups of African Americans. He was able to gather support for the policies of the NAACP and speak out against lynching, new legislation, and white opposition.

The NAACP Today

Today the NAACP envisions an inclusive community where everyone can practice their human rights without facing discrimination. Under their current President, Derrick Johnson, in 2021, the NAACP called for a Cabinet-level position in the Biden Administration that focuses solely on the nation’s deep-rooted racial injustice. President Biden signed an Executive Order that formed an interagency that would focus on eliminating systematic racism. The organization has over 25,000 members involved in youth groups fighting for civil rights and over 2 million members altogether. The NAACP continues to fight for social, political, and cultural equality for Black persons and all persons of color.


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