William Edward Burghart Du Bois was an American author, editor, writer, sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, and all around badass active from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. He was the first African American do earn a doctorate from Harvard University and one of the original founders of the NAACP in 1910 who rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists that wanted equal rights for blacks and pushed for an increase in black political representation. Over the course of his life, racism was the main target of Du Bois’ polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in both education and employment. This cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies, and he was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for the independence of African colonies from European powers. On top of that, he additionally surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France after WWI and documented widespread prejudice and racism in the US military. And wait, did I mention he was an author, and a prolific one at that? His collection of essays, “The Souls of Black Folk”, is a seminal work in African-American literature, and his 1935 magnum opus, “Black Reconstruction in America”, challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. The central thesis of much of his life’s work is the opening line of “The Souls of Black Folk”, “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line,” in which he refers to the injustice of the separate but equal doctrine prevalent in American social and political life. Du Bois firmly believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life, ardently advocating for peace and nuclear disarmament. To top that off, The United States’ Civil Rights Act, which embodied many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death, at the age of 95.

This is the TIP of the fucking iceberg, so let’s just get to it and talk all things WEB Du Bois on this episode of Legacy: the Artists Behind the Legends.

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The Souls of Black Folk by William E. B. Du Bois