W.E.B. DuBois

“Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men.” – The Talented Tenth (1903) , W.E.B. DuBois 

W.E.B.DuBois the co-founder of the NAACP. Taken in 1918 by Cornelius Marion (C.M.) Battey

        W.E.B. DuBois, Ph.D. was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Before the creation of the NAACP, he established the Niagara Movement and coined the term The Talented Tenth. He was the first African American to receive a doctorate  from Harvard University. He was also a professor at Atlanta University, now known as Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the few higher education institutions created for African Americans after the Civil War. He is often known as the “Father of Sociology” and is considered to be the basis of which the modern-day principles of American sociology was founded upon. DuBois has conducted and written about his research and findings of the struggles of the African American Society, the first of which was his The Philadelphia Negro, and he is most notably known for his collection of essays that addressed what he called the double consciousness, in his book The Souls of Black Folk. DuBois spent a majority of his life fighting for the civil rights of African Americans and urged them to gain higher education, for whites to acknowledge African Americans as people, and as their equals.

         DuBois came from a very stable, independent, educated family from New Barrington, Massachusetts. Due to his upbringing, DuBois was a free African American man and did not have to endure the cruel treatment of slavery and Jim Crow Laws. DuBois was always a very intellectual person and took great pride in furthering his education and would later receive a scholarship to attend Fisk University. It wasn’t until he attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in which he would come face to face with the unjust treatment of his people, that was predominantly found in the South. DuBois showed signs of being very concerned for his race and wanting to do something about the problems his race had faced, from a young age. After he attended Fisk, he went on to Harvard College (University), where he majored in Philosophy, with a concentration in History and would be the first person in his race, to gain a Doctorate from Harvard. DuBois has stated that “I was in Harvard but not of it” (DuBois 356). By the end of his higher education journey at the age of 26, he would have over 20 years of educational experience, which was more than anybody else of his race had. Due to slavery, African Americans were restricted and very limited to an gaining an education and would often have to face unjust and cruel punishments if they ever dared to learn how to read or seek education.

        It wasn’t until after the Civil War in 1865, that slavery in America was abolished, and African Americans had the rights to an American Citizenship. America had entered into a reconstruction, which was mostly for the south to redesign itself and change the ways that it governed all of its citizens, but the newly freed African Americans were still not treated as citizens or as equals to whites, and through work they had to still prove themselves in order to better the black community. The education that these people had so greatly sought after was their idea of how to obtain full citizenship in America and finally be treated equally and erase the color line that divided the races, once and for all. Few institutions were created for African Americans, both men and women, to seek higher education. Among these educational institutions founded after the Civil War were colleges of the Atlanta University Center: Atlanta University-1865 and Clark College-1869 (now Clark Atlanta University), Morehouse College-1867, Morris Brown College-1881, and Spellman College-1881 (“W.E.B. DuBois and the Rise of Black Education”).  DuBois would later become a professor at Atlanta University teaching Sociology. 

         In 1896, DuBois conducted a research project for the University of Pennsylvania, where his research would take place in Philadelphia’s seventh ward slums, examining the lives of African Americans a few years after the Emancipation. After witnessing how much prejudice the African Americans in this community had to endure, DuBois wanted to find some way to end this prejudice. He wrote about his research in the seventh ward slums and published The Philadelphia Negro in 1899. In this research analysis, he discussed that many African Americans from the slums would often face color education. He talked about a man who had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with many white classmates, wanted to become a pharmacist and answered to an ad that was looking for one, but when he went to get the position, he was told “I wouldn’t have a darky to clean out my store, much less to stand behind the counter,” answered one druggist. A colored man answered an advertisement for a clerk in the suburbs. “What do you suppose we’d want of a nigger?” was the plain answer” (DuBois). His research showed that even though many African Americans sought higher education, they would often never get the chance to apply the knowledge that they acquired, due to the color of their skin, whereas whites would always get hired over them for the same position. Many of the people who lived in the seventh ward would often question the purpose of obtaining an education if they were never going to get hired for the position they wanted. The Philadelphia Negro was the cause of why DuBois is nicknamed the “Father of Sociology” because no one had ever conducted a scientific approach to studying social circumstances. 

         DuBois was hired to teach Sociology at Atlanta University, shortly after he published his research. During his time at Atlanta University, he had continued to study and publish books and essays about Negro morality, urbanization, Negroes in business, college-bred Negroes, the Negro church, and Negro crime (Hynes). He also went on to support Pan-African views, in which urged the unity of all African Americans, established by fellow civil rights activist Marcus Garvey. DuBois was well known for spewing out an endless amount of information on the race problem that America was facing at the time, and led to people wanting to conduct social reform for African Americans to gain their full rights of citizenship.

        As Social Reform for African Americans began to take place, there began to be many voices or leaders showing up to combat the race problem in America, one of which was Mr. Booker T. Washington. Unlike DuBois, Washington was born into slavery and did not have the full extent to gain an education like DuBois did. In 1895, Booker T. Washington gave his famous “Atlanta Composition” speech in present-day Piedmont Park in Georgia, at the 1895 Atlanta Cotton Exposition. The was never titled, but DuBois gave it the name “Atlanta Compromise,” which would be continuously used to refer to it to this day. Washington’s remarks essentially endorsed racial gradualism and the attention to the economic development of the black race in the South, developing cordial relations with southern whites to promote the industrial development of the region (Rouse). Washington’s speech was the first time an African American had the opportunity to give a keynote address at a white event. He called on blacks to overlook the grievances they had with the South for now, and he promised whites the continued loyalty of blacks, suggesting that blacks and whites could work mutually for the region’s growth and be as separate as the fingers along the issue of social equality. He had even stated that the majority of blacks would have to make a living using their hands, hence the promotion of industrial
education, with liberal arts not being a true option for blacks. Seemingly, many whites sided with Washington because his compromise offered them the winning end of the stick and basically told African Americans to continue working for whites until they have done enough work to be seen as an equal. With the speech, accepted by southern white leaders, Washington emerged from being merely the principal of Tuskegee Institute to becoming the major leadership voice for Black America. Rich whites sunk tons of money into industrial education. Washington became their reference for what to support, who to hire, and what to believe about race relations (Rouse).

        In response to Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise,” DuBois published The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. In the book, one of the titles were “Of Booker T. Washington and Others,” and it analyzed the views of Mr. Washington and those who accepted and supported his philosophies. DuBois supported a classical liberal arts education, one in which African Americans would have to prove to whites that they can gain the same higher education as whites in fields of chemistry, math, and literature to prove themselves as equals, whereas Washington favored and Industrial education, which involved African Americans gaining higher education in fields they used to, such as carpentry and blacksmithing, in order to continue performing labor jobs and task for whites. DuBois discussed how that was the wrong way to go and would only make whites see that African Americans are not good for anything but to perform “slave work” and gave whites the power to continue exerting control over African Americans. The book also answered double consciousness questions that were being asked by the black community, such as how to deal with the issue of segregation. DuBois and other prominent Black leaders were upset and enraged with Washington’s ideas for their people, so they organized the Talented Tenth, which was a group of men who would be the ones to lead their race into true freedom that they deserved.  Also in 1903, DuBois would publish The Talented Tenth which discussed this new added social class of men and how with their knowledge would go on to benefit their community. The Talented Tenth would later go on to form the Niagara Movement, which took place on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls in 1905 because African Americans were not allowed to meet on the New York side. The Movement would challenge the ideals of Washington and discuss means of nonviolent protest, voting rights, better schools, and higher education to gain African Americans their rights. The movement started with 29 people and increased over time, but it would eventually come to an end due to Washington hiring spies to join the group (Rouse).  The movement later led to DuBois becoming a co-founder of the NAACP and is known as its grandfather because it formed the basis of this organization. To this day, the NAACP has been successful in aiding the black community.

         DuBois also later published books that involved the concept of higher education. He is known for The Black Flame Trilogy,  which detailed one mans journey of seeking education. Of the books in the trilogy, are The Ordeal of Mansart (1903), Mansart Builds a School (1959), and Worlds of Color (1961). The Trilogy is considered an autobiography of the perspectives of many African American’s journeys to education. The main character was once a slave, but would go on to gain education of his own, and build up an entire university for higher education, from scratch.  He also published The Quest of the Silver Fleece which detailed the experience of two African Americans, a man and a woman, protesting for the same education as whites and discusses why it is important for African Americans to obtain the same kind of education as Whites rather than gaining an Industrial Education. DuBois also was the founder and the editor of The Crisis magazine in 1910, which was created for educated African Americans to detail their first-hand experience with obtaining a college education and how whites felt about it. DuBois lastly wrote a book which compiled his 54 years of essays, research, and speeches on higher education, whether it was industrial or classical. Another book he published was The Dark Princess in 1928, which was not really a book on higher education, but did showcase how an African American male was told that he could not have a certain profession due to his race, but went to India where people of his color were treated very greatly and could do anything they wanted to do.

        DuBois died in August of 1963, but his contributions to the Black Community and the higher education for African Americans have made a very lasting impact. DuBois led the civil rights movement of his time but inspired people like Martin Luther King Jr. for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Without DuBois, African Americans probably would not have been able to gain jobs in engineering, science, and history, to name a few, or it would have taken even longer for the race to be able to be seen as an equal to whites and even receive the chance to an education. He continues to inspire people every day and played a key role in gaining rights for the race.

My Personal Research:

Check out my Historical Research paper that went to the School, District, Regional, and State Levels of the National History Day Competition from 2017-2018. It details the perspectives of DuBois and Washington written in an exchange of letters. Enjoy!!!

Letters on the Color Line: W.E.B. DuBois v. Booker T. Washington by Natalia Brown

Websites on DuBois

NAACP History: W.E.B. Dubois

W.E.B. DuBois Website


DuBois, W.E.B. “A Negro Student at Harvard at the End of the 19th Century.” The Massachusetts Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 1960, pp. 439–458., www.massreview.org/sites/default/files/Du Bois, WEB.pdf.

Du Bois, W. E. B. Dark Princess, a Romance. Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1974.

DuBois, W. E. B., and Herbert ApthekerThe Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960. 1973

DuBois, William Edward Burghardt. “The Evolution of Negro Leadership.” The Dial, 16 July 1901, pp. 53–55. Teaching American History | The Evolution of Negro Leadership. 

DuBois, W.E.B. The Quest of the Silver Fleece: A Novel. A.C. McClurg & Co. of Chicago, 1911.

DuBois, William Edward Burghardt. “Niagara Movement Address.” The Niagara
Movement. Canada, Fort Erie, Ontario. July 1905. Teaching American History |
The Niagara Movement Speech. 

DuBois, W.E.B. “The Philadelphia Negro.” Teaching American History, teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-philadelphia-negro/.

DuBois, William Edward Burghardt. “The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches.”
Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903. Microsoft Word – Du Bois, W.E.B.-The Souls of
Black Folk (1903).doc. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. Web.

Milner, Jonathan. Personal Interview. 14 Oct. 2017.

Rouse, Jacqueline. Personal Interview. 2 Nov. 2017.

“Talented Tenth.” Double Consciousness [DuBoisopedia], University of Massachusetts , 18 Dec. 2013, scua.library.umass.edu/duboisopedia/doku.php?id=about:talented_tenth.

Washington, Booker T. “Atlanta Compromise Speech.” 1895 Cotton States and
International Expositions. Atlanta, Georgia. 18 Sept. 1895. African American Odyssey. Web.