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Civil rights movement

W.E.B. Du Bois

Massachusetts-born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced Du Boyce) was an historian, civil rights activist, sociologist and editor, as well as a prolific author who wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, a seminal work in the canon of African-American literature.

Du Bois was a trailblazer in the field of sociology, putting emphasis on the use of data in social scientific studies as a means with which, he believed, white America could come to conceptualise the effects of its racism. His studies took him to Georgia, Virginia and Alabama, showing him the realities of the Jim Crow South.

It was these same experiences in the South which began to gradually alter his worldview.

In 1909 Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and, with other roles, founded and edited the organisations periodical, The Crisis, which became hugely popular under his leadership. Here, Du Bois put his intellectual prowess to work once more penning searing features – peppered in places with blistering sarcasm – concerning the state of racial discrimination in America, while others championed the causes of womens suffrage, union organising and socialism, all the while remaining critical of the prejudices of some within the movement.

In the early 1900s Du Bois became involved with the cause of Pan-Africanism, a movement which advocated solidarity with those of African descent around the world.

Gradually over the next three decades, Du Boiss position on integration weakened as he became disillusioned with the progress toward racial equality which, along with his increased interest in Marxism, set him on a collision course with the NAACP from which he resigned in 1934.

The impact of Du Boiss life on those that were inspired and led by him is evidenced by a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on what would have been Du Boiss 100th birthday. Before the crowd in Carnegie Hall, Dr King delivered an homage to “one of the most remarkable men of our time… an intellectual giant” who “has left us but […] has not died. The spirit of freedom is not buried in the grave of the valiant. He will be with us where we go to Washington in April to demand our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”