Portrait Essay

Topics: African American, Black people, W. E. B. Du Bois Pages: 5 (1488 words) Published: May 7, 2013
Xavier Garcia
Mr. Vela
19 February 2013
The Soul of a Black Man

“The problem of the twentieth century is the color line.”
In his groundreaking book, The Souls of Black People, W.E.B. DuBois spoke with a great candor that had not been seen before him about the social and racial issues of being an African American in American society in the twentieth century. DuBois was the first African American of his kind; An activist for civil rights, a sociologist, historian, Pan-Africanist, author, editor, he was a pioneer for equal rights of colored people during his time. DuBois was born on February twenty-three, nineteen sixty-eight in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a mostly European American town. Fortunately, he was born in a town that allowed him to study freely with whites, and was even supported and encouraged in his academic studies. But it wasn’t until Dubois moved to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Fisk University at the age of 15 that he first encountered Jim Crow Laws. This opened up his mind to the unsheltered world around him, a world where your color made a difference. W.E.B. DuBois, acknowledged by many as the father of social science, and considered one of the most influential intellectuals in American history, was the catalyst for what became the Modern Civil Rights movement.

Education was an obstacle for the African American community, but W.E.B. Dubois never let that stop him despite the times he was in. DuBois was the first African American to graduate with a doctorate after graduating from Harvard University. This was a monumentous triumph, especially considering that Harvard wouldn’t acknowledge his degree from Fisk University because it was a predominantly African American college, and DuBois wasn’t allowed on campus after 6:00 pm because of his color. Dubois’ dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America,1638-1870, was published as number one in the Harvard Historical Series. The body of work that is Dubois’ dissertation has yet to be surpassed to this day. After graduating from Harvard, Dubois became assistant instructor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he was fired a year later because he “failed to produce any work of real value”(Andrew Barlow). Ironically enough, during his time at the University of Pennsylvania, Dubois conducted a ground-breaking sociological study of an urban community, published as The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. This study, along with his dissertation, paved the way in cementing Dubois’ place among America’s leading scholars. All of Dubois’ efforts were meant to gain equal treatment for blacks in a world that was dominated by whites, and helping refute the myths of racial inferiority.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, W.E.B. Dubois could not hold his tongue to the racial issues around him any longer. He rose to be the spokesperson for African Americans, second only to Booker T. Washington. Washington was a black American leader born in slavery, representing blacks in the south who had lost their ability to vote due to disenfranchisement to southern legislature. Washington was described by historians as a man who "advised, networked, cut deals, made threats, pressured, punished enemies, rewarded friends, greased palms, manipulated the media, signed autographs, read minds with the skill of a master psychologist, strategized, raised money, always knew where the camera was pointing, traveled with an entourage, waved the flag with patriotic speeches, and claimed to have no interest in partisan politics. In other words, he was an artful politician" (Wikipedia, Booker T. Washington).

Eighteen ninety-five was a crucial year that started a chain of events that helped cement racism as a true in America. A very controversial speech was given that year by Booker T. Washington; a speech that led to what is now known as the Atlanta Compromise, and was a big reason why Washington...
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