Meet prolific writer and editor William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. He had a topsy-turvey relationship with the NAACP, he was tried for being a foreign agent and he died in Africa.
Raised in a small town in Massachusetts, W.E.B. Du Bois was an orphan by the time he was 16. He went to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Fisk University, and for the first time encountered an atmosphere of racism. He also encountered a lot more black people, and that’s what led to a lifelong interest in the culture and history of African Americans.
Du Bois (that’s pronounced “doo boys”) left Fisk and entered Harvard as a junior. He graduated cum laude in 1890, then got his Master of Arts degree in History in 1891. He spent a couple of years doing graduate studies at the University of Berlin, then received his doctorate from Harvard in 1895.
Keep in mind that’s only 30 years after the end of the Civil War. That’s not very long. Thirty years ago from now, for example, Whitney Houston and U2 were just beginning their careers, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin had starred in 9 to 5 and President Ronald Reagan was blaming poor people for the recession. None of that seems very long ago to me.
Du Bois is said to be one of the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). He edited their journal for many years, but left the organization in 1934 over strategy disagreements. Du Bois did not favor the NAACP’s plan of integration; Du Bois advocated separatism and “Pan-African” unity across the globe.
He returned to the NAACP in 1944, but left after four years and another disagreement.
A self-described socialist, W.E.B. Du Bois ran for the U.S. Senate as a member of the American Labor party and lost. He was a consultant at the founding of the United Nations, and in 1949 he was named the chairman of the Peace Information Center, an organization opposed to nuclear weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson called the organization a communist front and Du Bois was among those charged with the crime of failing to register as a foreign agent. He was tried and acquitted in 1950-51. Du Bois was a favorite of the Soviets and communist China, or a favorite prop at least. He toured Russia and China, and was honored in Beijing (Peking) on his 91st birthday.
It’s no mystery as to why Du Bois was less than lovey-dovey toward the U.S. of A. He eventually emigrated to Ghana and became a citizen there. He died there in 1963.
For more background on his life and works, read the Who2 biography of W.E.B. Du Bois.
Also, here’s his biography from the NAACP.
Here’s the 1963 obituary from the New York Times.
Besides being an editor, historian, novelist and essayist, Du Bois wrote poems. The poem “Ghana Calls” gives you an idea of his style and tone. It’s not a “feel good” poem, exactly.
And finally, here’s what the W.E.B. Du Bois stamp looks like.