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W. E. B. Du Bois

(1868—1963) American writer, sociologist, and political activist

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Founding figure of black Cultural studies, writer, sociologist, economist and activist, of whom it has been said he attempted virtually everything possible to overcome western racism short of armed insurrection. Born in Massachusetts, a descendant of Haitian slaves, he was raised by his mother after his father deserted the family. Although very poor, Du Bois nonetheless had access to excellent education and excelled in school. He studied at Harvard and the University of Berlin. He wrote over 4,000 articles in his lifetime, but most of these pieces (many of which are minor editorial essays written while he was editor of Crisis, the organ of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), of which he was a co-founder) are hard to find and astonishingly there is no collection of his works. Undoubtedly his most famous work, though, is Souls of Black Folk (1903), which a century on is still widely studied and taught. An advocate of assimilation and integration (but on a level playing field) Du Bois disagreed profoundly with Marcus Garvey's separatist strategies. Black people have to endure a double-consciousness, Du Bois argued, in that they have to know when and how to act ‘white’ as well as ‘black’. Thus, they live conscious of the fact that to some ‘they’ are a problem. Paul Gilroy, in his The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), argues that this thesis can be extended to the black diaspora as a whole.

Subjects: Literature

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Works by W. E. B. Du Bois