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W.E.B. Du Bois

February 23, 2010
W. E. B. Du Bois, born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, is one of the most significant figures in American history.  Throughout his long life, he accomplished many things, and made significant strides in terms of breaking down racial barriers for blacks.  He wrote prolifically and his works, both fiction and nonfiction, are commonplace among present day college curriculum.  In addition to his scholarship, he was very active politically as well.  He cofounded the NAACP and advocated for the back to Africa and Communist Movements.  These accomplishments are indeed noteworthy; however, arguably his most significant accomplishment is often overlooked.

In 1896, Du Bois was hired by Penn as a research assistant to conduct a “study of the social condition of the Colored People of the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia.”  Du Bois immersed himself in the black population of the seventh ward, conducting more than 5,000 interviews, and preparing extensive empirical and statistical research.  Du Bois compiled his findings in the highly acclaimed Philadelphia Negro.  Although Du Bois was only a researcher, and not a member of Penn’s faculty (despite a Ph.D. from Harvard), his work on the Seventh Ward was the first substantive work in sociology published in the United States.  Du Bois’s legacy of scholarship and activism lives on, and in 1972, a college house dedicated to cultivating community for Penn’s black students was named in his honor.

Ben Lewis
COL ‘10
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