W.E.B. Du Bois: American Sociologist, Black Leader, And Civil Rights Activist

Formal photograph of W. E. B. Du Bois, with beard and mustache, around 50 years old. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

You may not know the name William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, or even his better-known initials of W.E.B., but you definitely know his work. In addition to being the face of the Civil Rights struggle in the early decades of the 20th century, his 1903 book The Souls Of Black Folk is one of the most important works of American sociology and brought the idea of "double consciousness" to the cultural forefront. He also co-founded a little group called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, A.K.A. the N.A.A.C.P., in 1909.

Du Bois's Early Life

Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868 and grew up in the majority white town, free from many of the educational and social barriers that restricted the black community in some states, particularly in the South, during that time. In fact, Du Bois excelled in his classes, becoming the first person in his family to attend and graduate from high school. The community had such faith in him and his academic abilities that local churches actually pooled their resources and paid for Du Bois to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was first confronted with the challenges black Southerners faced in the era of Jim Crow.