This Black History Month I’m Grateful for W.E.B. DuBois
“The problem of the
twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”
This quote is from “The Souls of Black Folk”, one of the most
important articulations of the possibilities and struggles of Black people in
America. In it, DuBois coined the term “double consciousness”, creating a
concept that retains currency in Black communities a century later.
W.E.B. DuBois provided us so many contributions that he’s
nearly impossible to characterize. He was a prolific author, renowned educator,
social activist, political philosopher and prominent anti-colonialist. In his
remarkably long life, DuBois served as a bridge between the worlds of Frederick
Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.
Early in his career, DuBois helped Blacks to shift away from
Booker T. Washington’s focus on schooling to learn skilled trades toward a
focus on academic knowledge based education. His encouragement of artistic and cultural
accomplishment combined with his concept of a “Talented Tenth”* made DuBois a primary
inspiration for the Harlem Renaissance.
While it seems odd now, Dubois died as something of a social
outcast. This was largely because his politics were considered too radical by
mainstream Black Americans. By the early 1960s, he’d become convinced that Pan-Africanism
was the best way for American Blacks to respond to racial oppression in the U. S.
In much of his writing and thinking,
DuBois anticipated and inspired the Black Power movement.
DuBois is best known today as one of the founders of the
NAACP and Niagara Movement. As important as those developments have been, they
are only a small part of W.E.B. DuBois’ many legacies.
Today I am grateful for W.E.B. DuBois. You should be too.
*- the idea that it is the responsibility of the best and
brightest Blacks to work toward the improvement of their race, lifting others as they go