Reading Comprehension: Du Bois's Early Years
On February 23, 1868, W. E. B. Du
Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Soon after, Du Bois's father
left his wife and son. So his mother, Mary, had to rear her son alone.
Mary was poor. She was also an invalid. But she did not let the family's
poverty or her ill health interfere with her son's education. She insisted
that William attend elementary school through high school in Great Barrington's
integrated school system.
Du Bois was the first African-American to graduate from his local high school.
He was also the valedictorian of his class.
Shortly after graduation, Du Bois's mother died. Du Bois knew he would have
to pay his own way through college. Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee,
offered him a scholarship. He accepted.
Nashville, Tennessee, proved quite different from Du Bois's home in
Massachusetts. While Great Barrington, Massachusetts, had been an integrated
community, Nashville was segregated. Among other things, blacks and whites
had to attend separate schools. Du Bois was upset because the schools for
black children were inferior to those for white children.
After graduating from Fisk, Du Bois was accepted into Harvard. In only two
years, he earned a second bachelor's degree. Then, he began work on a doctorate
in sociology at Harvard.
Du Bois remembered the struggles African-American people faced in the South.
He wondered whether discrimination was as much of a problem in other countries.
So he spent three semesters touring Europe. He also studied at the University
of Berlin. As his studies came to an end, he decided that discrimination
was greater in the United States than in other countries.
After leaving Harvard, Du Bois became a professor at Wilberforce University
in Ohio. There he taught English, German, Greek, and Latin. Next, he taught
foreign languages at the University of Philadelphia. He also wrote The
Philadelphia Negro. Because of this work, Du Bois was recruited by Atlanta
University to teach history and economics. In Atlanta, Du Bois continued
to research, write, and publish works about black life in America.
In 1900, Du Bois became involved in international politics. He took part
in the Pan-African conferences. The Pan-African conferences addressed the
colonization of various African countries. Du Bois said that colonization
should end. He said the African nations should be allowed to establish
governments and rule themselves. Because of the Pan-African conferences,
Du Bois wrote, "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the
color line." He believed European colonization of African nations was as
great a problem as segregation within the U.S.
In 1868 Du Bois was born in obscurity and poverty. In only thirty-two years,
he was internationally known. W. E. B. Du Bois was establishing himself as
one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.
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Where was Du Bois born?
Did Du Bois attend an African-American
elementary school? Read a sentence from the text that supports your
Why did Du Bois have to pay his own
way through college?
How did he manage to pay for his
What kinds of subjects did Du Bois
master? Read a sentence from the text that supports your answer.
When did the Pan-African conferences
Did the Pan-African conferences focus
on the problems African-Americans were encountering in the United States?
If not, what issue did they address?
How many years did it take Du Bois
to gain international recognition?
For Discussion . . .
Describe Du Bois's home life. What
obstacles did his family face? How did the family respond to these obstacles?
How do you think these obstacles might have made Du Bois stronger? What obstacles
have you faced in life? How have these difficult circumstances made you a
How did Great Barrington, Massachusetts,
and Nashville, Tennessee, differ? How do you believe moving to Nashville
affected Du Bois? Explain your answer.
What was the purpose of the Pan-African
conferences? Why did Du Bois object to colonization? What disadvantages do
you see to colonization? Do you see any advantages to colonization? If so,
what are they?
Based on what you have read of
Du Bois's life, list three adjectives that you think might describe him
accurately. Explain your word choices.
For Further Research . .
How did the United States develop
a policy of segregation?
Was segregation a problem throughout
the United States or only in certain areas?
How did segregation affect the lives
How did African-Americans react to
policies of segregation?
What court cases brought an end to
segregation in the United States?
Use the search engine below to facilitate your search:
What role has colonization played
in world history?
What countries have been most active
When did colonization begin to
What independent states in existence
today have at one time been colonies?
How did each of these gain its
What colonies exist today?
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