William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is a figure Africans recognize to have greater potential. His importance is revealed in the great works he did to improve the status of African Americans. W. E. B. Du Bois was a writer, leader, social scientist, educator, Pan-Africanist, poet, editor, and civil rights or political activist (Blum 2007; Hall, 2003; NAACP, 2017). He was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and died in Accra, Ghana on August 27, 1963. He was the most active leader of important black protests in the US during the first half of the twentieth century when he opposed the famous black leader, Booker T. Washington.

The most famous works Du Bois include fostering proper education, agitating for equal rights to shape the African Americans living in the United States, his sociological work, and his share in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909 (Moore, 2003).  Du Bois was also an editor of The Crisis from 1910 to 1934 and created a collection of essays that laid the foundation for African American literature (Rudwick, 2017). As a leader of the African-Americans, he facilitated the fall of Jim Crow Laws in the South and the Progressive Era.

Du Bois was driven by a philosophy based on performing intended actions “today and not some future day” (Lewis, 2017). The greatness and ability of W. E. B. Du Bois as shown in his great works in supporting African Americans can be discussed under three subtopics: 1) W.E.B. Du Bois as a racial activist, 2) as a scholar, and 3) as a Pan-Africanist. A more detailed account of this categorization is presented below.

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1. W. E. B. Du Bois as a Racial Activist

Du Bois studied within black institutions and graduated from Fisk University in 1888. During this time he encountered the poverty, segregation, and discrimination that blacks experienced in Tennessee. He became the first African American to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University, in 1895. Even then, he remained true to his roots and was always concerned about Africans. This is evident in his doctorial dissertation that was entitled, “The Suppression of African Slave Trade to the United States of America” that was published in 1896. He valued his training in social sciences took the opportunity to empirically study the condition of the blacks at a time when socialists were investigating race relations (Rudwick, 2017). Du Bois's concern for African Americans saw him spend over a decade of commitment to sociological examination of black Americans. He ended up with 16 research monographs which were published between 1897 and 1914 in Georgia Atlanta University. From his studies of the conditions of black Americans, Du Bois discovered a wide range of race problems including lynching, peonage, disfranchisement, segregation laws such as Jim Crow, and race riots. This is how he changed his earlier point of view that social science could provide insight for resolving race problems to the understanding that only agitation and protests would be effective.

Du Bois also disagreed with Booker T. Washington who in his philosophy of accommodation had encouraged blacks to temporarily accept discrimination and win respect of the whites by working hard to prosper economically. The disagreement was apparent in Du Bois’ book The Souls of Black Folk in which he clarified that the strategy adopted by Washington would only fuel the oppression instead of suppressing it (Blum, 2009). When writing this work, Du Bois gathered knowledge from his academic background in sociology as well as talents to exercise social and psychological perspectives of the experience of blacks in the white America (Rudwick, 2017; Blum, 2009). Later in 1905, Du Bois led the Niagara Movement which attacked Booker T. Washington.

Du Bois became the founder and general secretary of the Niagara movement in 1905. This was an African American protest family which comprised of scholars and professionals. Niagara was the first black-led organization that showed dedication to civil and political issues (Hall, 2003). Its objectives included promoting militant method of combating racial inequality (Asanta & Mattson, 1998). During activity in the United States, the movement opposed local discriminative actions. It made use of a newspaper, Work of the Negro. The Niagara movement grievances were made public by Du Bois using the Moon (founded in 1906) and the Horizon (of 1907 to 1910), which he edited. This movement was affected by internal conflicts and hostility from Washington but it laid the foundation for ideologies and inspired the inter-racial NAACP.

Moreover, the unequal influence that Du Bois observed among middle-class blacks and the whites gave him the ideas he used to support the black protest in the period from 1910 to 1934 (Rudwick, 2017). He also directed publicity and research, became a member of board of directors, and edited the Crisis between 1910 and 1934. The Crisis was the monthly magazine for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to which he was one of the founders (Moore, 2003). Using the Crisis, Du Bois continually expressed concerns that were resentful and dismissive of actions of white Americans. Du Bois also made the magazine to serve as a store for important information and as a symbol of pride for the African Americans. He also used the magazine to promote African American writers. He always wanted the readers of The Crisis to recognize the “beauty in black”. Du Bois led NAACP in the period post World War I and it was the most popular protest group of the time. The complaints of the period were aimed at achieving a legislation that would oppose lynching (NAACP, 2017).

In 1934, Du Bois established a better strategy that was against NAACP’s devotion to integration. In this regard, he resigned from NAACP as well as the Crisis and pursued the African American nationalist agenda that focused on establishing institutions, schools, and economic cooperatives which would be controlled by African Americans (Asanta & Mattson, 1998). This was driven by his belief that blacks needed their own ‘group economy’ composed of consumers and producers cooperation. The ideology emerged as a result of the 1930s economic catastrophe. To him, this was necessary equipment in the fight against economic discrimination and would help eradicate black poverty since it would ensure black capitalization and promote black business (Rudwick, 2017). He was also opposed to NAACP because he believed the organization only cared about the interests of the bourgeoisie but paid little attention to the needs of the public.

Du Bois later returned to NAACP (1944-1948) as the director of special research. He utilized the opportunity to actively present to the United Nations the grievances of African Americans. During this time Du Bois worked as a consultant to the UN convention in 1945, and wrote An Appeal to the World in 1947. Du Bois became a member of the Socialist party 1910 up to 1912, and proudly considered himself a Socialist. He also participated in major events and held posts in various parties including: being co-chairman of Council on African Affairs in 1948; attending New York, Paris, together with Moscow peace congresses in 1949; becoming the chairman of the Peace Information Center; and finally running for US Senate in New York using the American Labor party ticket in 1950.  He travelled extensively in Russia and China from 1958 to 1959, and came to Africa to establish his residence in Ghana in 1961 (NAACP, 2017).

2. W. E. B Du Bois as a Pan-Africanist

Du Bois had major concern for all people who had African descent in all their dwelling areas, in Africa and America. This attribute contributed to his active involvement with pan-Africanism. He even attended the First Pan-African Conference of 1900, which was held in London, and gained the position of the vice president. His passion for Africans was so strong that he established a pan-African department within the Niagara movement. He also attended the First Universal Races Congress accompanied by black intellectuals from Africa and West Indies.

Du Bois aimed to unite all peoples with African descent throughout his work and particularly made this clear by holding several pan-African Congresses, between 1919 and 1927, to be attended by intellectuals from Africa, West Indies, and the United States (Asanta & Mattson, 1998).  The congresses opened the doors for Africans from Africa and from America to discuss racism among other oppressive acts that affected Africans in all regions of the globe (Lewis, 2017). During these gatherings colonialism was condemned as well as oppression of Africans, and resolutions were passed (Lewis, 2001). Du Bois believed that all peoples of African descent shared interests hence needed to work together in their struggles for freedom. The congresses thus provided him the opportunity to put race issue at a broader, trans-Atlantic setting (Hall, 2003).

The Fifth Pan African Congress followed the World War II and was attended by Jomo Kenyatta, Amy Garvey, and Kwame Nkurumah. In the Fifth Congress that was held in Manchester, England, Du Bois was elected the chairman though he was deprived of power. Younger activists such as Kwame Nkurumah and George Padmore were instead empowered during this time. Inspired by activities of Du Bois, these younger activists took active role in the fight for independence of the countries they came from. Du Bois used his career to fight racial inequality (Lewis, 2001; Lewis, 2017). During his membership and leadership at the American Negro Academy, Du Bois developed the ‘talented tenth’ ideology which stated that educating African Americans could promote equality in the United States. His support for black education became apparent during the Harlem Renaissance (Aberjhani, 2003), when he argued that racial equality was attainable through arts. In fact, he promoted several African Americans in visual arts and in writing (Moore, 2003).

Du Bois had gone to Europe in 1921 to attend the second pan-African Congress. He managed to summon black leaders from all over the world, issued London Resolutions, and situated the pan-African association headquarters in Paris, France. The London resolutions stated that blacks needed race equality and the freedom to be ruled by fellow Africans (Hall, 2003). Du Bois further informed the League of Nations about the congress resolutions and requested the organization to address labor concerns and even appoint Africans to strategic positions. However, the league did not obey this call. The final move by Du Bois exhibited his desire to live among Africans as he did not decline the request of President Kwame Nkurumah, who wanted him to become a citizen of his country in 1961. To Du Bois this step was also a pan-Africanism gesture and would benefit him when directing the Encyclopedia Africana (NAACP, 2017).

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3. W. E. B. Du Bois as a Scholar

Du Bois was the chairman of Sociology department at Atlanta University and launched Phylon, a quarterly journal for social sciences for ‘review of race and culture’, and later in 1935 wrote the Black Reconstruction 1860-1880 in America. He managed to give a clearer account of the important role that had been played by African and African Americans for the American society during the struggle for freedom (Asanta & Mattson, 1998). The book utilized Marxist concepts and attacked racist behavior in American historiography. Despite the sharp criticism on this piece of work, it remained the most significant source of information regarding this subject (NAACP, 2017). The book also expressed the complexity of the conflict between the blacks and the whites. Using his other work of 1939, Black Falk: Then and Now, he managed to reconstruct and maintain the history of black people who lived in Africa and others that lived in the new World. In 1945, he wrote Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace to call for independence of all Africans.

His book of 1947, The World and Africa: An Inquiry looks into the role played by Africans in world history as well as the significance and sophistication of African history and culture. With regards to promoting African history, his other works such as The Black Flame of 1961 and An ABC of Color of 1963 are worth noting. Du Bois gained power through academic excellence and promoted African American writers, while leading by example. He received several honorary degrees, became a lifetime member of American Association for the advancement of Science, and a member of the National Institute of arts and Letters. All his life, he was the most recognized African American intellectual (NAACP, 2017; Asanta & Mattson, 1998). Even after his death, which occurred on the eve of the march of civil rights, he received a state funeral at which Kwame Nkurumah acknowledged the fact that Du Bois was “a phenomenon”.

Starting with his doctorate dissertation, Du Bois explored the plight of Africans who had been brought to the Americas as a result of slave trade. The history of these individuals had been difficult to record because of the complexity of literature, requiring that they attain a particular education level, understand the economic condition, and grow group consciousness. Du Bois overcome these odds by attaining the highest level of education African Americans of his time ever achieved and actively engaged in political activities. At Fisk University, Du Bois experienced the racism and poverty of the blacks and detected the suffering of the blacks (Lewis, 2017). This inspired him to devote his life to ending racism and uplifting the African Americans. Du Bois graduated from Fisk in 1888 and proceeded to Harvard University for masters’ degree, a doctorate, and the later fellowship to study two years at the University of Berlin, Germany. He was fully qualified to reconstruct African history. In the Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois required white Americans to be accountable for encouraging racial inequality.

This book was a combination of history, philosophy and music that were put together to encourage the fight against racism (Hall, 2003). It described the origin and lifestyle of Africans following liberation from slavery in 1862. Among other objectives, this book was intended to inform the white Americans that blacks were no longer inferior. It pointed to the state of post-civil war and reminded all about the role Africans played in American society, as a source of evidence that blacks had gained superiority. The writing also aimed to speed bitter yet long-lasting war by Africans in order to set a place for them in history. The book contained portraits of phenomenon figures collected during Du Bois’ tours in the south and described the social and economic conditions of rural poverty to expose the relationship between the two races, black and white, reconsider leadership, and explain the role of education in uplifting the black society (Hall, 2003).

He also encouraged Africans to fully utilize the educational opportunity they got, to raise the social status of their race (Lewis, 2017). The renaissance began in 1910 when education began to spread widely, enabling self-expression. At this time too, several individuals had risen above the lowest poverty ranking. The prevalent features of the period matched the duration of the slave trade abolition narratives. W. E. B. Du Bois is categorized among individuals whose works expressed the Negro’s social issues (Rudwick, 2017). These literary works encouraged rewriting of African history from the Negro perspective.  


W.E.B. Du Bois is remembered for his dedication in ensuring racial justice and the power he showed in shaping black consciousness. Du Bois exercised the knowledge from his academic achievements to tune his language and ideas so as to clearly communicate his strategy for promoting equality and focus on black experience after the slavery period. The Soul of Black Folk was therefore important in reconstructing the picture of the black people after they had been liberated from slavery in 1862. This deep interest in the black society was cultivated by the reality he met at Tennessee, while studying at Fisk University.

Du Bois realized how the ex-slaves had plunged deep into poverty, degradation and discrimination, only a few years after celebrating liberation from slavery. The experience was so bitter yet it made him remember his roots, and right there, he concluded that he was ‘a Negro’. All through hos career, he struggled to expose the real life conditions of his fellow Negroes, writing about the life behind the veil. Du Bois is famous for recognizing that racism and segregation which excluded blacks from the normal life-stream that white Americans enjoyed.

Du Bois accepted that African Americans were destined to belong to two different races, and have a divided soul, but even then he did not agree with fact that Africans used the “eyes of other races” to look at themselves. He therefore wrote the Soul of Black Folk to facilitate the undoing of the “Jim Crow” legislation, which had encouraged segregation of public facilities in the south. Du Bois also condemned the charismatic strategy and educational program, and campaigned for ‘saving elite’ or the ‘talented tenth’. These would direct the fight for civil rights. Du was also a pro-Femist and entered many political and emotional alliances with women activists.