W.E.B. Du Bois: Founding Figure in American Sociology

Office of the NAACP' S Crisis Magazine
W.E.B. Du Bois at the office of the NAACP's Crisis Magazine. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. At the time, Du Bois’s family was one of the few Black families living in the predominantly Anglo-American town. While in high school, Du Bois showed a big concern for the development of his race. At fifteen years of age, he became the local correspondent for the New York Globe and gave lectures and wrote editorials spreading his ideas that Black people needed to politicize themselves.

Fast Facts: W.E.B. Du Bois

  • Full Name: William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B. for short) Du Bois
  • Born: February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, MA
  • Died: August 27, 1963
  • Education: Bachelor's from Fisk University and Harvard University, Masters from Harvard. First Black to earn a doctorate degree at Harvard.
  • Known For: Editor, writer, and political activist. As the first person to use a scientific approach to study social phenomenon, Du Bois is often called the Father of Social Science.
  • Key Accomplishments: Played a leading role in the struggle for Black civil rights in the United States. Founded and led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
  • Publications: The Philadelphia Negro (1896), Souls of Black Folks (1903), The Negro (1915), The Gift of Black Folk (1924), Black Reconstruction (1935), The Color of Democracy (1945)


In 1888, Du Bois earned a degree from Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee. During his three years there, Du Bois’ knowledge of the race problem became more definite and he became determined to help expedite the emancipation of Black people. After graduating from Fisk, he entered Harvard on scholarships. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1890 and immediately began working towards his master’s and doctorate degree. In 1895, Du Bois became the first African-American to earn a doctorate degree at Harvard University.

Career and Later Life

After graduating from Harvard, Du Bois took a teaching job at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Two years later he accepted a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a research project in Philadelphia’s seventh ward slums, which allowed him to study Blacks as a social system. He was determined to learn as much as he could in an attempt to find the “cure” for prejudice and discrimination. His investigation, statistical measurements, and sociological interpretation of this endeavor was published as The Philadelphia Negro. This was the first time such a scientific approach to studying social phenomenon was undertaken, which is why Du Bois is often called the Father of Social Science.

Du Bois then accepted a teaching position at Atlanta University. He was there for thirteen years during which he studied and wrote about morality, urbanization, business and education, the church, and crime as it affected Black society. His main goal was to encourage and help social reform.

Du Bois became a very prominent intellectual leader and civil rights activist, earning the label “The Father of Pan-Africanism.” In 1909, Du Bois and other like-minded supporters founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1910, he left Atlanta University to work full-time as the Publications Director at the NAACP. For 25 years, Du Bois served as the editor-in-chief of the NAACP publication The Crisis.

By the 1930s, the NAACP had become increasingly institutionalized while Du Bois had become more radical, which led to disagreements between Du Bois and some of the other leaders. In 1934 he left the magazine and returned to teaching at Atlanta University.

Du Bois was one of a number of African-American leaders investigated by the FBI, which claimed that in 1942 his writings indicated him to be a socialist. At the time Du Bois was chairman of the Peace Information Center and was one of the signers of the Stockholm Peace Pledge, which opposed the use of nuclear weapons.

In 1961, Du Bois moved to Ghana as an expatriate from the United States and joined the Communist Party. In the final months of his life, he renounced his American citizenship and become a citizen of Ghana.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Crossman, Ashley. "W.E.B. Du Bois: Founding Figure in American Sociology." ThoughtCo, Jan. 3, 2021, thoughtco.com/web-dubois-3026499. Crossman, Ashley. (2021, January 3). W.E.B. Du Bois: Founding Figure in American Sociology. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/web-dubois-3026499 Crossman, Ashley. "W.E.B. Du Bois: Founding Figure in American Sociology." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/web-dubois-3026499 (accessed February 7, 2023).