Du Bois, W. E. B.

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was an influential African-American sociologist, writer, and leader during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and afterward. Du Bois’s childhood in Massachusetts was remarkably free from virulent racism. He attended historically black Fisk University in Tennessee partially to experience being part of an African-American majority. His time in the South opened his eyes to the endemic and often horrific injustices faced by black Americans. After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895—the first African American to do so—Du Bois went on to teach sociology and history at Atlanta University. While there he authored his most famous work, The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903. He would go on to publish more than thirty books.

In 1905 Du Bois helped found the Niagara Movement. This group advocated racial equality and rejected Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist stance on race relations. They protested Roosevelt’s discharge of 167 African-American soldiers in the Brownsville incident of 1906. By 1911, however, the group had ceased to exist.

After the Springfield, Illinois, race riot of 1908, Du Bois helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Du Bois served as editor for the NAACP’s official journal The Crisis from 1910 until 1934, when he left the organization.

When Roosevelt made his bid for the presidency in 1912, Du Bois was initially supportive. He drafted a racial equality plank for the Progressive party’s platform, but when it was rejected Du Bois put his support behind Woodrow Wilson. Du Bois would later criticize Wilson’s racial policies.

Meanwhile, Du Bois’ view of Roosevelt softened. In 1917, after Roosevelt spoke out against the violent race riot in East St. Louis, Du Bois sent him a letter of praise. On November 2, 1918, Du Bois introduced Roosevelt for his last public speech, delivered before the Circle for Negro War Relief at Carnegie Hall. It was the only time the two ever met.     

Du Bois spent the rest of his life writing and advocating for the rights of African Americans. He died in Ghana on August 17, 1963, where he had been working on the unfinished Encyclopedia Africana.