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Contributions of Du Bois to sociology

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in 1868. He received a Harvard Ph. D in 1895. His doctoral thesis was “The Suppression of the African Slave-trade to the United States of America, 1638 – 1870” and it was published in 1896. He trained in social sciences and produced many monographs on the same. From early on, he showed an interest in how the African Americans were living. He championed the black cause and spoke about them in many arenas. He wrote and co-wrote many books, poems, articles, essays and stories such as the Negro Church, The Souls of Black Folk, The Philadelphia Negro, The Gifts of Black Folk and the Negro in the South among others. He was a founder of the Niagara Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a leader of the Pan-African Movement. His contribution to sociological theory and practice was largely ignored in modern America for a long time, but this changed when the people realized how much he had influenced sociology especially in the area of race and religion (Wortham, 2005).

Sociology tries to understand and explain the relationship between individuals and society. It tries to show how individuals and groups act within the society. Du Bois worked on topics such as race, politics and the history of blacks in America. He was of the opinion that in order for sociologists to come up with sociological conclusion, they needed to live with those whom they wanted to understand and have first-hand knowledge of them. This was not a problem to him because he lived it. The color of his skin made him different from the other intellectuals of the time. He was the first black individual to receive a Ph. D and he did it in one of the best universities. He also taught at a university and he had to tolerate all the racist remarks thrown at him.

He was a lecturer at Atlanta University where he established the Department of Sociology and was its chair. In the university, he created a sociology lab, introduced a program of systematic research and founded conferences on research. He worked with other sociologists such as Max Weber and Gustav Schmoller. At the same time, he fought for the rights of the African Americans and his views collided with that of Booker T. Washington who was also an activist. Washington encouraged accommodation by urging the black community to bear with racism. On the other hand, Du Bois told the people otherwise as he did not believe that they were any less than the whites were.

He came up with the concept of color line, which he identified as the main problem of the twentieth century. He noted the indifference that people had towards the blacks. He noted that education was the key to which different social and cultural groups could be liberated. In one of his articles, he noted that blacks were only educated as a subject cased. It was assumed that they could not think and lead and others had to think for them and lead them. He was ignorant to the fact that blacks had to blame for these problems too. While the whites were racist and they used this as their way of discriminating against the blacks, the black community was also to be blamed. They were ignorant and the only way they could overcome this was through responsibility and education, which he referred to as social leadership. This could afford them opportunities to work and the levels of crime and poverty would be reduced.

Du Bois came up with the concept of the talented tenth. He believed that only a few people could receive higher training. According to him, the talented tenth were the best of the black race who would deliver the rest of the masses from contamination and death. The talented tenth would be the leadership of the community who would receive training in colleges and universities. The kind of training they would receive was that which strengthened intellectual powers, fortified their character and facilitated the transmission of the world’s knowledge. He saw the university as a transmitter of both knowledge and culture. He did not equate education to school but he saw it as more than that. He saw it as a system through which men developed and they could receive it in their homes and other social classes (Zuckerman, 2002).

Du Bois did extensive research before drawing any conclusions. He did not use secondary sources in his research but relied on hundreds of interviews he had conducted and the observations he had made. He had been a religious man for the early part of his life but he did not use this knowledge when he wrote publications such as The Souls of the Black Folk. He made enquiries from active religious participants. His work on The Philadelphia Negro gave an insight into the lives of the black community in an urban setting. None of the sociologists at that time went into such detail when writing their conclusions and none had the same devotion and motivation to his work. There was much hypocrisy in the church. The white community had to struggle with issues such as baptizing slaves. They did not exhibit the same level of Christianity that they preached. The golden rule in Christianity, love thy neighbor as thyself, was not in their concept and when present it did not apply to the slaves.

The slaves found it easier to belong to the Baptist and Methodist churches because they were understood. In the early years, they were allowed to practice some of the religious practices they used to and this made them more receptive of the message presented to them. His observations made him conclude that the church operated in an almost political manner. There were divisions even within the black community and the economic system employed in the church was almost similar to that applied in a secular context. Unlike education, which was pretty much a failed concept, worship in the black community was something to be admired. The people took pride in their preaching and music noting that the music was the best way they could express themselves. There were many benefits that the church had made possible. Preservation of morals, establishing family life, developing ability, providing training and venue for meeting places are some of the benefits that the church provided. He also observed that it was the most organized group in the black community.

Despite the noted benefits, he had some contentious issues with the church. He did not see them performing their role in the community. He observed that it took a great portion of income from the poor families and they could have used the money on a better way. The ministers were ignorant, immoral, dishonest and drunks. They introduced and taught teachings, which resembled fairy tales, and fantasies and they introduced a different kind of dogma. They taught creeds and placed questionable demands on the members who were supposed to follow in obedience. He termed white Christianity as a failure because of racism. The white church was the most segregated institution in America. In word, it opened the door to all men but in practice, this door was shut to the black man. The white church had refused all social development. It had refused to embrace democracy, had helped in the spread and continuation of slavery and it was the most prejudiced and racially divided.

Du Bois presented the people’s interaction with the church in a manner never seen before. He was not afraid to speak of the ills that plagued it. This hypocrisy was not only present in the church but was reflected in the nation as well. America prized itself in being democratic, yet the same people were fighting to keep and control the slaves. They believed in people’s freedom but they had excluded salves in this definition. The slaves were meant to do their work and carry out their orders without question. The white church preached love but practiced hatred. There were exceptions to this cases, but at that time, they were few and in between. His views on education were so profound and his concern on the kind of education that the blacks ought to receive was well founded and revolutionary. He influenced many decisions and he was not afraid to let his opinion known.



Wortham, A. R. (2005). Introduction to the sociology of W. E. B. Du Bois. Retrieved 3 October 2010, from

Zuckerman, P. (2002). The sociology of religion of W. E. B. Du Bois. Retrieved 3 October 2010, from;col1


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