W.E.B. Du Bois
by Alex O’Rourke
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, (1868 – 1963) better known as W.E.B. Du Bois, is an African American sociologist, teacher, writer, and activist. Du Bois went to Harvard University in 1888, receiving an advanced degree in history and becoming the first African American to receive their doctorate from Harvard soon after. “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870,” was his doctoral thesis, which became his first book.
Through further study and writing, Du Bois became confident that the African American community’s most pressing challenges were crime, poverty, distrust of community outsiders, and a lack of education. Du Bois took a job at The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics where he further conducted sociological studies of southern black households located in Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia. He discovered the lingering effects of slavery on African American’s personal lives. The public became familiar with Du Bois upon the publication of his “The Strivings of the Negro People” in the Atlantic Monthly, which was an essay explaining the emotions behind victimization of racism to white people. In the essay, Du Bois explains when the realization of his otherness as an African American dawned on him. He writes about the veil separating skin colors that he discovered he was placed behind, catergorized and treated as less than. He further explained that no desire to break or pass through the veil existed within him, demonstrating his pride and lack of interest in appealing to those who treated other humans in such a way as this. He further introduces the double-consciousness sensation, which he explains as “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…” (Du Bois). Du Bois further explains the two-ness experienced as an American and a Negro, “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Du Bois).
He continued to teach, study, and write, leading to The Souls of Black Folk, his book of sociological essays examining the black experience in America. Du Bois in this text champions himself as “I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil” (Du Bois). Du Bois’ passion is speaking publicly in criticism of corruptive customs and uniting those who are marginalized and left in silence. He reintroduces the idea of the veil, outlining the world in which those who live inside and outside of it live, in an attempt to highlight the history and present effects of discrimination.
In 1905, Du Bois became founder and general secretary of the Niagara Movement which was an African American protest group. As instruments for the movement, Du Bois published The Moon (1906), the first weekly magazine for African Americans, producing a total of 34 issues before it was succeeded by the journal Horizon (1907-1910). These magazines acted as Du Bois’ activist agenda and an outlet which promoted the freedom to speak, further uniting African Americans and giving them platforms to address both sides of the metaphorical veil. Both magazines provided perspective and revealed a collective consciousness.
In 1910, Du Bois moved to New York City and was among the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) serving as director of publicity and research as well as editor of its monthly magazine The Crisis. The magazine was a huge and influential success concerning race relations, black culture, and women’s suffrage. Du Bois used the platform to express agitation at white Americans while simultaneously providing information and pride to African Americans. He expressed that if his words were not provocative they would not be read and would have no influence.
While working for the NAACP, he also published his first novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Du Bois turned to fiction to reach those unfamiliar with his non-fictional works, ensuring the spread of his message of racial inequality, prejudice, and continued oppression.
Critical theorist Achille Mbembe mentions Du Bois in the opening chapter of his book, Necropolitics, which calls out a world history plagued by inequality, marginalization, and terror. Mbembe calls out the pro-slavery history of the United States, utilizing Du Bois Black Reconstruction which calls out the paradox between slavery allowance and the proclamation that all men were created equal. Mbembe explains, “concerning the law, slaves occupied the position of the foreigner within a society of fellow humans'' (Mbembe 17). Du Bois championed new ways of thinking, uniting, and educating, doing so across multiple platforms, schools, states, and texts.
Du Bois W E. Burghardt. The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America: 1638-1870. Harvard Univ. Pr. Usw., 1916. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt. “Strivings of the Negro People.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 24 June 2020, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1897/08/strivings-of-the-negro-people/305446/. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt. “The Souls of Black Folk.” The Souls of Black Folk, by W. E. B. Du Bois, www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt. The Quest of the Silver Fleece. 1911. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
“Black News & Politics: The Crisis Magazine: United States.” Crisismagazine, www.thecrisismagazine.com/. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
Mbembe, Achille, Necropolitics. Duke University Press, 2019.
History.com Editors. “W.E.B. Du Bois.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/w-e-b-du-bois. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
“NAACP History: W.E.B. Dubois.” NAACP, 13 July 2018, www.naacp.org/naacp-history-w-e-b-dubois/. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
Partington, Paul G. “The Moon Illustrated Weekly-The Precursor of the Crisis.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 48, no. 3, 1963, pp. 206–216. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2716341. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.
Ashton, Susanna. Du Bois's "Horizon": Documenting Movements of the Color Line. Oxford University Press. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.
Rudwick, Elliott M. “W. E. B. Du Bois in the Role of Crisis Editor.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 43, no. 3, 1958, pp. 214–240. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2715984. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.
“The Quest of the Silver FleeceA Novel.” The Quest of the Silver Fleece | W. E. B. Du Bois, H. S. De Lay, www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14109.html. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.