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NAACP founder and advocate of action W. E. B. Du Bois: 1945 | by Washington Area Spark
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NAACP founder and advocate of action W. E. B. Du Bois: 1945

William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor.


Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University.


Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.


Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which provided that Southern blacks would work and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities.


In 1934, Du Bois had a variation of this argument with Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University.


Students from Howard University went to the U.S. Capitol to protest Jim Crow in the House and Senate public restaurants. Five were arrested, though charges were dropped. Johnson, fearing the loss of federal funding for the university, wanted to discipline the students.


Du Bois argued that the students’ action was worth the price, if such price was to be paid.


Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite.


Racism was the main target of Du Bois's polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for independence of African colonies from European powers.


Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France and documented widespread bigotry in the United States military.


Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature; and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era.


He wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history.


In his role as editor of the NAACP's journal The Crisis, he published many influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life.


He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States' Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.


Du Bois was generally sympathetic to Marxism throughout his career and saw capitalism as the root cause of racism and white supremacy.


Throughout his career he maintained distance from the Communist Party and was both critical and supportive of the Soviet Union.


As the United States entered the second Red Scare after World War II, Du Bois was targeted by the U.S. government, which put him on trial for failing to register the Peace Information Center as a foreign agent.


The group sought signatures on petitions asking all countries to ban nuclear weapons.


His former colleagues at the NAACP refused to support him, but charges were dismissed before the jury rendered a verdict. Despite the outcome, the U.S government seized his passport for eight years.


When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the anti-communist McCarren Act in 1961, Du Bois in a spirit of defiance joined the Communist Party at the age of 93. He wrote, “I believe in communism. I mean by communism, a planned way of life in the production of wealth and work designed for building a state whose object is the highest welfare of its people and not merely the profit of a part.”


Du Bois carried the mantle of first being the preeminent spokesperson for black liberation early in his career after inheriting it from Frederick Douglas and later as its elder statesman.


He died in Ghana at the age of 95 August 27, 1963.


--partially excerpted from Wikipedia


For a detailed blog post on the campaign against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol restaurants, see


For images related to the campaign against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol, see


Photo by Addison N. Scurlock. The image is a Scurlock Studio photograph courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of

American History.

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Taken circa 1945