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DuBois, William Edward Burghardt (1868–1963)

Educator, essayist, journalist, scholar, social critic, and activist W.E.B. DuBois, was born to Mary Sylvina Burghardt and Alfred Dubois on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.   He excelled in the public schools of Great Barrington, graduating valedictorian from his high school in 1884.  Four years later he received a B.A. from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1890 DuBois earned a second bachelor degree from Harvard University.  DuBois began two years of graduate studies in History and Economics at the University of Berlin in Germany in 1892 and then returned to the United States to begin a two year stint teaching Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University in Ohio.  In 1895, DuBois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University.  His doctoral thesis, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in America, became the first book published by Harvard University Press in 1896.  Later that year DuBois married Nina Gomer and the couple had two children.  After the death of his first wife in 1950, DuBois married Shirley Graham who remained his wife until his death.

Before the close of the 19th century, DuBois also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Atlanta University.  During this time, he became the first scholar to systematically study African American urban life.  DuBois’s first post-dissertation book, The Philadelphia Negro, released in 1899, determined that housing and employment discrimination were the principal barriers to racial equality and black prosperity in the urban North.  His work and conclusions initiated the field of African American urban history. 

DuBois lacked black public appeal of his contemporaries such as Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and Paul Robeson.  He remained scathingly critical of white racism his entire life and unlike Washington he was unwilling to seek compromise in the quest for civil rights and racial justice.  In 1903, DuBois published a groundbreaking collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, which