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W.E.B. Du Bois. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963). Raised by single mother who worked as a domestic, was 1 st black graduate of his Massachusetts high school Attended Fisk University, was 1 st African American PhD from Harvard Studied at University of Berlin, lived in Europe for 2 years

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W e b du bois 1868 1963
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963)

  • Raised by single mother who worked as a domestic, was 1st black graduate of his Massachusetts high school

  • Attended Fisk University, was 1st African American PhD from Harvard

  • Studied at University of Berlin, lived in Europe for 2 years

  • Taught at Atlanta University 1897-1910

  • A political activist: founded Niagara Movement, which evolved into NAACP, founded the journal, Crisis

  • Supported the Pan-African movement and Communist Party, renounced US citizenship in 1963

W e b du bois
Explored intersection of race and class in a range of work, using varied methods & styles of presentation

  • Empirical studies of social conditions of African Americans (e.g., The Philadelphia Negro, 1899)

  • Interpretive essays informed by historical research, personal experience and observation that emphasized the subjective experience and sources of inequality (e.g., Souls of Black Folk, 1903)

  • Political essays advocating socialist and Pan-Africanist solutions to inequality (e.g., Black Reconstruction in America, 1935 and Color and Democracy, 1945 )

W e b du bois

“The problem of the 20 using varied methods & styles of presentationth century is the problem of the color line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.”

  • Perhaps first social theorist to problematize global racial order and to understand the economic as well as racial dimensions of European colonization of Africa, Asia, and Latin America

  • Color lineis multidimensional, manifesting as:

    • “racialized social institutions” (e.g., Jim Crow laws)

    • “symbolic status hierarchy”

    • “internalized attitude”

      [See Fig. 7.2, p. 337.]

Du bois s multidimensional approach to race class
Du using varied methods & styles of presentationBois’s multidimensional approach to race & class








Color line

(symbolic status hierarchy)

Color line

(internalized attitude)




Color line

(racialized social institutions)


The philadelphia negro 1899
“The Philadelphia Negro” (1899) using varied methods & styles of presentation

  • 1st major sociological study of an African American community published in US

  • Used statistical and ethnographic data from some 5,000 surveys and interviews to understand the “social condition of the Colored People of the 7th Ward of Philadelphia”

  • Gathered demographic data (on size, age, and sex of black residents) as well as data on family, marriage, education/illiteracy, housing, occupations, and institutions, most importantly, the Black church

  • “The Negro Problems of Philadelphia” – we must look at social conditions to understand

    • Slums are a symptom, not the cause

Class the color line within philadelphia black community
Class & the “color line” within Philadelphia black community

  • Du Bois developed a typology of 4 economic classes:

  • The well-to-do, the “aristocracy of the Negroes”

    Caterers, clerks, teachers, professional men, small merchants, etc.

  • The decent hard workers who were doing well

  • The “worthy poor,” barely making ends meet

  • The “submerged tenth,” beneath the level of socioeconomic viability

Colortocracy community

  • “Colortocracy” placed light-skinned blacks, considered the “Talented Tenth,” on top

    • But “Here too are social problems – differing from those of the whites of a corresponding grade, because of the peculiar social environment in which the whole race finds itself, which the whole race feels, but which touches this highest class at most points and tells upon them most decisively.” (342)

Colortocracy community

  • “[i]ndividual members of the colortocracy at times developed a notorious but distinctive racial complex involving an ideology that set them apart from those they viewed as their inferiors. They would take excessive pride in their “white” features, including light skin, thin noses and lips, and “good” hair. Often “colorstruck,” they mimicked and voiced the anti-black prejudices of whites, whose fears, concerns, and values they understood and partly shared” (336)

  • Recalls symbolic schemas of Durkheim, status system of Weber, ideology in Marx’s theory

The negro problems of philadelphia
“The Negro Problems of Philadelphia” community

  • There are other unassimilated groups, but segregation more conspicuous with blacks, more deeply rooted, overlapping to greater degree with poverty, ignorance, crime, and unemployment

  • To understand the problems, we must situate the group in its physical and social environment – “the surrounding world of custom, wish, whim, and thought which envelops this group” (341)

Color prejudice
Color communityprejudice

  • “In the Negro’s mind, color prejudice in Philadelphia is that widespread feeling of dislike for his blood, which keeps him and his children out of decent employment, from certain public conveniences and amusements, from [renting] houses in many sections, and in general, from being recognized as a man.”

  • “On the other hand, most white people are quite unconscious of any such powerful and vindictive feeling…”

  • Reality is in between: color prejudice does not fully explain the “Negro problems” but it’s more powerful than most people think

W e b du bois

“The practical results of the attitude of most of the inhabitants of Philadelphia toward persons of Negro descent” are demonstrated in these everyday arenas:

  • Getting work

  • Keeping work

  • Entering new lines of work

  • Spending money (expenditure)

  • Rearing children

  • Social intercourse

  • The result: “when one group of people suffer these little differences of treatment and discriminations and insults continually, the result is either discouragement, or bitterness, or over-sensitiveness, or recklessness. And a people feeling they cannot do their best.”