William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, popularly known as WEB Du Bois, was an American sociologist, historian, author, editor, and activist who was the most important black protest leader in the United States (US) during the first half of the 20th century. He is the first African-American to earn a doctorate (PhD) at the Harvard University. He became a Ghanaian citizen at age 94 before he died at age 95.
W.E.B. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, U.S. He was born, as he phrased it in his autobiography, ‘Dusk at Dawn,’ “with a flood of Negro blood, a strain of French, a bit of Dutch, but, thank God, no ‘Anglo-Saxon’.”
He was educated at Great Barrington high school . Du Bois graduated from Fisk University, a historically black institution in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1888.
By 1895, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois became the first African-American to earn a doctorate (PhD) at the Harvard University.
He published his doctoral dissertation in 1896, ‘The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870’, as the first volume of Harvard’s Historical Monograph Series. He was hired by the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a sociological study of the black population of Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward.
In 1892, WEB Du bois was awarded a grant from the Slater Fund to study at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, working closely with Gustav von Schmoller, leader of the younger German Historical School.
Also, in 1894 he was denied further aid from the Slater fund. Unable to fulfill residency requirements for obtaining a doctoral degree from Friedrich Wilhelm University, he returned to Great Barrington and took an appointment to teach Classics at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio.
He resigned from the editorship of ‘The Crisis and the NAACP’ in 1934, yielding his influence as a race leader and charging that the organisation was dedicated to the interests of the black bourgeoisie and ignored the problems of the masses.
Upon leaving the NAACP, he returned to Atlanta University, where he devoted the next 10 years to teaching and scholarship.
Du Bois’s black nationalism took several forms—the most influential being his pioneering advocacy of Pan-Africanism, the belief that all people of African descent had common interests and should work together in the struggle for their freedom. Du Bois was a leader of the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 and the architect of four Pan-African Congresses held between 1919 and 1927.
At the end of a globetrotting career that took U.S. civil-rights pioneer and author W.E.B. Du Bois from his home in America to Germany, the Soviet Union, China, and many other countries, he travelled to Ghana in 1961.
In 1960, WEB Du Bois visited Ghana after failing to honour an invitation to celebrate the country’s independence in 1957. But in 1961, he was convinced by Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah, to move to Ghana and embark on a dream intellectual quest.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois long wanted to compile an encyclopedia on Africa and Kwame Nkrumah had the means to make it possible. When Nkrumah came back to Ghana after the Pan-African Congress, he was always in contact with Du Bois. After gaining independence, Nkrumah needed people to help him to push pan-Africanism. He said the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with total liberation of the African continent. He needed Du Bois to help push this agenda through.
WEB Du Bois had problems in the U.S. with renewal of his passport when he came to Ghana. Du Bois himself did not renounce his American citizenship. The US government simply refused to renew his passport after 1961, effectively leaving him stateless while in Ghana.
He accepted an offer of Ghanaian citizenship and naturalized as a Ghanaian in 1962. He wrote about what Ghana meant to him in the poem, “Freedomways”.
He accepted Nkrumah’s invitation because he had the intention of helping Africa liberate itself from colonial rule. He was able to work with Nkrumah on a number of pan-African initiatives in Africa.
The light had been lit by Du Bois and it was a matter of course that other countries follow. Certainly it was through Du Bois’s influence.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois died on August 27, 1963, a day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech day at the March on Washington — at the age of 95, in Accra, Ghana, while working on an encyclopedia of the African Diaspora.
Roy Wilkins announces Du Bois’s death at the March, remarking “that at the dawn of the twentieth century his was the voice that was calling you to gather here today in this cause. If you want to read something that applies to 1963 go back and get a volume The Souls of Black Folk by Du Bois, published in 1903.”
Du Bois’s final home, a sleepy bungalow in a leafy enclave of Accra, Ghana’s capital, still stands. The tombs of Du Bois and his second wife, Shirley, sit next to his former home, which is today a tiny, modest museum at the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan-African Culture.
The centre, where he and his wife once lived, and where they are now buried, houses his personal library, a small museum with a handful of personal effects such as his graduation robes. The couple’s mausoleum is surrounded by Asante stools, a seminar room, a restaurant, a gallery, an amphitheatre and a research centre for Pan-African history and culture.
His first wife, Mrs Nina Gomer DuBois, whom he married in 1896, died in 1950, and a year later, he married Shirley Graham, a writer. He was surviving by his widow and a daughter, Mrs. Yolanda Williams.
WEB Du bois shared in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and edited The Crisis, its magazine, from 1910 to 1934. His collection of essays The Souls of Black Folk (1903) is a landmark of African American literature.
Some of his notable works are “Dusk of Dawn”, “The Souls of Black Folk”,Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880”.
Du Bois subjects of study was about Reconstruction and black nationalism.
He played a role in the American Civil Rights Movement.
He was the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Niagara Movement. Both in the Niagara Movement and in the NAACP, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois acted mainly as an integrationist, but his thinking always exhibited, to varying degrees, separatist-nationalist tendencies.