William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
Laura Wheeler Waring
Oil on canvas, not dated
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Walter Waring in memory of his wife, Laura Wheeler Waring, through the Harmon Foundation
Distinguished American man of letters; a leading authority on the history of the Negro in this country and in Africa; most influential exponent in our generation of Negro rights. . . . A man of independence, large intellectual ability, great moral courage, and public spirit, he has mellowed with the years, and now, after the battles of a lifetime in behalf of justice for his race, he deserves well of the Republic and the world.

-Anson Phelps Stokes

W.E.B. Du Bois was a respected sociologist and historian, but he exerted his greatest influence as a strategist in the early civil rights movement. In 1905, rejecting those who claimed that full equality for African Americans must come gradually, Du Bois became a founder of the Niagara Movement, which called for an end to racial discrimination immediately. Four years later, he was helping to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and for many years served as editor of its magazine, The Crisis.

Increasingly skeptical of his country's ability to crush racism, and accused of disloyalty during the McCarthy era as a result of his Communist sympathies, Du Bois was thoroughly alienated from America by the mid-1950s. In 1962 he expatriated himself to Ghana in the hope of reviving there žan ancient African Communismž based on black spiritual unity.

In 1953, the Harmon Foundation removed Du Bois's portrait from the traveling exhibition. Although the foundation maintained that this was to make room for newer portraits, many African Americans believed that it had been removed because of his alleged affiliation with the Communist Party.