The Life of
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A descendant of African American, French, and Dutch ancestors, he demonstrated his intellectual gifts at an early age. He graduated from high school at age 16, the valedictorian and only black in his graduating class of 12. He was orphaned shortly after his graduation and was forced to fund his own college education. He won a scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he excelled and saw for the first time the plight of Southern blacks.
Du Bois had grown up with more privileges and advantages than most blacks living in the United States at that time, and, unlike most blacks living in the South, he had suffered neither severe economic hardship nor repeated encounters with blatant racism. As violence against blacks increased in the South throughout the 1880s, Du Bois's scholarly education was matched by the hard lessons he learned about race relations. He followed reports about the increasing number of lynchings, calling each racially motivated killing "a scar" upon his soul. Through these and other encounters with racial hatred, as well as through his experience teaching in poor black communities in rural Tennessee during the summers, Du Bois began to develop his racial consciousness and the desire to help improve conditions for all blacks.
Du Bois received his bachelor's degree from Fisk in 1888, and won a scholarship to attend Harvard University. Harvard considered his high school education and Fisk degree inadequate preparation for a master's program, and he had to register as an undergraduate. Du Bois received his second bachelor's degree in 1890 and then enrolled in Harvard's graduate school. He earned his master's degree and then his doctoral degree in 1895, becoming the first black to receive that degree from Harvard.
By that time, Du Bois had begun his research into the historical and sociological conditions of black Americans that would make him the most influential black intellectual of his time. His doctoral dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slavetrade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published in 1896 as the initial volume in the Harvard Historical Studies Series. After teaching for several years at Wilberforce University in Ohio, Du Bois conducted an exhaustive study of the social and economic conditions of urban blacks in Philadelphia in 1896 and 1897. The results were published in The Philadelphia Negro (1899), the first sociological text on a black community published in the United States. After he became a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University in 1897, he initiated a series of studies as head of the school's "Negro Problem" program. These works had a profound impact on the study of the history and sociology of blacks living in the United States.
In 1897 Du Bois made a famous statement on the ambiguity of the black identity: "One feels his two-ness an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body." He advanced these views even further in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), a powerful collection of essays in which he described some of the key themes of the black experience, especially the efforts of black Americans to reconcile their African heritage with their pride in being U.S. citizens.
With The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois had begun to challenge the leadership of Booker T. Washington, a fellow educator who was then the most influential and admired black in the United States. Du Bois objected to Washington's strategy of accommodation and compromise with whites in both politics and education. Du Bois perceived this strategy as accepting the denial of black citizenship rights. He also criticized Washington's emphasis on the importance of industrial education for blacks, which Du Bois felt came at the expense of higher education in the arts and humanities.
Du Bois also challenged Washington's leadership through the Niagara Movement, which Du Bois helped to convene in 1905. The movement grew out of a meeting of 29 black leaders who gathered to discuss segregation and black political rights. They met in Canada after being denied hotel accommodations on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls and drafted a list of demands. These included equality of economic and educational opportunity for blacks, an end to segregation, and the prohibition of discrimination in courts, public facilities, and trade unions.
Du Bois was hired to head the NAACP's publicity and research efforts. He was also named editor of the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, which soon became the most important national voice for the advancement of black civil rights, largely through Du Bois's reporting and editorials. His writings on lynchings in the South, his positions on why blacks should support the U.S. war effort during World War I (1914-1918), and his criticisms of Marcus Garvey, the black separatist who led the "Back to Africa" movement, were all broadly influential.
Du Bois resigned from the NAACP staff in 1934 because he was unwilling to advocate racial integration in all aspects of life, a position adopted by the NAACP. Du Bois had argued that blacks should join together, apart from whites, to start businesses and industries that would allow blacks to advance themselves economically. He returned to Atlanta University, where he taught, wrote books, and founded a new journal, called Phylon. During these years he published two important books, Black Reconstruction (1935), a Marxist interpretation of the post-Civil War era in the South; and Dusk of Dawn (1940), an autobiography. Following extended conflicts with university officials, he was forced to retire from Atlanta University in 1944.
In 1961 Du Bois moved to the newly independent West African nation of Ghana. In an act of defiance just before his departure, he joined the American Communist Party. Once in Ghana, he began work on the Encyclopedia Africana, a reference work on Africans and people of African descent throughout the world. When his passport expired in 1963 he applied to have it renewed, but it was denied by the U.S. government because he was a registered Communist. He renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a citizen of Ghana in February of that year, shortly before his 95th birthday. Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah welcomed Du Bois's decision and deemed him "the first citizen of Africa." Du Bois died a few months later.
The first section below presents links to online bibliographies of DuBois's works as well as links to web pages describing the collections of his works at various physical repositories.
In the next section below comes a listing of primary texts written by DuBois as well as any related materials by him or other authors. The following drop-down menus provide an easy way to peruse the items listed on this web page; by clicking the desired selection one can jump to view its details. The primary sources include:
Because many of Du Bois's publications are not—or at least not yet—available on the Internet, I do not claim to provide a full and complete listing of all of his works. I will, however, add more links to re/sources as I find them on the Web.
— Robert W. Williams, Ph.D. [Bio]
LATEST LINK (for 15 July 2017)
Bibliographies and Collections of Du Bois's Works
[Citation: McDonnell, Robert W. 1980. "The W.E.B. Du Bois Papers." The Crisis, 87:9 (November): 359-364].
• Later materials added to the collection are contained in "Series 22. Additions to the Du Bois Papers." [as printed in the PDF file].
• "The Series 17. Photographs" are categorized differently than the 1981 Finding Aid—the latter more typically listing the photos by the name of the persons photographed.
• The "Series 18. Memorabilia" section and "Series 19: Audiovisual" section (as printed in the PDF file) are presented with less detail than the 1981 Finding Aid.
• The 1981 Finding Aid's "Selective Index to the Correspondence" is not included (presumably because a search function can be used to locate items on the webpage and in the PDF versions of the later Aid).
Primary Sources by DuBois and Related Materials
[Arranged chronologically from earliest to latest]
TROE is a hand-written essay spanning 51 pages of text. The manuscript contains marginal comments by William James, the professor. Du Bois the student discussed the limitations of scholastic philosophy and the important role that science has in attempting to discover the ultimate ends/goals of the world. On the basis of that future discovery, he argued, our duty in the world will be grounded. For Du Bois, duty was paramount. In his words:
The fundamental question of the Universe, for ages past, present, and to come, is Duty. Given a universe with two horrible futures and the question becomes to each individual How much difference will it make if This be tomorrow's universe rather than That? in [sic] other words the great question the world asks is How much better is the best possible universe I can help make, than the worst possible? (pp.15-16)
This hitherto unpublished essay by W. E. B. Du Bois, the text titled "The Afro-American," which likely dates to the late autumn of 1894 or the winter of 1895, is an early attempt by the young scholar to define for himself the contours of the situation of the Negro, or "Afro-American," in the United States in the mid-1890s. It is perhaps the earliest full text expressing his nascent formulations of both the global "problem of the color-line" and the sense of "double-consciousness" among African Americans in North America.
An essay by Dr. Chandler accompanies the Du Boisian manuscript. As the abstract conveys,
[Chandler] proposes a path for the initial reading of this essay by rendering thematic the worldwide horizon that framed Du Bois's projection from this early moment and by bringing into relief the interwoven motifs of the global "problem of the color-line" and the sense of "double-consciousness" for the "Afro-American" in the United States.
Chandler relates the text to Du Bois' thinking as expressed in various early writings, including "Strivings of the Negro People" (1897), "Beyond the Veil in a Virginia Town" (unpublished manuscript circa 1897 written presumably during his time conducting research in the Farmville, VA area), "The Study of the Negro Problems" (1898), and The Souls of Black Folk (1903).
My Dear Mr. Washington:
Let me heartlily congratulate you upon your
phenomenal success at Atlanta -- it was a word
W.E.B. Du Bois
Wilberforce, 24 Sept., '95
In the "Notes" section of The Yale Review, Vol. 6 (February 1898) we find an anonymously written piece, "The Bulletins of the Department of Labor". The one-paragraph note indicates the social-scientific importance of The Negroes of Farmville, Virginia, but does not refer to Du Bois by name (p. 437):
The Bulletins of the Department of Labor for November, 1897, and January, 1898, contain valuable studies of especial classes of the population. The former has articles on the Italians in Chicago, and on the Anthracite Mine Laborers, while the latter treats in a special paper of the Negroes of Farmville. These special studies are a valuable supplement to the general statistics published by the Department of Labor as well as by the Census Bureau for the entire country. Mass figures, if they are to be made of any use, must be interpreted in the light of detailed study of specific classes and localities, and Col. Wright is giving great value to the Bulletin of the Department of Labor by inspiring such investigations. [Note: With the exception of the boldface at the beginning of this short note, nothing else was put in bold or even italic lettering. — RWW]
Page 437 in the full text of the periodical (at Google Books)
Charles Edward Burrell, in his A History of Prince Edward County, Virginia, from Its Formation in 1753 to the Present (Richmond, VA: Williams Printing Co.,1922), covered the history of the county in which Farmville is located. While Burrell discussed African Americans in the county (search for the word "Negro"), his overall -- and patronizing -- perspective is evident in his justification of the disfranchisement of African American males (see, e.g., pp. 191, 192-3, 203, 360). The work is available at the Internet Archive: download page.
"Interview with Bancroft Winner Melvin Patrick Ely" (dated 23 May 2005):
Dr. Ely [faculty page 1; page 2] discusses the African American town of Israel Hill -- a town where Du Bois had conducted some of the sociological work that was published in his Negroes of Farmville, Virginia (1898). Ed Pompeian is the interviewer, asking questions about Ely's Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (NY: Knopf, 2004). The interview is posted at the History News Network site (sponsored by George Mason University):
• The Boston Evening Transcript (7 June 1899: p.10, col.5) printed a summary of the NBBS entitled "A Study of the Negro; Interesting Sketch of Types in the South". It was a "Special to the Transcript" written by someone named "Lincoln" and included several long quotations from the NBBS. The article also presented the following biographical sketch:
Dr. Dubois [sic] is an instructor in Atlanta University, but is perhaps principally known by reason of his close-range studies of the negro [sic] in various parts of the United States. He is perhaps the most scholarly colored [sic] man in this country, and as such his observations and conclusions are entitled to great weight.
[The article at the Google News Archive]
• In the New York Times (17 July 1899; p.3) an anonymous writer published a review of the NBBS. Entitled "Negro Life in the South" , the news article contained an extensive set of subtitles: "A Study of the Residents of the Georgia 'Black Belt.' Much Depravity Is Found. Whisky, Tobacco, and Snuff Used to Excess—The People in the Towns Better than in the Country."
[Citation page at the New York Times Archives (free registration is required to view or download the ~121 KB PDF file of the news article)]
• The American Monthly Review of Reviews [20:1 (July 1899): p.11] noted anonymously the NBBS as "giving statistical information about groups of negro [sic] families in certain towns and villages of Georgia and Alabama."
[Page 111 at Google Books]
• Kelly Miller published "The Education of the Negro" as Chapter XVI in the U.S. Dept. of Interior Annual Report, FY Ending 1901; Report of the Commissioner of Education, v.1 (1902): pp.731-859. He provided a synopsis of the NBBS, summarizing the findings for the different locales studied (at pp.777-778).
[Page 777 at Google Books]
[As part of a brief bio of Du Bois, Kelly Miller wrote" "Mr. Du Bois has done more to give scientific accuracy and method to the study of the race question than any other American who has essayed to deal with it." (p.859).]
[DuBois's Farmville study is summarized also: pp.775-777.]
• John R. Commons briefly outlined the sociological and geographical scope of the NBBS in his article "Racial Composition of the American People: The Negro" published in The Chautauquan (8:3, November 1903: pp.223-234) at p.234.
[Page 234 at Google Books]
• Studies in American Social Conditions—2: The Negro Problem. Edited by Richard Henry Edwards. (Madison, WI: s.n., December 1908). Under a section heading, "What are the Negro's social, moral, and religious conditions?", Edwards briefly noted NBBS provided "Interesting social sketches." [p.23]. In crafting the bibliography Edwards acknowledged the assistance and approval of Du Bois himself, among others (pp.13-14). Also note that many of DuBois's other works were included within the bibliography (between pp.15-32).
[Start page at Google Books]
• In Social Progress: A Year Book and Encyclopedia of Economic, Industrial, Social and Religious Statistics 1905, edited by Josiah Strong (NY: Baker and Taylor, Publishers, 1905) we find an anonymously written piece on "Bureaus of Labor" (pp.259-260) which contains a section on "The [U.S.] Department of Commerce and Labor." That section contained a subsection entitled "Leading Articles of the Bulletin" in which the NBBS was listed (p.260).
[Page 260 at Google Books]
• G.W.W. Hanger wrote an entry on "Labor Bureaus" for the The New Encyclopedia of Social Reform, edited by William D. P. Bliss (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1908): pp.675-677, which contained a subsection, "Some Leading Articles of the Bulletin", published by what he called the "U.S. Federal Department of Labor". Listed therein was the NBBS (p.676). This subsection is very similar to the one in the Social Progress yearbook (see above).
[Page 676 at Google Books]
• "Books for Negro Study Groups" appeared in several issues of Madison Hall Notes (University of Virginia). The NBBS was specifically listed in v.8, n.22 (15 February 1913): p.2.
[The NBBS listed on Page 2 at Google Books]
[Note also that, among other authors's books, many of DuBois's works were included on the lists of "Books for Negro Study Groups"; visit:
* Madison Hall Notes, v.8, n.25 (8 March 1913): p.2
* Madison Hall Notes, v.8, n.26 (15 March 1913): pp.1-2.]
Du Bois read "To the Nations of the World" on the closing day of the conference. The colonial powers were asked to preserve the independence of the free peoples of Africa and African descent, and to treat humanely their subjects in Africa and of African heritage around the world. The address is also notable for the second sentence of its first paragraph (which is quoted in its entirety here):
"In the metropolis of the modern world, in this the closing year of the Nineteenth Century, there has been assembled a Congress of men and women of African blood, to deliberate solemnly upon the present situation and outlook of the darker races of mankind. The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line, the question as to how far differences of race, which show themselves chiefly in the color of the skin and the texture of the hair, are going to be made, hereafter, the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization."
The "problem of the color line" later appeared in Du Bois' "The Freedmen's Bureau" (1901) and in Chapter 2 of The Souls of Black Folk (1903).
The Rev. Henry Lyman Morehouse wrote an essay in 1896 that is considered to have originated the term, the "talented tenth". Initially published in the periodical, The Independent (23 April 1896, p.1), Morehouse's "The Talented Tenth" can be found in The American Missionary, 50:6 (June 1896): pp.182-183, which is the provenance of the essay found on this website.
In the "Talented Tenth", an encyclopedia entry by Dr. Christopher George Buck [home page], Buck compares DuBois's use of the idea of a Talented Tenth with Alain Locke's more international application of it. The citation: pp.1295-7 in Richard T. Schaefer (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society, v.3 (Sage Publications, 2008).
Let me for a moment recapitulate. In the life of advancing peoples there must go on simultaneously a struggle for existence, accumulation of wealth, education of the young, and a development in culture and the higher things of life. The more backward the nation the larger sum of effort goes into the struggle for existence; the more forward the nation the larger and broader is the life of the spirit. For guidance, in taking these steps in civilization, the nation looks to four sources: the precepts of parents, the sight of seers, the opinion of the majority and the traditions of the past. [Par.37]
(Original citation: Pp. 69-98 in U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor. Bureau of the Census. Negroes in the United States. Bulletin 8. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904).
Du Bois' piece is the second of two essays plus many pages of data in tabular format -- all of which utilized data from the 1900 U.S. Census (the Twelfth Census). The first essay was written by Walter F. Willcox; it is entitled "The Negro Population" (pp. 11-68) and summarizes demographic and occupational data gathered from the 1900 U.S. Census.
In his essay Du Bois examined a variety of data, including farm distribution by geographic region, the sources of farm income, and the classification of farms by land tenure. He pointed out that in many Southern states Black farmers contributed much to the rural economy, especially through their operation of farms (p. 91).
Charles D. Edgerton. Review of Negroes in the United States. By Walter F. Willcox and W. E. Burghardt Du Bois. Bulletin 8, Bureau of the Census. Washington, 1904 [Citation: Publications of the American Statistical Association, New Series, v. IX, No. 69, (March 1905): 182-191].
In general, Edgerton commended the new data published in the report by Willcox and Du Bois, as well as the useful ways in which the presentation of the data made comparisons over time and region easier (p. 183). He made suggestions about data that should be collected during later censuses. Regarding Du Bois and the necessity for a "textual interpretation" of census data, Edgerton wrote:
No man, perhaps, is better equipped than Professor Du Bois to interpret the economic situation of the negro peasantry. Not so much because he possesses some negro blood, and under our social conventions is accounted a negro. He was born in Massachusetts, not among the cabins of the cotton kingdom; and his spiritual affinity, if not with his white kin rather than his black, is at least with the instructed rather than the simple. But, after his sociological training at Harvard and Berlin, and after his service at the University of Pennsylvania, he turned to work for the negroes of the South. He has studied their condition with a trained eye and a passionate interest. He has been the moving spirit of the Atlanta negro conferences. He has directed the valuable investigations of special topics, such as the college-bred negro, the negro common schools, and negroes in business, the results of which have been published by Atlanta University. His more personal observations and conclusions have been given in various magazines, and in his book, "The Souls of Black Folk." His studies illuminate those data of the agricultural census which most need to be interpreted in the light of facts beyond the field of the enumerator, -- such data as those of ownership, forms of tenancy, and sizes of farms.
[Notes: Quotation is located on pp. 188-189. Also to be stated is that "Negro" was not capitalized in the original. — RWW]
http://books.google.com/...id=2U1EAAAAIAAJ&pg=PPA182.... [Start page]
In this long essay, Du Bois continued his practice of using different publishing venues to communicate information about African Americans, especially the progress made in economic and educational terms as well as the impediments to African American success within U.S. society and politics. He provided an overview of the economic history of blacks in America, first in terms of a slave economy, and later under different forms of tenant farming. He analyzed the negative consequences of the convict labor system, especially with regard to its tendency to undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system due to the sham legal proceedings often associated with it (p. 256). Du Bois also offered details on the industrial condition of Blacks with particular emphasis on labor unions and the discriminatory practices of some unions. Turning to political history he covered the long struggle for voting rights and the various ways that African Americans had been hindered from exercising their franchise, including those practiced by state governments. Du Bois explicitly connected race, class, and politics: "[T]he fact that there is in America a proscribed race also makes it easier to proscribe classes, and class privileges are responsible for the fact that Negroes find deaf ears for their wishes." (p. 284)
DuBois ended with a moral appeal grounded in the data that he had presented throughout the essay (p. 287):
The fact of racial antipathy is as old as the interaction of people with one another. But the history of the centuries is the history of the discovery of the human soul and in every age the curse of the average person was his own narrowness, his blindness toward the riches that surrounded him, the notion that his own narrow heart and his small mind are the measure and borders of the universe. Above all in our days we do not want to forget the trivial observation that even in the nooks and alleys, and under threadbare clothing, lay hidden riches and depths of human life that we will perhaps never experience in ourselves.
In the struggle for his human rights the American Negro relies above all on the feeling of justice in the civilized world. We are no barbarians or heathen, we are educable and our education is increasing; our economic abilities have proven themselves. We too want to have our chance in life. Whoever wants to get acquainted with our living conditions, be welcome; we demand nothing other than that one gets acquainted with us honestly and face to face, and does not judge us according to hearsay or according to the verdict of our despisers.
Joseph Fracchia [department page] offers us a nicely rendered translation; he appends several translator's endnotes that amplify or clarify several aspects of the original DuBoisian text. The translation is contained within a special issue of the New Centennial Review on Du Bois that is edited by Nahum Dimitri Chandler. Other pieces in this issue are written by Nahum D. Chandler, Hortense J. Spillers, Nicole A. Waligora-Davis, Rebecka Rutledge Fisher, Karen E. Fields, and Jeremy W. Pope. The entire issue and individual articles can be purchased either in print form or else in downloadable PDF files. For purchases one would need first to use the "Table of Contents" drop-down menu list located on the navigation bar and select "Volume 6, Number 3 (2006)". After the contents of that particular issue are displayed, one then can make purchase choices.
"The great question answered by two hundred living Americans of prominence in politics; in the army and navy; in science, art, music and literature; in the mercantile world; in the professions; and in the chairs of universities. An expression from secular life only (the views of all clergymen being excluded.)"The replies were compiled in a book published by Ellis as What's Next; or, Shall a Man Live Again? (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1906).
Du Bois's brief reply (perhaps written by him or received by Ellis in January 1904) is presented here verbatim and in its entirety:
W. E. B. Du Bois, A. M., Ph.D., Professor of Economics and History, Atlanta University. January 30, 1904.
I have a thousand years of work laid out before me. And each year as it flies leaves the vision of another thousand. I should like to live to finish all this; it seems reasonable that I should; I hope I may. [p.46]