Remembering A Great Pan-Africanist

W.E.B. DuBoid
W.E.B. DuBoid

FEBRUARY 23, 1868 – AUGUST 27, 1963

By Sainey Faye

“ There is in this world no such force as the force of a man determined to rise.The human soul cannot be permanently chained.” — W.E.B. DU BOIS

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868 almost three years after the American civil war; that freed the African slaves. This great father of modern Pan-Africanism is today being remembered for the great contributions and sacrifices he made for our people worldwide. In 1888 at age 20,he graduated from Fisk university with honors; and was offered a scholarship at Harvard university. Two years later , in 1890 he graduated from Harvard again with honors and a second degree; he was exposed to and learned more about the history of slavery and how it impacted and dehumanized his people – African people scattered and suffering woridwide.

In 1895, Du Bois completed his studies; becoming the first African American to receive an advance degree ( Ph.D.) from Harvard. He was noted as one of the most highly educated African American of his day, but no white university would hire him. He ended up finding a job teaching at a small university called Wilberforce; in Ohio. His most and very important contributions to sociology was known as he developed his theory that racism was caused by ignorance and much more. He wrote about sixteen books and was a world reknown historian; beyond any doubt. Cheikh Anta Diop had given his works high marks and had great respect for his works on sociology,economy, anthropology, and African and world history.

To chronicle his works and contributions requires a lot of research and time, so only a brief summary and time line can be used to educate or inform people, about this great Pan-Africanist, liberator and revolutionary. From 1900 until he passed away in Ghana , in 1963; he was constantly in the forefront of the struggle to emancipate us from bondage and servitude.He protested, organized, marched, agitated, educated , and rallied the progressive forces against any and all injustices; not only in America but worldwide, especially for Africa’s scattered children.

Du Bois was way ahead of many thinkers and educators in America at the time, both White or Black. Heather Gray, a well informed writer and journalist, noted in one article on Du Bois :

“Du Bois wisely reflected upon the lack of consideration of economics overall by Americans. Suffice it to say that much of this lack was due largely to the Cold War mentality throughout much of the 20th century. It did not allow for dialogue on much of anything regarding economics as in:
What is capitalism? What is socialism? What is communism? What is a mixed economy? People were often afraid to even mention the word “capitalism” much less discuss it. In this article I want to share a transcript of the speech Du Bois gave in 1953 where he provides a summary of some of his thoughts on economics.

Du Bois gave the speech below in 1953 at the California Peace Crusade, he begins by saying that American thought is distorted. At a time when economics should be studied, he said, it is not. What interests Americans is the accumulation of money without understanding the economics of it all: What has gone wrong? It is clear the workers don’t understand the meaning of work. Work is service not gain. The object of work is life not income. The reward of production is plenty, not private property. We should measure the prosperity of the nation not by the number of millionaires, but by the absence of poverty; the prevalence of health; the efficiency of the public schools; and the number of people who can, do read worthwhile books.

Toward all this we do strive but instead of marching breast forward, we stagger and wander thinking that food is raised not to eat but to sell at good profit; houses are not to shelter the masses but to make real estate agents rich; and solemnly declaring that without private profit there can be no food or homes. All of this is ridiculous. It has been disproven centuries ago. The greatest thinkers of every age have inveighed against concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and against the poverty, and disease and ignorance in the masses of men.

We have tried every method of reform. A favorite effort has been force ­ by war. But the loot stolen by murder went to the generals and not to the soldiers. We tried through religion to lead men to sacrifice and right treatment of their fellow men, but the priests too often stole the fruits of sacrifice and concealed the truth.

In the 17th century, of our modern European era we sought leadership in science and dreamed that justice might rule through natural law but we misinterpreted that law to mean that most men were slaves and white Europeans were the right masters of the world.

In the 18th century, we turned toward the ballot in the hands of the worker to force a just division of the fruits of labor among the toilers. But the capitalists, happening on black slavery and land monopoly and on private monopoly of capital, forced the modern worker into a new slavery which built a new civilization of the world with colored slaves at the bottom, with white serfs between, and the power still in the hands of the rich.

But one consideration halted this plan. The serfs and even the slaves had begun to learn to think. Some bits of education had stimulated them and some of the real scientists of the world began to use their knowledge for the masses and not solely for the ruling classes. It became more and more a matter of straight thinking.

What is work? It was what all must contribute to the common good. No man has a right to be idle. It is the bounden duty of each to contribute his best to the well bring of all, of what men gain by the efforts of all have a right to share, not to the extent of all that they may want, but certainly to the extent of what they really need.

You must let the world know that this is your simple and unwavering program: the abolition of poverty, disease and ignorance the world over among women and men of all races, religions and color; to accomplish this by just control of concentrated wealth, and overthrow of monopoly to ensure that income depends on work and not on privilege or change; that freedom is the heritage of man, and that by freedom we do not mean freedom from the laws of nature, but freedom to think and believe and express our thoughts and dream our dreams and to maintain our rights against secret police, witch hunters or any other sort of a modern fool or tyrant.

The four freedoms come not by slavery to corporations and monopoly of the press, cinema, radio and television but by united social effort for the common good so that decently fed, healthy and intelligent people can be sure of work, not afraid of growing old and hold high their heads to think and say what they damn please without fear of liars..”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted “ One idea (Du Bois) insistently taught,” King once said, “was that Black people have been kept in oppression and deprivation by a poisonous fog of lies that depicted us as inferior…… Du Bois recognized that the keystone in the arch of oppression was the myth of inferiority, and he dedicated his brilliant talent to demolish it.” King studied and had great respect for the works of Du Bois, and recognized his immense contributions to the Civil rights cause.Many militant activists have noted that without Du Bois’ lifelong effort, the 1963 Civil rights march – and all the steps taken toward true equality for African – Americans – might never have happened. He helped form the Niagara Movement, the NAACP, and was editor of the Crisis newspaper. A well informed and educated revolutionary.

Before leaving Atlanta university where he wrote two books about the African continent, “Color and Democracy” and “The World And Africa”, he had always protested against the existence of European colonies in Africa. He was a witness to the atrocities that were committed against Africans in Africa, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere in the world. Du Bois help organize most of the Pan-African congresses from 1919 to 1926, and in 1945 he called for a new Pan-African Congress in England.This meeting was successful, and brought together important Black leaders around the world; and was a launching pad for the Africans studying and or working in Europe; to organize and down colonialism once and for all. Out of this meeting, three African attendees later became heads of State or first Prime Ministers of – Ghana ( Kwame Nkrumah ), Kenya ( Jomo Kenyatta ), and Nigeria ( Nnamdi Azikwe ) the following decades.

During this time he was badly treated and accused of many things including troublemaker etc.and even falsely arrested at the old age of 83. The newly Independent nations stepped in and constantly seeked his advice. The President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah who took him as a mentor, father, and friend, invited him to come home to Ghana; and live the rest of his life. He also asked him to work on the Encyclopedia Africana, Du Bois now 90 years old accepted the invitation. In 1963, he went home finally and became a citizen of Ghana. He said “ My great grandfather was carried away in chains from the gulf of Guinea. I have returned that my dust shall mingle with dust of my forefathers.”

In August 27th, 1963 he died in Ghana; and an honor guard carried his flag-drapped coffin to his resting place; close to where millions of Africans had been shipped to America and forced into slavery. Ironically, in the U.S. ; one day after he was buried, a civil rights march was held in Washington D.C. and many vowed to continue the struggle. Few men in our struggle have sacrificed so much to break the chains of bondage, and bring respect and dignity to Africans in the 20th century.



  1. Luntango Suun Gann Gi

    Great man indeed. As a teenager, I found his book, The History of Coloured Folk, or something similar, in a Nairobi market that is now called Little Mogadishu and is a no-go war zone. In fact the Thousands of DC Marchers arrived on 27th. and King spoke on 28th … so DuBois probably died of joy to see his dream come true, a bit like that 106 year old lady dancing with the Black President and the Black First Lady at the White House last week. Great History Sainey. Thanks.

  2. Great Pan-Africans should be celebrated…Their memories should be cherished, revered and admired…Good piece..

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