Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

W.E.B. DuBois (23 February 1868-27 August 1963)

This is the birthday of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963), one of the great public intellectuals, civil rights leaders, and political philosophers of all American history and one of the two or three greatest figures of American 20th C. 

Pan-Africanist, sociologist, historian, author, editor, DuBois (pronounced “doo-Boyss” ) was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University (1895), and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  At the turn of the century, DuBois predicted correctly that “the color line [would be] the problem of the twentieth century.” Despite undeniable progress, it continues to be an issue into the 21st.  In the words of the historian, David Levering, “In the course of his long, turbulent, career, W.E.B.  DuBois attempted virtually every possible solution to the problem of twentieth century racism:  scholarship, propaganda, integration, national self-determination, human rights, cultural and economic separatism, politics, international communism, expatriation, third world solidarity.” 

In the midst of the speeches at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, word was brought to Dr. King and the other speakers at the Lincoln Memorial that W.E.B. DuBois had just died in Ghana.

I will write a fuller biographical sketch at some other time on this blog, but I could not let this birthday pass without a mention.


February 23, 2010 - Posted by | biographies, civil rights, civil rights leaders, History, race, racial justice


  1. I actually wrote about him on his birthday, and I didn’t even realize it was his birthday. I’ve been watching Roots: The Next Generation for Black History Month, and Simon Haley often talks about the differences between Dr. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. I doubt you’d like what I wrote that day, but I’m looking forward to your biographical sketch of W.E.B. DuBois. What puzzled me was when I was watching The Great Debaters and the opponents of black suffrage were actually citing DuBois for support—to say that African-Americans shouldn’t push on white society what it’s not ready for. But I thought that was the difference between DuBois and Washington: DuBois was for African-Americans fighting for rights, whereas Washington wanted them to focus on working hard and impressing white society. But, from that quote you provide from David Levering, it looks like DuBois went through stages in his thought.

    Comment by James Pate | February 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. …seems to me like he was saying “Why bother?”..”We should start our own, like they did”

    Comment by IThoroughly Respected | January 4, 2012 | Reply

    • I don’t understand this comment, sir.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 7, 2012 | Reply

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