Du Bois, W. E. B.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
Great Barrington, MA, USA
Art critic; novelist, journalist, essayist. Du Bois was born to an African-American couple in Massachusetts. He received Bachelor's degrees from both Fisk University in Nashville, and Harvard University, and enrolled in Harvard's doctoral program in history in 1890, becoming the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. He spent two years studying history and sociology at the University of Berlin, and traveled throughout Europe. Du Bois's visit to Munich's Alte Pinakothek was his first exposure to the works of Albrecht Dürer, Titan, and Raphael, and inspired him to write and essay entitled "The Art and Art Galleries of Modern Europe." When he returned to the United States, Du Bois was appointed Chair of the Classics Department at Wilberforce College. He also completed a sociological study at the University of Pennsylvania, and then moved to Atlanta University in 1897, where he taught history, sociology, and economics. Du Bois became disenchanted with the race relations in America, and wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. The book explained his theory of "double consciousness," in which African-Americans experience conflicting identities resulting from their American citizenship and their African heritage. Several African-American artists identified with Du Bois's book, and he gained acceptance in the African-American artistic community. In 1910, he moved to New York and founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and became the editor of the organization's magazine The Crisis. Crisis became the cultural voice of the African-American community, where many prominent artists and writers published essays, poems, and short stories. Du Bois also used Crisis as a discussion forum for the creation of a modern, African-American artistic aesthetic. He, along with Howard professor and scholar Alain Locke (q.v.) discussed the possibility of developing a distinctive African-American artistic style, and routinely wrote exhibition reviews highlighting the work of African-American artists. In 1926, Du Bois sponsored Crisis symposium called "The Negro in Art," in which he chastised African-American artists for not assuming more political responsibility in their work. Du Bois worked closely with artists such as Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence, whom he believed would lead the movement to develop a black modernist aesthetic. He continued to help young artists through Crisis magazine until he resigned from the NAACP in 1934. In the 1940's and 1950's, Du Bois associated with several organizations linked to Communism. His interest in Pan-Africanism led him to Ghana in 1959, where he worked with Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah on the Encyclopedia Africana. Du Bois renounced his United States citizenship, and became a Ghanian citizen, where he died in 1963.
Selections from the Crisis, Herbert Aptheker, ed., Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1983; The American Negro, Philadelphia, PA: American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1928; The Souls of Black Folks; Essays and Sketches, Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1903; The Dark Princess, A Romance, NY: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1974, c1928; The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader, Eric J. Sundquist, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
The Oxford Companion to African-American Literature (1997); David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race 1868-1919 New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993; Chambers Biographical Dictionary 1997.
LaNitra Michele Walker