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Tom Burghardt, a slave who fought with the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was given freedom and a farm.
Tom lived with his family in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a rural farming community.
Mary Silvina Burghardt, Tom’s granddaughter, fell head over heels with Alfred DuBois, who left Haiti for New York in the 1860s.
Their only son, William Edward Burghardt DuBois, commonly known as W.E.B. DuBois, was born shortly after their union on February 23, 1868.
Two years after his birth, Mary left Alfred for her parents’ home before succumbing to a stroke when William was 16.
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Raised by his grandparents, the community DuBois was raised in was mostly white with only 50 black families.
He endured hostile attitudes as one of the only black students to graduate from the integrated Great Barrington High School where he received a college preparatory education unlike most of his peers.
William excelled at writing and contributed several articles to an independent black-owned newspaper, New York Globe.
He caught the attention of Frank Hosmer, one of the strongest influences on William after his mother’s death, who encouraged DuBois to be a relentless reader.
With the fundraising help of Frank, DuBois attended Fisk University, one of the best universities for free blacks who desired in depth study of American racism and African American culture under the guidance of abolitionist thought leaders.
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After graduating Fisk University in 1888, he enrolled as a junior at Harvard University.
Greatly impacted by his studies at Fisk University, he once remarked that “I was in Harvard but not of it.”
He graduated cum laude in 1890 from Harvard with a Bachelor’s in History and gone on to achieve a Master’s of Arts in Sociology in 1891.
Prior to completing his final Master’s degree, William challenged President Hayes, of John H. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen, to support his graduate studies at the University of Berlin and won.
When the fund declined to fund the completion of DuBois’ doctoral thesis in Germany, he returned to Harvard to become the first African American to attain his PhD degree in a secular subject.
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William launched his academic career at Wilberforce University in Ohio where he was a Professor of Greek and Latin with an annual salary of $800.
His travels abroad in Africa, Europe and Asia informed his doctoral dissertation, “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870,” published in the inaugural volume of the Harvard Historical Studies series.
After his dissertation published, DuBois was invited to complete a one-year research project at the University of Pennsylvania as an Assistant Instructor of Sociology for $900 a year.
In 1897, the landmark study entitled “The Philadelphia Negro,” was the first comprehensive sociological study of the African American experience as a social system.
Called the “Father of Social Science” for his early contributions to the emerging field, he argued that blacks deserved the full benefit of American citizenship because racism’s impact beget matters of life and death.
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William DuBois married twice. He had his daughter, Yolanda, with his first wife Nina Gomer in 1896 until her death in 1950. He remarried Shirley Graham in 1951 who traveled with him until his death.
William accepted a faculty appointment at Atlanta University where he was a professor of History and Economics for 13 years.
During his tenure, DuBois penned studies and essays on black morality, urban life, business ventures, higher education, the church, crime, Africa, and social reform.
He published this collection of essays entitled “The Souls of Black Folks” in 1903 which catapulted him in to the public eye as the changing face of black politics, freedom and growth.
W.E.B. DuBois seized the opportunity to influence the world as the Founding Editor of NAACP’s Crisis Magazine for twenty four years.
At 90 years old, he renounced his American citizenship and moved to Ghana where he died in 1963.