"WEB DuBois: Protagonist of Afro-American Protest" (63-83) Elliott Rudwick

WEB DuBois was the most important black protest spokesman of the first half of the 20th century:

  • criticized white racist social institutions
  • argued that change would not come until blacks demanded change
  • although his political positions changed over the years, DuBois is best remembered as promoter of integration who demanded that blacks be given the opportunity to participate fully in the larger American society.
  • He believed that integration would be achived by an elite vanguard of college educated professionals, "the Talented Tenth".
  • These achievers would help bridge the psychological divide within Negro consciousness itself:
One ever feels his twoness- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife-- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.... He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face. (The Souls of Black Folk)


Extraordinary Academic Career:

  • Graduated from Fisk University (at age 20) and then was the 1st black to earn a PHd from Harvard University (1895).
  • He wrote the first in depth study of a urban black community in The Philadelphia Negro (1899) and is credited with the invention of modern sociology.
  • He believed that social science would teach American leaders how to solve the problem of poverty.)


First Prominence: In Opposition to Booker Washington

Booker Washington sought, in the midst of the lynchings, disenfranchisement, and segregation, the advancement of black folk through the tactics of accommodation: seeking good will of powerful whites, not protesting discrimination, pursuing economic advancement through industrial education (technical schools) and the accumulation of property.

DuBois Response:

Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  • Only militant protest and agitation in the pursuit of civil rights will advance the condition of black people.
  • Condoning racism only perpetuates it among whites and makes blacks think that they themselves are to blame for their oppression and poverty.
  • Social justice will never be achieved by flattering white racists, tossing away constitutional rights, and belittling the self.
  • What was needed instead was clamorous protest and an aggressive legal campaign to demand constitutional rights and end segregation.

Niagara Resolutions (1905)

  • not only a political manifesto fro the civil rights movement but an attempt to wrest support away from Washington's Tuskegee Machine
  • denouncing separate but equal legal doctrine (Plessy v. Fergusen) underpinning segregation
  • denouncing the injustice of Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement
  • denouncing gradualist/ incrementalist positions


Foundation of NAACP (1908)

  • An inter-racial protest organization dedicated to publicizing injustices perpetrated against blacks to a national audience, pursuing litigation in courts, and lobbying the legislature.
  • DuBois founds The Crisis: the NAACP's official organ.
  • With Booker Washington's death in 1915, the NAACP became the leading black protest organization in the country.
  • Criticized on the left by the socialist A. Philip Randolph and on the right by the black nationalist Marcus Garvey.

Embrace of Marxism (1930's and 40's)