In his autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), the African American educator Booker T. Washington urged blacks to temporarily suspend their demands for equal rights in exchange for vocational education and jobs. He predicted that blacks would achieve equal rights once they gained economic power. But Atlanta University historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois disagreed. He challenged what he regarded as Washington’s surrender of rights and human dignity for economic gain. Du Bois refused all compromises. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), he insisted that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.”
Du Bois argued that Washington’s approach would not achieve economic security for African Americans. Instead, Du Bois felt Washington’s acceptance of segregation and the rest of his program would strengthen the beliefs that blacks were inferior and could be treated unequally. As evidence for their position, Du Bois and his supporters pointed to the continuing lynching of blacks and to the passage of additional segregation laws in the South.
In 1905, Du Bois and other critics of Washington met in Niagara Falls, Canada, and organized a campaign to protest racial discrimination. Their campaign became known as the Niagara Movement. It existed from 1905 to 1910. At its height, the Niagara Movement had 30 branches in various cities in the United States. It failed to win the support of most blacks, but many of its ideas were adopted in 1909 by a new interracial organization cofounded by Du Bois–the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He graduated from Fisk University in 1888. In 1895, he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. degree at Harvard University. From 1897 to 1910, Du Bois taught history and economics at Atlanta University.
Du Bois was probably the first African American to express the idea of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is the belief that all people of African descent have common interests and should work together to conquer prejudice. Du Bois attended the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 and later organized Pan-African conferences in Europe and the United States.
After helping to found the NAACP, Du Bois served as editor of the organization’s magazine The Crisis from 1910 to 1934. Du Bois left the NAACP in 1934 and returned to the faculty at Atlanta University. From 1944 to 1948, he again worked for the NAACP. After 1948, Du Bois became increasingly dissatisfied with the slow progress of race relations in the United States. He came to regard Communism as a solution to the problems of blacks. Du Bois moved to Ghana in 1961 and became a Ghanaian citizen.
Du Bois died on Aug. 27, 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois campaigned, was enacted less than a year after his death.
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