Celebrating Black History and Excellence in Advocacy: W.E.B DuBois

This is the first in a series highlighting African Americans who have demonstrated excellence in advocacy. We choose to celebrate the lives of these individuals who have made a huge impact on our history and culture.


W.E.B DuBois wrote in his journal for his 25th birthday that his goal was to make a name in science and in art and thus to raise his race. He went on to become the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. His dissertation, “The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States”, is the first volume in the Harvard Historical Studies series. He laid the foundation for twentieth-century African American sociology and was a founding member of the NAACP. In addition, he wrote tirelessly on the plight of African Americans in the Atlantic Monthly, The Dial, and World’s Work, and Crisis Magazine. He may be best known for his widely-acclaimed book, “Souls of Black Folk”, which spoke of the duality of African Americans as both African and American striving to be united in America.

W.E.B DuBois was born in 1868. He distinguished himself as a scholar and in turn helped to raise the consciousness of African Americans.  He was also able to agitate the status quo on behalf of his race and keep the conversation of freedom and equality in the forefront of the American consciousness.  Prior to his death in 1963, he envisioned and was planning to develop a multivolume Encyclopedia Africana.  The advocacy that Dr. DuBois engaged in was academic. He worked to raise the consciousness of the world to the struggle of African peoples while educating African Americans of their duality in America and their power to change their circumstances.

What’s even more incredible about DuBois is the impact he had on other African Americans.  Dr. DuBois’ longevity allowed him a particular insight into the evolution of Black literature. His life and works overlaps with the life and works of Sojourner Truth, Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey. Each of these individuals influenced their time adding to the canon of Black scholarship in America contributing to the advancement of African peoples. Dr. DuBois built upon and often challenged their scholarship to education our country and our people.

W.E.B DuBois was an advocate because he strived to change and improve the lives of an entire race and he worked against the status quo. His willingness to throw himself into academia for the chance of “raising his race” embodies the type of courage and determination that RYTF strives to instill and grow in each of its members. His brand of advocacy serves as an example and model of what we can do in our own communities.

Dr. DuBois has left a manual for future generations to follow in advocacy. He began with preparation. He attained the highest educational credentials to advocate at the highest levels of educational and political circles.  He did not wait for the establishment to tell him how to advocate, he used his life experiences and the stories of others to determine his path. This was the genius of Dr. DuBois. He dedicated his life to uplifting his race. He was able to maintain his passion and momentum for the cause over a ninety-five year life. Although he was never satisfied with the progress America made in race relations he never stopped fighting for justice. He renounced his American citizenship, becoming a citizen of Ghana where he is buried.  He has left his work and his life as an example to follow. We are still here. Who will pick up the torch?