W.E.B. Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois "recognized that the keystone in the arch of oppression was the myth of inferiority and he dedicated his brilliant talents to demolish it," said Martin Luther King, Jr.1

Although born in Massachusetts where he became the first African-American student to earn a doctoral degree from prestigious Harvard University, W.E.B. Du Bois later worked for nearly a quarter century on the faculty of Atlanta University -- first as professor of history and sociology (1897-1910), and later as head of the sociology department (1934-1944). Du Bois's writings and his intellectual guidance as teacher, researcher, and editor at Atlanta University contributed immensely to its reputation as a preeminent resource for the study of race in America.

From 1897 until 1910 Du Bois directed annual conferences at Atlanta University that produced a series of ambitious and groundbreaking studies -- the Proceedings of the Annual Conferences on the Negro Problem -- which Du Bois also edited. In 1903 he published his classic collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk. Named one of The Modern Library's "100 most influential works of the twentieth century," The Souls of Black Folk is cited by many African American writers and intellectuals as the single most formative reading experience of their lives. Referring specifically to Du Bois's historical work Black Reconstruction in America, and in general to his life and work as researcher and writer, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "He virtually, before anyone else and more than anyone else, demolished the lies about Negroes in their most important and creative period of history."2

Between the two periods he spent at Atlanta University, Du Bois spent twenty-three years as editor of Crisis, the publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which he helped to organize in 1909. After Du Bois returned to Atlanta in 1934, he became the first editor-in-chief of Atlanta University's scholarly review of race and culture, Phylon, to which he was also an ardent and frequent contributor. Upon Du Bois's retirement, the Phylon editorial board praised him as a man who "propagated a doctrine of human equality in distinguished and inventive writing ... [and] whose force of mind and skill of pen have been exercised in behalf of the world's darker peoples for more than half a century."3

A prolific and farsighted author, Du Bois wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, The Philadelphia Negro (1899). In addition to his many academic philosophical, historical and socio-political writings, over his lifetime Du Bois also published five novels and three autobiographies, which stood out not only for their success as records of Du Bois' long, interesting life and of American history from the Civil War to the atomic age, but also for the value of their internal essays on culture, politics and work.

Du Bois' Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing academic view of Reconstruction, i.e. that immediate black suffrage had been a mistake and the flaws and failures of Reconstruction were largely due to African-American ignorance and corruption. Du Bois argued, to the contrary, that "Negro loyalty and the Negro vote  ...  restored the South to the Union; established the new democracy both for white and black, and instituted the public schools." Largely ignored when it came out in 1935, Black Reconstruction nevertheless influenced subsequent generations of revisionist historians and now is considerd one of the foundational works of African-American historiography.

Du Bois was influenced by socialism and critical of capitalism, which his studies had led him to conclude was a primary agent of racism in society. Du Bois reasoned that, because capitalists seek  to dilute workers' strength to maintain control over profits, pitting black and white workers against each other through discriminatory practices helps preserve the capitalists' advantage.

A lifelong peace activist and an advocate of civil liberties, Du Bois joined the Communist Party to protest the Supreme Court's upholding of the McCarran Act, which forced Communists to register with the U.S. government. In turn, after he had traveled to Africa to work on a new encyclopedia of the African diaspora, Encyclopedia Africana, the U.S. government refused to renew Du Bois' U.S. passport to enable him to return. Du Bois responded by becoming a citizen of Ghana, which is where he died on August 27, 1963, in the capital city of Accra,  at the age of 95. 

1Martin Luther King, Jr., "Honoring Dr. Du Bois" in W.E.B. Du Bois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses, 1890-1919 (New York: Pathfinder, 1970), p. 13. Reprinted from Freedomways, Spring 1968, pp. 104-111.

2Ibid., p. 15.

3Phylon , v. 5, no. 3 (Third Quarter, 1944), p. 279.


Photo of W.E.B. Du Bois by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The following titles by W.E.B. Du Bois are held by the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library:

The Study of the Negro Problems. Philadelphia: American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1898.

The Philadelphia Negro; a Social Study. Together with a special report on domestic service by Isabel Eaton. Philadelphia, Published for the University, 1899.

The Negro Landholder of Georgia. Washington: Bulletin of the [U.S.] Dept. of Labor, 1901.

The Atlanta Conferences. (Atlanta University leaflet, No. 16.) Atlanta: Atlanta Univ., 1902.

The Negro in the South, His Economic Progress in Relation to his Moral and Religious Development; Being the William Levi Bull lectures for the Year 1907. by Booker T. Washington and W.E. Burghardt Du Bois [et al.]. Philadelphia: G.W. Jacobs & Company, 1907.

The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1907.

The Negro American Family: Report of a Social Study Made Principally by the College Classes of 1909 & 1910 of Atlanta. Atlanta: Atlanta University, 1908.

The Quest of the Silver Fleece; a novel. H. S. De Lay, illus., Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1911.

Brownies' Book. New YorkDu Bois and Dill, 1920-1921.

Darkwater; Voices from Within the Veil. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.

Gift of Black Folk: the Negroes in the Making of America. Boston: Stratford, 1924.

Dark Princess: A Romance. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1928.

Africa, its Geography, People and Products. Girard, Kan: Little-Blue-Books, 1930.

Africa - Its Place In Modern History. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1930.

What the Negro has Done for the United States and Texas. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1936.

Dusk of Dawn, an Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1940.

Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1945.

Encyclopedia of the Negro; preparatory volume with reference lists and reports. by W. E. B. Du Bois and Guy B. Johnson prepared with the cooperation of E. Irene Diggs, Agnes C. L. Donohugh, Guion Johnson, et all. Introduction by Anson Phelps Stokes. New York: The Phelps-Stokes Fund, inc., 1946.

Peace is Dangerous. New York: National Guardian, 1951.

I Take My Stand for Peace. New York: Masses & Mainstream, 1951.

In Battle for Peace: the Story of My 83rd Birthday. Comment by Shirley Graham. New York: Masses & Mainstream, 1952.

Africa in Battle Against Colonialism, Racialism, Imperialism Afro American Heritage Association. Chicago: 1960.

Socialism Today Afro American Heritage Association. Chicago: 1960

On This First Day of October. New York: Communist Party of the U.S.A., 1961.

Selected Poems. Accra: Ghana University Press, 1964.

The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870. New York: Russell & Russell, 1965.

The Autobiography of W. E. B. DuBois; a Soliloquy on Viewing My Life From the Last Decade of its First Century. New York: International Publishers, 1968.

Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems (13th : 1908 : Atlanta University): The Negro American family; report of a social study made principally by the college classes of 1909 and 1910 of Atlanta University, under the patronage of the trustees of the John F. Slater Fund; together with the Proceedings of the 13th annual Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University on Tuesday, May the 26th 1908. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.

An ABC of Color; Selections Chosen by the Author from Over a Half Century of his Writings. Introd. by John Oliver Killens. New York: International Publishers, 1969.

W. E. B. Du Bois Speaks; Speeches and Addresses. Philip S. Foner, ed. New York, Pathfinder Press, 1970. 2 v. (1. 1890-1919, with a tribute by M. L. King, Jr. 2. 1920-1963, with a tribute, by K. Nkrumah.)

The Negro. New introd. by George Shepperson. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems (13th: 1908: Atlanta University): The Negro American family. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1970.

Black Folk: Then and Now; an Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro Race. New York, Octagon Books, 1970 [c.1939]

A W. E. B. Du Bois Reader. Andrew G. Paschal, ed. Introd. by Arna Bontemps. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

The Seventh Son; the Thought and Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois. Julius Lester, ed. New York: Random House 1971.

The Negro in Business; Report of a Social Study Made Under the Direction of Atlanta University, Together With the Proceedings of the Fourth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, Held at Atlanta University, May 30-31, 1899. New York, AMS Press [1971]

John Brown. New foreword by Blyden Jackson. Northbrook, Ill.: Metro Books, 1972.

The Correspondence of W. E. B. Du Bois. Herbert Aptheker, ed. [Amherst] University of Massachusetts Press, 1973-1978. (3 v.) v. 1. Selections, 1877-1934. v. 2. Selections, 1934-1944. v. 3. Selections, 1944-1963.

The Education of Black People; Ten Critiques, 1906-1960 . Herbert Aptheker, ed., Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973.

Mansart Builds a School. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, [c1959] 1976.

The World and Africa. New introd by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1976.

Worlds of Color. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, [c1961], 1976.

In Battle for Peace. New Introd. by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization Ltd., [c1952], 1976.

The Ordeal of Mansart. New introd by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization Ltd., [c1957] 1976.

Book Reviews. Compiled and edited by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1977.

W. E. B. Du Bois on Sociology and the Black Community. Dan S. Green and Edwin D. Driver, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Black Reconstruction in America; an Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. New York: Atheneum, 1979 [c1962].

Contributions by W. E. B. Du Bois In Government Publications and Proceedings. Compiled and edited by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1980.

Prayers for Dark People. Herbert Aptheker, ed. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980.

Selections from Phylon. Compiled and edited by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1980.

Selections from the Brownies' Book. Compiled and edited by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1980.

Du Bois on Religion. Edited by Phil Zuckerman. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira, 2000.

The Negro. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

The Education of Black People: 10 Critiques, 1906-1960. New York: Monthly Review, 2001.

John Brown. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

The Negro Church. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira, 2003.

Die Seelen der Schwarzen. [The Souls of Black Folk. German.] Freiburg: Orange Press, 2003.

The Quest of the Silver Fleece. New York: Harlem Moon, 2004.

The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Philadelphia: Pine Street Press, 2004.


Les âmes du peuple noir. [The Souls of Black Folk. French.] Paris: Rue d'Ulm, 2004.The Illustrated Souls of Black Folk. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2005

The Sociological Souls of Black Folk: Essays. Lanham, MD: Lexinton Books, 2011.

W.E.B. Du Bois's Exhibit of American Negroes.  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.


Manuscript Holdings

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts is home to the memoirs and papers of W.E.B. Du Bois. 

Fisk University Special Collections holds a number of unpublished short stories, drafts and research material for his study on black soldiers in WWI, and routine correspondence.

Yale University's Beinecke Library houses a small number of Du Bois's correspondence, manuscripts for Dusk of Dawn and The Gift of Black FolkDarkwaterThe NegroThe World and Africa, and also files regarding the Amernia Conferences, and United Nations, and other areas.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture houses a small amount of Du Bois's works in the Hugh Smyth Papers, such as essays, articles, speeches, and some of Du Bois's student materials.