The Life And Studies Of W.E.B. Du Bios Essay, Research Paper
Theoretical Analysis Paper
The Life and Studies of W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois entered the world on February 23, 1868. This was less than three years after slavery was outlawed. However, his family had been out of slavery for several generations. He was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a small village with only a handful of black families. His teachers quickly made him a favorite, and most of his playmates were white. At the age of fifteen he became a local correspondent for the New York Globe. Du Bois moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he received a scholarship and attended Fisk University. This was the first time that he discovered that being black was a big part of his identity. He spent his summers in Tennessee teaching in rural schools. It was there that he met “the real seat of slavery.” He had never seen such poverty in his entire life. “I touched intimately the lives of the commonest of mankind–people who ranged from barefooted dwellers on dirt floors, with patched rags for clothes, to rough hard-working farmers, with plain clean plenty.” (Hamilton, Her Stories). Unlike Massachusetts, Nashville was a southern town that exposed Du Bois to the everyday bigotry he had escaped growing up. While he was there he came in contact with some people that did not think of him as a normal human being. There is a story of one woman that called him a nigger after she accidentally bumped into her. By the end of his college years Du Bois had begun to take pride in his heritage. Du Bois graduated from Fisk and entered Harvard where he received his A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. He was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from that university. He also spent two years studying at the University of Berlin, which was at the time the world’s most distinguished center for advanced research in history. His doctoral dissertation was a study of the efforts to suppress the African slave trade. He accepted a position teaching at Wilberforce University, a college for black students in Ohio. After an unhappy year, he left to be a researcher at the University in Pennsylvania. There he studied the African-American immigrants to Philadelphia. He published The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study in 1899, the first serious sociological study of the emerging black urban population. In 1897 ?Du Bois accepted a new position at Atlanta University. It was there that he began to enter the realm of political activism that would dominate the rest of his life. He began to help black people devise a strategy for confronting the growing pattern of discrimination that they were facing.?(Microsoft, Encarta Encyclopedia). In 1897 Du Bois accepted a new position at Atlanta University. It was there that he began to enter the realm of political activism that would take control of the rest of his life. He began to help black people come up with a strategy for confronting the growing pattern of discrimination that they were facing. He came up with a ten-year-cycle study. This was to find statistics on morality, business, education, art. environment, religion, and crime in black society?s. After WWI broke out Du Bois planned another study. This covered the demographics, biology, socialization according to the family, groups, and class. This was a much larger study. He made this a study program that lasted one-hundred-years. . During the 1890s and early 1900s southern states passed “Jim Crow Laws” which required black people to stay out of public places that served whites. Separate restaurants, hotels, railroad cars, toilets, drinking fountains, etc. began to appear. Southern states passed laws that required voters to take confusing tests to qualify to vote. African-Americans responded to these conditions in a variety of ways. One response was to leave the South for a more desirable environment, where their rights would be respected and where there was economic opportunity. A second response was to seek some kind of accommodation within the limited opportunities whites were offering. Du Bois proposed a third alternative. He attacked Washington’s claim that with freedom, Negro leadership should have begun at the plow and not in the Senate.
It is easy to see that all throughout Du Bois? life he was dealing with the struggles of racial discrimination. Just before he was born the Civil War was taking place. At the start of the American Civil War most white Americans in the North were not willing to fight to end Southern slavery. They fought instead to preserve the Union and prevent slavery from spreading into the Western territories. Many opposed expanding slave territory because they believed that slaves were unfair competition to free labor. African Americans hoped the Civil War would bring about the abolition of slavery. In anticipation, they formed military units in many northern cities in the 1850s. War finally came in the spring of 1861, and eleven Southern states seceded from the Union and formed their own nation, the Confederate States of America. The black military units offered their service to the United States, but the federal government initially refused to accept African American troops. Lincoln feared that doing so would encourage the slaveholding Border States to join the Confederacy. Eventually, black troops were allowed to fight in the army. In the beginning of the war, some northern commanders returned slaves to their masters, and others forced escapees to work for the U.S. Army. Then, Lincoln turned U.S. war aims toward slavery’s destruction by issuing his Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves held by those Southerners still in rebellion. During the war, African American soldiers who served in the Union Army were paid less than white soldiers and suffered racist treatment. Confederates said that they would not treat the captured black soldiers and their white officers as legitimate prisoners of war. By the end of the war, the Union defeated the Confederacy, and slavery came to an end. Even before the war ended though, the government had begun discussing how to deal with the aftermath of the war. In March 1865 the U.S. War Department established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly called the Freedmen?s Bureau. But when the war ended, the national government had not yet determined how best to reunite the country. Views on how to treat the defeated Confederacy varied. Some people felt that the South could be reconciled with the Union by simply acknowledging the abolition of slavery, while others were convinced that the region?s social, economic, and political systems would have to be thoroughly reconstructed. In March 1867 Congress passed the Reconstruction Act which was strengthened by three supplemental acts later the same year and in 1868. In 1870 the states ratified the 15th Amendment. This amendment prohibited the denial of the right to vote based on race. Finally, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which forbade racial discrimination in ?inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of amusement.? The erosion of the South had a big part to do with this time period. It consisted of emigration from the South, the Jim Crow laws, sharecropping ?reconstruction failure, and increased disfranchisement. There were also responses by the African Americans such as rise of populism,?and racial accommodation which was brought on by Booker T. Washington. The great migration was another event that took place. This was in the early twentieth century where growing unemployment and increasing racial violence caused blacks to move out of the South. The Harlem Renaissance also took place and it was followed by the Great Depression. During the 1930s, the NAACP led a vigorous legal battle against discrimination, concentrating on ways to end legal segregation, especially in education. In the late 30?s and early 40?s WWII was going on. In the early 50?s the struggle for equal rights was going on, and in 1955 Rosa Park?s was arrested for her stand. Toward the end of Du Bois? life, was the start of rights for blacks. With lot?s of non-violent protests and the black power party?s, things were looking up for the African Americans.
There are two major influences for W.E.B. Du Bois. There was both Karl Marx and Max Weber. These men were considered conflict theorists because they felt that things in the social world do not just work themselves out. They thought that in order to make it work, people have to work hard and there has to be a balance that is kept. As for Marx, his major influence was the Communist Manifesto. This was a declaration of principles and objectives made by the Communist League in London in the year 1848. In the first section, Marx outlines his theory of history and prophesies an end to exploitation. Identifying class struggle as the primary dynamic in history, he characterizes the modern world as the stage for a dramatic confrontation between the ruling bourgeoisie, the capitalists and the downtrodden proletariat, the working class. In the second edition, Marx identifies the Communists as the allies and theoretical vanguard of the proletariat. He emphasizes the necessity of abolishing private property, a fundamental change in material existence that will unmask bourgeois culture, the ideological expression of capitalism. The third section, criticizing various alternative socialist visions of the time, is now largely of historical interest but displays the author’s formidable polemical skills. The final section, which compares Communist tactics to those of other opposition parties in Europe, ends with a clarion call for unity: “Workers of All Countries, Unite!”(Ollmen, Marx?s Conception of Man). Weber was probably even more of an influence. He believed in the same thing as Marx, but instead of basing it all on money, he came up with Stratification. This was Weber?s one part of Weber?s core theory. It consisted of three parts. The first was money, which say?s a lot of the same things that Marx stated. The other two that he added are status, or prestige, and power. The other two sections of his main theory were his outlook on organizations, and the way he grouped politics.
The best way to understand Du Bois? theories is to look at his two main attributes. The Philadelphia Negro, written in 1899, and The Souls of Black Folk, written later in 1903. These two writings show how Du Bois thought of society in terms of race. At the turn of the last century, W.E.B. Du Bois walked the streets and alleys of lower Center City, looking for answers to “the Negro problem.” He came to Philadelphia in 1896 believing the world was thinking wrong about race because it did not know the truth about the lives of African Americans. What he found was a “city within a city.? 40,000 African Americans living with more than a million whites, but isolated by race, housing patterns, job discrimination and history. They were, in Du Bois’ words, ?badly fed, insufficiently clothed and ill housed.?(Odom, Philadelphia Story). His findings were published 100 years ago as The Philadelphia Negro, a very detailed research and study of African American life. For the first time, “the Negro problem” was cast as society’s problem. The Philadelphia Negro was, ?one of the first works to combine the use of urban ethnography, social history and descriptive details.”(Lewis, Biography of a Race). His book was the first American social study of black life to look past stereotypes. He focused on family, housing, mortality, poverty, social development and community life, and illustrated his findings with maps and table. Du Bois had to support the reformers’ view that African Americans represented “a societal threat,” while uncovering its real causes, including poverty and limited job opportunities. Part of what comes through is Du Bois’ struggle with his own elitism. He was critical of households led by single mothers, even though his own father had abandoned his mother. Du Bois introduced the notion that African Americans struggle with a “two-ness” to be black and American, separated from whites by a “vast veil.” In The Philadelphia Negro he sometimes writes with disdain of blacks who do not have his advantages. He defines for the first time a caste system in African American life. Classifying people by grades, he labels them “the criminals, the poor, the laborers and the well to do”(Cavell, A Biography in Four Voices). The Philadelphia Negro is actually two books. One supporting the reformers’ concerns, and another containing a “radical subtext.” Throughout the book Du Bois delivers interesting critiques of African Americans, then follows with complaints about social oppression, inadequate schools, and unjust imprisonments and job discrimination. Du Bois also addresses the personal dynamics of race relations. He said that if an African American meets a lifelong white friend on the street, he is in a dilemma; if he does not greet the friend he is considered impolite; if he does greet the friend he is liable to be ignored. When presented with The Philadelphia Negro, reformers looked at it, but did absolutely nothing about it. The book was praised in scholarly journals, but reviewers overlooked Du Bois’ broad critique of the unjust treatment of blacks. W.E.B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk, a collection of autobiographical and historical essays contains many themes. There is the theme of souls and their attainment of consciousness, the theme of double consciousness and the comparison of black life and culture; but one of the most striking themes is that of “the veil.” The veil provides a link between the fourteen seemingly unconnected essays that make up The Souls of Black Folk. Mentioned at least once in most of the fourteen essays it means that, “the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world, -a world with yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.?(Du Bois, His Day in Marching On). The veil is a metaphor for the separation and unseen life of black?s and their existence in America. Du Bois’s veil metaphor, “In those somber forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself, -darkly as though through a veil?(Du Bois, His Day in Marching On) is a allusion to Saint Paul’s line in Isaiah 25:7, “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.?(KJV, Holy Bible). Saint Paul’s use of the veil in Isaiah and later in Second Corinthians is similar to Du Bois’ use of the metaphor of the veil. Both writers claim that as long as one is wrapped in the veil their attempts to gain self-consciousness will fail because they will always see the image of themselves reflect back to them by others. Du Bois applies this by claiming that as long as on is behind the veil only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. He does not claim that transcending the veil will lead to a better understanding of the lord but like Saint Paul he finds that only through transcending “the veil” can people achieve liberty and gain self-consciousness. The veil metaphor is symbolic of the invisibility of blacks in America. Du Bois says that Blacks in America are a forgotten people, “after the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil.?(Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk). The invisibility of Black existence in America is one of the reasons why Du Bois writes The Souls of Black Folk in order to elucidate the “invisible” history and strivings of Black Americans. Du Bois in each of the his chapters tries to manifest the strivings of Black existence from that of the reconstruction period to the black spirituals and the stories of rural black children that he tried to educate. Du Bois ?emphasize the predictive power of sociology regarding the racial conflicts that continue to plague are species and urges the autonomy of the black community.?(Collins & Makowsky, The Discovery of Society).
Affirmative action programs promote equal representation of minority groups in the American workplace and public schools. It seeks to remedy the effects of discrimination of specific groups through the force of laws and regulations. In practice, affirmative action can be a passive effort or an aggressive approach to correct historic patterns of racial discrimination. Unfortunately, through the years, affirmative action has changed from equal opportunity for everyone to preferential treatment of minority groups. The original concept involved only passive efforts such as encouraging institutions to make deliberate attempts to include minorities in employment and in college enrollment. In recent years, affirmative action has become an aggressive effort that requires and measures minority representation. As a result, affirmative action has produced undesirable problems in the American culture. The term affirmative action was first used in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. In 1954, the Brown decision [Brown v. Board of Education] required racial desegregation in schools and other public places. The Brown decision led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, soon supplemented by the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. This was the beginning of public awareness to the racial discrimination issue. Many blacks today still feel the effects of racial discrimination. Affirmative action was created to give blacks equal educational and employment opportunities. It has helped many black people attend institutions of higher education and obtain better job opportunities, but it has failed to reach the goal of alleviating racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is prevalent in the hiring practices used by businesses in America. Today, the best qualified applicant applying for a job will not necessarily be the applicant that is hired. All public, private or non-profit businesses with more than 15 employees must comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has the authority to prosecute any business for discrimination if the percentage of minorities hired is much lower than the percentage of minorities applying. Supporters of affirmative action insist that blacks are trainable even if they are not the best qualified candidate. In some situations in which blacks are severely underrepresented, meeting a numerical goal may require selecting a specific number of blacks that are only basically qualified to do the job. Opponents of affirmative action argue that blacks who get the jobs do not get them on their own merit but obtain them because of the color of their skin. If W.E.B. Du Bois were here today, it is almost without a doubt that he would be right in the middle of this. He may not agree with the way the affirmative action program is going, but he would surely be on the side that is puching for black rights. The way things are going though, and with the things we have gathered from Du Bois? pat, it would be easy to imagine that he would come up with another plan that would benefit minorities, but also make the hard worker, or the one with the most skills the chance to succeed.
1. Cavell, Colin S. Video. A Biography in Four Voices. San Francisco, California: Newsreal, 1978.
2. Collins, Randell, Makowsky, Michael. The Discovery of Society. Boston Massachusetts: The McGraw – Hill Companies, Inc. 1998.
3. Du Bois, Shirley G. His Day in Marching on, Memories of W.E.B. Du Bois.
4. Du Bois, W.E.B. The Soul of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Co. 1903.
5. KJV, Holy Bible, Isaiah 25:7. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1976
6. Lewis, David L. Biography of a Race. H Holf & Co. 1968-1919
7. Hamilton, Virginia, Her Stories, African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales. 1995
8. Odom, Maida, Philadelphia Story. Philadelphia Newspaper Inc. 1999
9. Ollmen, Bertell, Alienation: Marx?s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society. 1977
10. Microsoft, Encarta Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation, Http://encarta/msn.com. 1997-2000.