W. E. B. Du Bois was an author, historian, sociologist, and civil rights activist in the twentieth century. He became the first African-American to earn a doctorate after graduating from Harvard. He taught history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois also published The Philadelphia Negro (1899), a sociological study of African-Americans in Philadelphia, and The Souls of Black Folk (1903), a collection of essays. During his professorship, Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 (Du Bois, 40). His involvement with the NAACP gave him an active role in the American Civil Rights Movement which integrated public schools in the 1960s.
Du Bois believed that all African-Americans deserved equal opportunity in education. He opposed Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise which allowed segregation in exchange for basic education. Du Bois believed education was a fundamental right that should not be compromised for any reason and that segregation was wrong. Du Bois represented the class of educated African-Americans known as the “talented tenth,” advocates who fought for equal rights. He opposed Washington’s approach to African-American education which favored only teaching agricultural and mechanical skills (Du Bois, 5). Du Bois firmly believed that schools should offer a liberal arts education in order to develop elite African-American leaders (Du Bois, xi). He asserted that education would uplift people, arguing for working “guided by intelligence” because “education must not simply teach work—it must teach life” (Provenzo, 92).
During Du Bois’ lifetime his harshest critique was Booker T. Washington with whom he had many public arguments over the education of African-Americans. Washington favored a separate, independent education focused on technical training while Du Bois wanted an integrated, liberal arts education. Modern critics praise Du Bois’ work during the Civil Rights Movement as he campaigned for the desegregation of schools. He advocated for a non-violent integration of African-Americans into the public schools.
Du Bois’ theories of education were well-developed and expressed in his writings. His principles on universal education, desegregation, and non-violence should be praised. Schools should not be segregated because all men are created equal in the sight of God. Even though the Civil Rights Movement ended almost fifty years ago, Du Bois’ impact on education can be seen every day in our integrated public school system.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1973). The education of black people: Ten critiques 1906-1960. In H. Aptheker (Ed.). New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.
Provenzo, E. F. (Ed.). (2002). DuBois on education. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.