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W.E.B. DuBois

Sociologist and social activist; Born: February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, MA; Died: August 27, 1963 in Accra, Ghana

Headshot of W.E.B. DuBois


  • B.A., Fisk University, 1888
  • B.A. cum laude, Harvard College, 1890
  • M.A. in History, Harvard University, 1891
  • Graduate studies in History & Economics at the University of Berlin, Germany, 1892-94
  • Ph.D. in History, Harvard University, 1895

W.E.B. DuBois was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard and later became an influential sociologist and political activist, co-founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1908.

DuBois took four years of Latin and three of Greek in high school. At Fisk, he read Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Demosthenes' speech On the Crown, Sophocles' Antigone, and the New Testament in Ancient Greek. In Latin, he studied Livy and Tacitus (cf. Broderick article below).

After returning from graduate studies at the University of Berlin (now Humboldt University) in Germany, where he studied history and economics, DuBois joined the faculty of Wilberforce University in Ohio as a professor of Greek and Latin (1894-1896).

DuBois' true academic interests, however, lay in history and sociology. After publishing his dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, in a new monograph series, the Harvard Historical Papers (1896), he became an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania (1896-1897). During his tenure there, he pursued the research for his next important book, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899), a pioneering sociological study of an urban community. Later he served as professor of economics and history at Atlanta University (1897-1910) and finally as chair of the same university's department of sociology (1934-1944).

W.E.B. DuBois on the Classics

In contrast to Booker T. Washington, who advocated manual training, W.E.B. DuBois believed that African Americans could only obtain social and economic equality in American society if they developed a class of college-educated leaders trained in the humanities, including Latin and Greek, see his 1903 essay "The Talented Tenth".


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