W. E. B. Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois was born February 23, 1868, Great Barrington, MA. He is known for his pursuit of social justice, for his literary imagination, and for his pioneering scholarly research. The first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard, he taught history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois’ passion was for full civil rights for blacks in America. He strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. He was a prolific writer; his collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk about what it meant to be Black at the turn of the 20th century, is still in print. He believed that capitalism was one of the forces behind racism, and became active in social causes such as peace, women’s rights, and nuclear disarmament. He was a controversial figure, mainly because he held fast to his ideals of full and equal rights for all against the prevalent views of his day. During the McCarthy era, he was put on trial for refusing to register his Peace Information Center with the federal government (which alleged it was working as an agent for a foreign government), but the trial was dismissed when Albert Einstein offered to appear as a character witness. Nevertheless, the government confiscated his passport and held it for several years.

He died on August 27, 1963—one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington—at the age of 95, in Accra, Ghana, while working on an encyclopedia of the African Diaspora.

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Quotes by Du Bois. It’s a shame so many of them are still applicable today.

Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.

There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.

Strive for that greatness of spirit that measures life not by its disappointments but by its possibilities.

Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.

Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.

We must complain. Yes, plain, blunt complaint, ceaseless agitation, unfailing exposure of dishonesty and wrong – this is the ancient, unerring way to liberty and we must follow it.

Oppression costs the oppressor too much if the oppressed stands up and protests. The protest need not be merely physical-the throwing of stones and bullets-if it is mental, spiritual; if it expresses itself in silent, persistent dissatisfaction, the cost to the oppressor is terrific.

When in this world a man comes forward with a thought, a deed, a vision, we ask not how does he look, but what is his message?. . . The world still wants to ask that a woman primarily be pretty. . . .

It is the growing custom to narrow control, concentrate power, disregard and disenfranchise the public; and assuming that certain powers by divine right of money-raising or by sheer assumption, have the power to do as they think best without consulting the wisdom of mankind.

I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter: it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong.

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