African American writer and teacher William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was born on this day in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, three years after the end of the American Civil War. He was the most influential black leader of the first half of the 20th century.
"One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder," said Du Bois, who was his high school's valedictorian.
Educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, he was an advocate for education and equality. He published The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899), the first case study of a U.S. black community which used ethnography, history, and statistics.
In his masterpiece The Souls of Black Folk (1903), he wrote, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line."
"Am I an American or am I a Negro?" he asked. "Can I be both?"
In seeking to establish a relationship between blacks and whites, and among blacks themselves, Du Bois helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
Du Bois inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement. About education, the African American intellectual said: "When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books You will be reading meanings."
Believe and make it happen.