On Civil Rights Activists W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett

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On Civil Rights Activists W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett

On December 18, 1865, in Washington, D.C., then U.S. Secretary of State William Seward made the formal proclamation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to be law, thus formally abolishing slavery in the United States. However, for newly-freed African-Americans in the U.S., the excruciating uphill battle for equal rights throughout the country had just started. While Reconstruction had the initial promise of integrating formerly oppressed persons into the citizenry with speed and efficiency, the arduous task of racial and cultural integration with civil rights took 100 years to plateau to the level black people experience currently, especially in the South. In the late 19th century it took radical and persistence efforts by brave and ingenious leaders to bring about change for African-American people, and although the Federal government had kept the nation together through winning the Civil War and passing laws to end slavery, the Federal government also failed to fully enfranchise blacks and tended to ignore cultural and racial turmoil that lingered amongst the population throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Reconstruction time after the Civil War (1866~1877) had the potential to bring change to racial divides and stability via federal projects and fair elections, but the overall effort failed, and by the 1880s much of the South had relapsed into oppressive laws on blacks that took many decades to reverse. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois (1868-1963) and Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) were both influential leaders that each pioneered their own way to continue the pursuit of freedom for black people and better harmonize race relations in a then still-culturally-hostile America.

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was born to Mary Burghardt and Alfred Du Bois of Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. His father’s ethnicity was quite diverse and this left Du Bois with a hint of ambiguity when it came to his ethnic identity. Alfred Du Bois emigrated from Haiti and appeared to have African ancestry as well as French Huguenot. Not long after William was born, his father abandoned him and his mother; Alfred died the following year. Du Bois’ mother suffered a stroke when he was young which led to them barely able to make ends meet because she could not work. They relied on money from their extended family, and when Du Bois was able to work, he worked four or five odd jobs to contribute to the household income, and all while attending high school. William was a top performer in school and he was the first in his family to attend college. While in high school he edited the school newspaper, The Howler, in which he first demonstrated his genius, thus getting the attention of the principle, Frank Hosmer. When Du Bois failed to get into Harvard after high school—an ambitious endeavor—Hosmer, with help from some other intellectuals in his community, raised enough money to send him to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk was historically a black school, and while Du Bois attended the university he was exposed to a rich variety of young African-Americans with talent and drive. In just a few months after arriving he joined the school publication, the Fisk Herald, and redirected it to project the strong opinions of his young, black peers. After graduating from Fisk with honors, his second attempt to attend Harvard University was met with much less resistance (his first attempt was denied because his high school did not meet the rigid academic requirements for Harvard), and he was accepted. By 1895, Du Bois had earned three degrees from Harvard, and he became the first black to obtain a Ph.D. from the university. For a brief time before finishing his doctorate, William studied at the University of Berlin and traveled through much of Europe. This would be key in broadening his global view of race and...
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