In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section W.E.B. Du Bois

  • Introduction
  • The Atlanta University Studies
  • Africana Studies
  • Opinion Editorials
  • Literary Works
  • Autobiographies
  • Encyclopedias
  • Audio Recordings
  • Public Discussions and Lectures on Du Bois
  • Data Sources and Journals
  • Du Bois’s Agenda, Then and Now

Sociology W.E.B. Du Bois
Rashawn Ray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0063


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (b. 1868–d. 1963) was a pioneering social theorist, methodologist, public sociologist, and social activist. It is estimated that he wrote over four thousand articles, essays, and books during his ninety-five years. Although Du Bois has university and government institutes named after him, is the namesake of the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Career of Scholarship Award, and even has a Facebook appreciation group, he experienced professional marginalization and social isolation from whites and blacks during his professional life. Du Bois’s theoretical concepts and empirical findings were trend setting as he challenged ideologies about black inferiority. However, this path less traveled meant standing alone and making theoretical claims that individuals on both sides of the aisle pragmatically disagreed with. Unlike others during his era, Du Bois supplemented his theoretical suppositions on black plight, the urban and rural environment, and the black middle class with empirical research documenting structural racism as the main culprit of racial inequality. Du Bois, who pronounced the final s in his name, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. During his teenage years, Du Bois developed an interest in race relations and became the local correspondent for the New York Globe. Upon graduating as valedictorian of his high school, Du Bois attended the historically black Fisk College (now Fisk University) in Nashville. After three years, Du Bois graduated from Fisk in 1888 and enrolled in Harvard on a scholarship as a junior. Du Bois received his bachelor’s degree in 1890 (as one of the selected commencement speakers) and his master’s in 1891. With a grant from a federal education fund for blacks headed by former president Rutherford Hayes, Du Bois spent two years at the University of Berlin in Germany studying economics and history. During his study abroad, Du Bois saw the pervasiveness of racism in a globalized context. While Du Bois wanted to complete his PhD at Berlin, he was refused additional funding and finished at Harvard in 1895 as the first African American to obtain a PhD from the university. Du Bois worked in various capacities at Wilberforce University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Atlanta University and was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the editor of the Crisis. In his later years, Du Bois married Shirley Graham in 1951, after his first wife passed away; immigrated to Ghana; and became a Ghanaian citizen, dying there on 27 August 27 1963, on the eve of the March on Washington.

Sociological Publications

Du Bois’s publications are frequently assigned in courses in fields including sociology, history, African American and African diaspora studies, education, English, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, economics, political science, and communications. This section includes Du Bois’s original works that relate mostly to sociology. Because of the marginalization Du Bois experienced in the discipline of sociology at the time these texts were written, some of his more prominent works have been placed among the humanities. In fact, knowledge of Du Bois’s theoretical contributions are still limited by the lack of attention he is given in social theory courses.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.