DuBois Appeal to the World


Racism as a social phenomenon existed in the American society for two hundred and half centuries (“Black History”) in the form of slavery and segregation with the implementation of Jim Crows law. It brought a tremendous suffering among African Americans.  It prevented black men and women exercising their civil rights. Black people were not allowed to share the same spaces, including schools, public transportation, and recreational facilities, as whites.  For black people, it was a long journey to ensure the freedom that exists in today’s American society.  American people pay homage to the distinguished leader Dr. Martin Luther King in the journey of freeing the nation from an evil social phenomenon – racism. Though, Dr. King played a vital role, but there were many other leaders who took part in the journey to free the American society from racism.  One of the prominent leaders was Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.  Martin Luthar King, Jr., described DuBois as a tireless explorer and discoverer of social truth. Green and Driver refer (“Du Bois, W. E. B. 1868–1963”) DuBois as a prominent sociologist who studied race relation of the black community in the United States.  DuBois devoted his life studying relations among race, society and economics.  This article discusses about Dr. DuBois life and his contribution to free the American society from racism.


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (“WEB DuBois: Sociologist, Philosopher, Black Leader “) was born on February 23, 1968 in Great Barrington, Massachusettes.  In 1884, he graduated from high school as valedictorian.  In 1888, he graduated in Bachelor in Arts from a black institution, Frisk University, located at Nashville, Tennessee. In the same year, he entered Harvard University and in 1890 graduated with Bachelor of Arts with cum laude.  At the University of Berlin, from 1892 to 1894, he pursued graduate study in history and economics.  He was the first black American to earn a Ph.D. degree in 1895 from the Harvard University.  In 1896, he, married (Hurst) Nina Gomer, and they had two children.  He worked as an assistant instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania during 1896 to 1897.  He taught sociology during 1898 to 1910 at Atlanta University in Georgia.  From 1910 to 1934, DuBois served in the organization National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a member of the board of directors, director of publicity and research, and the editor of its monthly magazine Crisis. During 1934 to 1944, DuBois spearheaded the department of sociology at Atlanta University.  At the end of his career at Atlanta University in 1944, he returned to the NAACP, where he served as director of research until 1948.  In 1961, DuBois immigrated to Ghana and became a citizen of that country.  He died in Ghana on August 27, 1963.

Historical time period during DuBois life

DuBois life during 1868 to 1963 coincides with the time when colonialism (“Colonialism 19th and 20th Century”) of white people spread in Asia and Africa and racism in America.  During this period, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Belgium controlled much of the African continent, while the Dutch, British, French and others controlled Asian region.  Socioeconomic philosophy of that time all over the world revolved around white supremacy.  In the same year when DuBois was born, 14 amendment in the USA was ratified which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including former slaves.  In 1892, Homer Plessy, a 30-year-old shoemaker was jailed (“Plessy v. Ferguson”)  in Homer Adolph Plessy v. The State of Louisiana case, for sitting in the white car of the East Louisiana Railroad.  Plessy argued in the court that Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  In 1896, US Supreme court heard the Plessy case where he found guilty again.  This case gave rise to the doctrine “separate but equal” which was extended (“A Timeline of Major Events in the American Civil Rights Movement”) to cover areas of public life such as restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools.  The doctrine was struck down not until 1954 in the case Brown v. Board of Education.   In 1915, the Supreme Court as a violation of 15th Amendment voided the Grand Father Clause that restricted black voting registration.  Earlier part of DuBois life in the USA coincides with the post civil war reconstruction.  Reconstruction period encountered many racial riots.  Some of them are; 1887 Thibodaux, Louisiana Massacre, 1891 1st Omaha race riot, 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, 1898 Lake City, South Carolina mob killing of a black postmaster and his infant daughter, 1906 Atlanta Riots that took 25 to 45 African American lives and 2 European American Lives. Historical time period in between 1914 to 1945 during DuBois life characterizes two world wars. Racial riots in the USA during this period continued, and some of them are; 1919 Chicago Race Riot, 1919 Omaha Race Riot, 1919 Knoxville Race Riot, 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, 1923 Rosewood, Florida Massacre, 1927 Poughkeepsie, New York Race Riot, 1935 Harlem Race Riot, 1943 Harlem Race Riot.

DuBois Contribution to Society

Two significant contributions of DuBois are:

  • Sociological approach in solving race relation,
  • Creation of National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

At the beginning, in his fight against white supremacy, DuBois believed that social science could provide education to the both races and solve the problem.  That is why; he dedicated his life to study socioeconomic aspects of the American black people.  In 1897, he directed the Atlanta Conferences; its primary task was to show findings of concise scientific research on the living environment of black Americans.  DuBois collected data from those conferences and analyzed socioeconomic aspect of a black person in America.  His sociological research at the Atlanta University in Georgia during the time of 1897 and 1914 produced 16 monographs.  In 1899, he published his first work, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, a statistically based sociological study (DuBois and Eaton) of slavery and urban life of African Americans in early Philadelphia.  In 1903 in his famous book, The Souls of the Black Folks, he describes racism being the problem of 20th century.  According to his words (DuBois, p. 10), “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line, — the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea”.  DuBois devoted his study to answer the race problem.  Climate of virulent racism, expressed in the form of lynching peonage, disfranchisement led DuBois gradually believe that only agitation and protest can eradicate this evil from the society.  In this regard, DuBois clashed with Booker T. Washington, another prominent black leader of that time who preached the doctrine of accommodation urging black Americans to be tolerant to discrimination and earn respect of whites thru hard work and financial benefit.  DuBois sharp criticism in this regard was voiced in his book Souls of Black Folks.  DuBois criticism of Booker T. Washington crystallized a group of black intellectuals with whom in 1905, he, founded Niagara Movement, an organization (“Niagara Movement”) that called for full political, civil, and social rights for black Americans.  The organization had 30 branches, and DuBois was the general secretary of the organization. Though, the organization achieved few civil right victories at the local levels, but could not attract mass support due to lack of funds and organizational weakness.  In August 1908, United States observed two days brutal assault of white people over the black community in Springfield Illinois.  Mob shot innocent people, burned homes, looted stores, lynched and mutilated two elderly blacks.  Population showed no remorse, and advocated to adopt disenfranchisement of blacks.  The situation turned to be a “Race war in the North”.  Springfield incident became outbursts of blacks and liberal whites that helped in forming a new association by the name National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  DuBois, in 1909 along with other prominent black leaders and white liberals; created the NAACP (“NAACP History”). The NAACP could be seen as the continuation of Niagara Movement since some of the founding members of the new organization were associated with the previous one.  The goal of the organization was to develop interracial relationship, abolition of segregation and discrimination in education, employment, voting, housing, and transportation.  DuBois, during 1910 – 1934 served in the organization as a member of the board of directors, director of publicity and research, and the editor of its monthly magazine Crisis.  DuBois approach in the Crisis magazine was to obtain rights of the black people thru steady stream of agitation, often being bitter and sarcastic, at white Americans, while providing pride to the African Americans.  During the decade, following World War I, racial protests in America erupted on securing anti- lynching legislation.  The NAACP played an active role in this process with its leading figure DuBois. In 1934, he resigned from NAACP and the Crisis.  At the end of his career at Atlanta University in 1944, he returned to the NAACP, where he served as director of research until 1948.  His activities during this time were concentrated in placing the grievances of the African Americans to the world thru United Nations.  His significant contribution of this time was his formal speech, “Appeal to the World”, at the General Assembly of United Nations in 1947 where he described the denial of human rights to minorities in the USA.  In his appeal to the world, he described the denial of the right to vote, and withholding of basic human rights of colored people.  As a result, President Harry Truman created the first civil rights commission.

Impact of Historical Time on DuBois Contribution

Afore-mentioned DuBois contributions to the American society are associated with the historical period when most of Asia and Africa was under white colonial rule, and colored people of the USA were undergoing social discrimination.  Being born and raised in a predominantly European American town, and getting an education in Harvard and Germany gave DuBois opportunity to get in close and popular among white educated people of the society.  All over the life, DuBois, faced the dilemma; on one side he was an American, and on the other side a black African.  He saw suffering and discrimination of his fellow blacks in the white society, while he enjoyed certain privileges.  He dreamed to find a solution of racism.  In his early carrier, DuBois focused on empirical sociology (“W.E.B. – on the Sociology of American Blacks”) studying black culture in the United States.  In Atlanta conferences and at University of Georgia he collected sociological data to prove racial discrimination from socioeconomic viewpoint. His first work, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study is a statistically based analysis. While racial riots and social injustice were climbing upward, he was trying to explain the white majority about the social injustice thru social science. During 1898 – 1914 DuBois published 16 reports of sociological research. Historical events, which took place during DuBois life clearly showed that color and color prejudice isolated American blacks in their own society.  At the same time, he realized that something more needed to be done.  This attitude is reflected in clashes with Booker T. Washington, which eventually resulted in the creation of Niagara Movement in 1905.  However, 1908 “Race war in North” became the inspiration for creation of more radical organization, NAACP.  Being a part of NAACP, during 1910 – 1934, DuBois bitterly criticized white supremacy.  However, during 1934 to 1944, while he served as the chairman of the department of sociology at Atlanta University, he adopted method in explaining race and culture from the sociological point of view thru different publications.  He founded the magazine Pylon in 1940, published two outstanding books; Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, and Dusk of Dawn.  In Black Reconstruction, he wrote about the role of the black people in an attempt to reconstruct democracy in America.  In Dusk of Dawn, he described complexity of black-white conflict thru his own position being a black person and an American.  The end of Second World War brought crumbling of colonial power. In 1947, DuBois approached the world organization (“An appeal to the world”) with his plea, for what he had been fighting so long.


W.E.B. DuBois life is a struggle in establishing the right of the black people in their own country. He dedicated fifty years of personal and professional life toward gaining equal treatment for colored people in a society dominated by whites who proclaimed racial superiority over the colored people. He fought against the myth of racial superiority presenting evidences thru social sciences, political activities and campaign.  As an individual DuBois should be characterized as a scholar, racial activist, and pan-African.  It is no doubt; he was a leading personality of the USA during that time.

Works Cited

“An Appeal to the World”.  blogspot.com  n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://whyaminotsurprised.blogspot.com/2008/10/appeal-to-world.html

“A Timeline of Major Events in the American Civil Rights Movement”.  legalmetro.com n.d., n.p.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.legalmetro.com/library/a-timeline-of-major-events-in-the-american-civil-rights-movement.html

“Black History”.  britanica.com.  n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.britannica.com/blackhistory

“Colonialism 19th and 20th Century”.  gpmsdbaweb.com  n.p., n.d. Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.gpmsdbaweb.com/memoir2/colonialism/colonialism2.htm

“Du Bois, W. E. B. 1868–1963”.  encyclopedia.com  n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012 http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/W_E_B_Du_Bois.aspx

DuBois, W.  “The Souls of Black Folk”.  virgina.edu Web 24 September 2012.  http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=DubSoul.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=2&division=div1

DuBois, W. and Eaton, I.  “The Philadelphia Negro: A social Study”.  google.com.ua.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://books.google.com.ua/books?dq=philadelphia+negro&printsec=frontcover&ei=Lnd4S7y6CZTjnAe6xbCxCQ&ct=result&id=SbcJAAAAIAAJ&output=text&pg=PA3&redir_esc=y

Hurst, R.  “William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (NAACP History)”.  rodneyhurst.com  n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.rodneyhurst.com/?p=666

“NAACP History:  W.E.B. DuBois”.  naacp.org n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-w.e.b.-dubois

“Niagara Movement”.  britanica.com n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.   http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/413740/Niagara-Movement

“Plessy v. Ferguson”.  watson.org  n.d., n.p.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/post-civilwar/plessy.html

“W.E.B. DuBois – On the Sociology of the American Blacks”.  n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://www.education.miami.edu/ep/paris/HTML/DuBois.html

“WEB DuBois: Sociologist, Philosopher, Black Leader”.  virginia.edu. n.p., n.d.  Web 24 September 2012.  http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG03/souls/DuBoisLife.html

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