The Ultimate Fight Against Discrimination: Remembering William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

By: Justin Chan

Martin Luther King Jr. may have rewritten history as a civil rights activist, but William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was one of several African American pioneers who helped pave the way for the advancement of Black rights. Though Du Bois witnessed very few incidents of explicit racism while growing up, he took a special interest in the oppression of Blacks across the country. His doctoral dissertation for Harvard, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published in 1896 and helped earn him a Ph.D. Du Bois was also a dedicated sociologist and produced the first case study of the Black community in the United States.

Initially a believer in the power of social science in solving race disputes, Du Bois realized later that the best method to tackle racial tensions was through protests. He was often at odds with Booker T. Washington, who often encouraged Blacks to patiently endure discrimination temporarily and work their way up the social ladder through hard work. The idea did not sit well with Du Bois, who accused Washington of perpetuating more discrimination against Blacks. Du Bois later went on to found the Niagara Movement, which was a direct response to Washington's campaign. Though it gained some momentum, the organization disbanded due to internal conflicts.

Still, the efforts of the Niagara Movement were not entirely in vain. In fact, they helped lead to the creation of one of the most prominent minority organizations today: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Founded in 1909, the NAACP soon became a leading voice in the civil rights movement. Du Bois served as its director of research and editor of its magazine, The Crisis.

As a civil rights activist, Du Bois supported the idea of social integration, or an atmosphere in which Whites and Blacks could co-exist equally. He also advocated Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism. He believed that people of African descent shared a common heritage and, therefore, should work together to fight for equal rights. Du Bois encouraged Blacks to develop their own cultural identity by creating Black literature and a group economy that would help combat poverty. He strongly championed Black businesses and ultimately resigned as the editor upon learning that the NAACP seemed focus on serving the interests of the bourgeoisie rather than the common man.

Though his life had its fair share of ups and downs, Du Bois will be forever remembered for his impact on major civil rights figures and his drive to ease racial tensions. Despite renouncing his U.S. citizenship during his latter years, he is still widely regarded as a notable African American figure who deserves as much recognition as his peers.

Photo: Cliffords Photography

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