W.E.B. Du Bois was an American civil rights activist, sociologist and writer who is famous for being the foremost black leader during the first half of the twentieth century, opposing racism and fighting for the civil rights of African Americans. Du Bois made important contributions to sociology starting from his first major work The Philadelphia Negro. He co-founded the NAACP; was editor of its journal The Crisis; was a leading Pan-Africanist; and wrote many important books including The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction. Know more about the contributions of WEB Du Bois by studying his 10 major accomplishments.
#1 He WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO EARN A PH.D. FROM HARVARD UNIVERSITY
Du Bois joined the Harvard College in 1888. In 1890, he received his bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard. From 1892 to 1894, on a Slater Fund fellowship, he attended the University of Berlin, among the most prestigious universities in Europe. In 1895, W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. His dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published as No. 1 in the Harvard Historical Series.
#2 HIS PHILADELPHIA NEGRO WAS THE FIRST CASE STUDY OF A BLACK COMMUNITY IN U.S.
In 1896, Du Bois accepted a research job at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He went from house to house in African-American neighborhoods conducting personal interviews. He then combined his data with census data to analyze the social and economic conditions of African Americans in Philadelphia. This laid the foundation of his first major academic work, The Philadelphia Negro, which was published in 1899. The work was a breakthrough in scholarship as it was the first scientific statistically-based social science study in the U.S. and the first case study of a black community in the United States.
#3 HE WROTE THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK
Among the greatest works by Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk was published in 1903. It is a collection of 14 essays in which he explores and defines some of the key themes of the African-American experience like his famous concept of “double-consciousness”. The term applies to an African American viewing himself not only from his own perspective but also from how the white world views him. The Souls of Black Folk became the foundation text for movements of the black community. It is considered a cornerstone of African-American literary history and a classic work of American literature.
#4 HE LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR EQUAL RIGHTS
Influential African American leader Booker T. Washington had struck a deal with Southern white leaders known as the Atlanta compromise, by which blacks were to submit to white political rule in return for basic education and due process in law. Du Bois opposed this and insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation. He co-founded and led Niagara Movement, a black civil rights organization opposing the Atlanta compromise. He also publicized the concept of The Talented Tenth, a term to describe the likelihood of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race. To help The Talented Tenth realize their potential he pushed for classical education as opposed to the industrial education promoted by the Atlanta compromise. Du Bois’s ideas ultimately prevailed over Booker T. Washington marking the ascendancy of the African American fight for equal rights.
#5 He CO-FOUNDED NAACP AND WAS EDITOR OF ITS MAGAZINE
Along with Moorfield Storey and Mary White Ovington, W.E.B. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The NAACP became the leading African-American civil rights organization of the 20th century and remains active till date. In 1910, the NAACP launched its official journal The Crisis. The magazine was phenomenally successful and its circulation would reach 100,000 in 1920. Du Bois was its editor for first 24 years before he resigned from NAACP due to dispute over organizational policy and direction. He re-joined NAACP as director of the Department of Special Research in 1944 but renewed disputes caused his removal in 1948.
#6 HE PLAYED A LEADING ROLE IN OPPOSING RACISM IN U.S.
As a prominent member of NAACP and the editor of its journal, Du Bois played an influential role in opposing racism. He waged a war against lynching, writing several pieces against the practice including an in-depth report of the lynching of Jesse Washington titled “Waco Horror”. In 1914 he wrote an editorial deploring the dismissal of blacks from federal posts. In 1917, 50 to 250 African Americans were massacred by whites due to resentment caused by St. Louis industry hiring blacks to replace striking white workers. Du Bois condemned the incident in his article “The Massacre of East St. Louis”. Du Bois wrote numerous other pieces against racism in U.S. which brought the topic to the forefront in the nation.
#7 He WAS A LEADING INTELLECTUAL OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE
Though he later distanced himself from the movement, W.E.B. Du Bois was among the leading intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance (1918 to mid-1930s). As editor of The Crisis, he provided a platform for several well-known writers of the movement, including Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. Du Bois’s ideas, views, and concepts like ‘double consciousness’ played an important part in the renaissance and were widely used by writers of the movement. Also, his articles for The Crisis played an important part in spreading the movement.
#8 HE CHANGED THE PREVAILING VIEW ABOUT RECONSTRUCTION ERA
The prevailing view at the time of Du Bois was that Reconstruction Era failed due to the ineptitude and corruption of the black community in the South. Du Bois countered this view through his superlative work, Black Reconstruction in America, published in 1935. Through extensive research and analysis, he documented how African Americans were central figures in American Civil War and Reconstruction. He also provided evidence of how they made alliances with whites and how the coalition governments established public education and social service programs. Though Black Reconstruction was initially ignored by historians, it was re-evaluated in the 1960s and ignited a revisionist trend in the historiography of Reconstruction. By 21st century it was considered the definitive text on the role of African Americans in Reconstruction.
#9 W.E.B. DU BOIS WAS AMONG THE MOST PROMINENT PAN-AFRICANIST
Du Bois endeavored for the cause of people of color not only in U.S. but around the world, including Africa and Asia. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism helping its effort to fight for independence of African colonies from European powers. He attended the First Pan-African Conference in July 1900. He then helped in organizing a series of pan-African congresses around the world with the last one being in late 1945, where he was elected as president. Also his 1915 book The Negro enhanced support for Pan-Africanism.
#10 HE WAS THE FOREMOST BLACK PROTEST LEADER IN U.S.
W.E.B. Du Bois was a prolific writer and wrote 21 books including 3 autobiographies and 5 novels. He edited 4 magazines, coedited a magazine for children, and produced numerous articles and speeches. Apart from being among the leading writers of the time, Du Bois was the most important black protest leader in U.S. during the first half of the 20th century. He was the voice of the black community for many young African Americans. He was also a lifelong anti-war activist and was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by USSR in 1959.
17 thoughts on “10 Major Accomplishments of W. E. B. Du Bois”
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