William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 - August 27, 1963) was an American civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, historian, author, and editor. Historian David Levering Lewis wrote, "In the course of his long, turbulent career, W. E. B. Du Bois attempted virtually every possible solution to the problem of twentieth-century racism- scholarship, propaganda, integration, national self-determination, human rights, cultural and economic separatism, politics, international communism, expatriation, third world solidarity.
Du Bois was the most prominent intellectual leader and political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. A contemporary of Booker T. Washington, he carried on a dialogue with the educator about segregation, political disfranchisement, and ways to improve African American life. He was labeled "The Father of Pan-Africanism."
In 1910, Du Bois left Atlanta University to work full-time as Publications Director at the NAACP. He also wrote columns published weekly in many newspapers, including the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle as well as the African American Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Amsterdam News. For 25 years, Du Bois worked as editor-in-chief of the NAACP publication, The Crisis, then subtitled A Record of the Darker Races. He commented freely and widely on current events and set the agenda for the fledgling NAACP. The journal's circulation soared from 1,000 in 1910 to more than 100,000 by 1920.
Du Bois was one of a number of African-American leaders investigated by the FBI, which claimed in May 1942 that "his writing indicates him to be a socialist". He was chairman of the Peace Information Center at the start of the Korean War, and among the signers of the Stockholm Peace Pledge, which opposed the use of nuclear weapons.
In 1950, at the age of 82, Du Bois ran for U.S. Senator from New York on the American Labor Party ticket and polled a little over 200,000 votes, about 4 % of the total. Although he lost, Du Bois remained committed to the progressive labor cause. In 1958, he would join with Trotskyites, ex-Communists and independent radicals in proposing the creation of a united left-wing coalition to challenge for seats in elections for the New York State Senate and Assembly.
Du Bois was invited to Ghana in 1961 by President Kwame Nkrumah to direct the Encyclopedia Africana, a government production, and a long-held dream of his. When, in 1963, he was refused a new U.S. passport, he and his wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois, became citizens of Ghana. Contrary to some opinions (including David Levering Lewis's Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Du Bois), he never renounced his US citizenship, even when denied a passport to travel to Ghana. Du Bois' health had declined in 1962, and on August 27, 1963, he died in Accra, Ghana at the age of ninety-five, one day before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. At the March on Washington, Roy Wilkins informed the hundreds of thousands of marchers and called for a moment of silence.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.