W. E. B. Du Bois: Remembering The First Black Historian

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Belonging to the part of the country where the people of color were not discriminated against as vehemently as others, Du Bois was raised with relatively good education in the town’s integrated school.

Du Bois remained with his mother when his father left them when the little boy was two. His mother received support from neighbors and relations while working to support the family until she passed away in 1885. Du Bois was encouraged by his teachers to pursue further education. His neighbors helped to send him to Fisk University the same year his mother died. It was in Tennessee that Du Bois first encountered Southern racism, and he writes it was worse than what he had heard. He showed fortitude and talent, finishing his undergraduate education at Fisk to move on to Harvard University, where he paid for three years of tuition with odd jobs on the weekend and during summers. During a graduate scholarship he won in Berlin, he traveled across Europe and learned from noted social scientists of the time. He became the first Black man to receive PhD in 1895 from University of Harvard.

Immediately afterward, Du Bois moved back to the United States and started a career in acade-mia. While teaching economics and history, he began his writing career, publishing his first book, The Philadelphia Negro, in 1899. The book was widely appraised as a remarkable scholarly work and the first comprehensive published work on African American history. During his professorship at Atlanta University, he published numerous papers and hosted The Atlanta Conference of Negro Problems every year.

He attended the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 where he drafted his famous letter to European leaders to shed some light on the problem of racism. The letter is often referred to as the Address to the Nations of the World. He was overtly critical of the unwritten Atlanta Compromise and demanded complete civil rights for the Black community in the South. In 1905, he started the Niagara Movement, which aimed to use recognized publications to bring the Civil Rights Movement for the Blacks in mainstream discussions. His service to the Black community in publication is extensive and cannot even be listed here. It should suffice to say he was a huge advocate of Black rights and contributed immensely to the cause.


"The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the colour-line."

"Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life."

"Education and work are the levers to uplift a people."

"The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races."

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