Du Bois championed the beauty of an African Culture and History that had
been lost, alongside the pride of a black nation.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born 23rd February, 1868 to Mary
Silvina Burghardt, a house maid who never left her hometown of Great
Barrington and Alfred Du Bois a rebellious traveller, whose grandfather and
father both championed the rights of black people. Du Bois' father left when
he was very young and he was raised primarily by his mother.
Du Bois was brought up in a town where there were fifty black men and women
out of a population of five thousand. In his accounts of his childhood he
claims to not have experienced any overt racism. His mother installed a good
work ethic by drumming into him that there was no such thing as discrimination and that all judgements were based upon hard work and
Dubois was clever and had the privilege of an education. His uncle had been
an unpaid life long servant for the Kellog family, his lack of wages had in
turn prevented their poverty. When one of the Kellog daughters married in
to a wealthy family the debt was repaid in the form of funding part of Du
Du Bois went on to achieve a Bachelor of Arts from Fisk College, a Masters
from Harvard and a PhD, of which the doctorate written, The Suppression of
the Slave Trade in America is still a classic. He also had the opportunity
to study in Germany, funded by ex president Ruther B. Hayes.
In his early years he lectured and conducted research into 'blacks as a
social system,' he excelled in this field and became known as the 'father of
Dubois went on to write a succession of essays and books including the
Souls of Black Folk and The World and Africa. In the former novel he
sought to teach the 'White' man that 'Black' people had a soul. He explored
the idea that identity was of paramount importance when seeking to build the
confidence and assertion of the 'black race.'
Du Bois was mindful of the fact that one mans identity was made up of fifty
percent of how he viewed himself and fifty percent of how he saw himself
through another mans eyes. He felt as a consequence that Black men
constantly lived behind a 'veil' because they went unnoticed by the white
men. The concept of the 'veil,' established by Du Bois, meant that the black
men were no longer 'shadows' because they had been freed from slavery, but
their existence was still denied which in turn left them covered.
Although Du Bois openly declared himself as a 'Negro', in the book he claims
that he has experienced both sides, of the 'veil.' Du Bois explores the idea
of Double Consciousness, which he explains as the balancing of two
identities. In his case being both American and African. He deals with the
notion of finding a balance between the two in order to establish a whole
In The World and Africa he had a different approach he realised that he no
longer had to seek the approval of the white man by justifying the black
mans existence. Du Bois championed the beauty of an African Culture and
History that had been lost alongside the pride of a black nation. The
provision of knowledge sought to restore that pride for those in the
Diaspora and Africa.
Du Bois was a founding member of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP - the largest and oldest civil rights
organization in America).
Du Bois continued to write in self imposed exile in Ghana whilst promoting
the Pan Africanist cause. By the time he died, in 1963, he had written 17
books, edited four journals and played a key role in reshaping black-white
relations in America.