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W.E.B. Du Bois

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In some ways, W.E.B. Du Bois belongs to another era.  He is a distant figure in African American history, remote and shadowy, eclipsed by the messages of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.  In other ways, Du Bois was the greatest and most relevant African American scholar in history, an unparalleled genius.  W.E.B. Du Bois“Born in Massachusetts in the year of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and dead ninety-five years later in the year of Lyndon Johnson’s installation, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois cut an amazing swath through four continents (he was a Lenin Peace Prize laureate and his birthday was once a national holiday in China), writing sixteen pioneering or provocative books”.

W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to win a doctorate degree from Harvard University, a founder of the NAACP and editor of its magazine, The Crisis.  As Cornel West says: “Because Du Bois is not simply the greatest black scholar…we read Du Bois because of the insights on wisdom, because he had courage.  Because he was willing to sacrifice and he has something to say”.  In Du Bois most popular work, 1903’s The Souls of Black Folks, he prophetically wrote: “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”.

W.E.B. Du Bois was “the foremost black political activist of his time” and “possessed of towering energy, appetites and ambition.  Like his hero Frederick Douglass, he authored three autobiographies”.  Between 1892 and 1894, Du Bois studied in Europe, where his mode of thinking began to form.  “Under these teachers and in this social setting,” he remembered, “I began to see the race problem in America, the problem of the peoples in Africa and Asia as one.”  White racism was the problem, and his exposure to socialism caused him to rethink the idea that racial harmony could be achieved through political means.

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