By 1899, Dr. Du Bois had written two major books, published, respectively, by Harvard University Press and the University of Pennsylvania Press. Under normal circumstances, a major university would have hired a white scholar with these accomplishments and a desire to teach. Yet Dr. Du Bois was never offered a professorial appointment in a major “mainstream” university department; the University of Pennsylvania grudgingly extended him the title of “Assistant Lecturer” for the duration of his study of the Seventh Ward.
Dr. Du Bois came to the University of Pennsylvania as Assistant Lecturer in 1896. Dr. Du Bois’s research is not easily characterized given the scope of contemporary disciplinary dialogue. Thus, he has been listed as a philosopher, historian, anthropologist, political scientist, and sociologist. His research focused specifically on the place and role of Africans and persons of African descent in the modern world. During Dr. Du Bois’s lifetime, the racial structure of academia marginalized his research to the sidelines. As he noted, other sociologists saw this research “as Negroes studying Negroes and after all, what had Negroes to do with America or science?” This sociological Jim Crow scenario did not turn Dr. Du Bois away from sociological research. On the contrary — it forced him to apply his sociological imagination to the dismantling of racism and white supremacy.
Dr. Du Bois’s second book, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (published in 1899), was the first scientific sociological study of race. The Philadelphia Negro centered on what might be done to understand and solve the African American community’s social problems that stemmed from their racial marginalization and social ignorance, rather than generally examining a social problem like poverty. Dr. Du Bois did study poverty, but African American poverty was not the object of his study. The object of his study was the African American community of Philadelphia. Additionally, The Philadelphia Negro presents the first population study of African Americans. He concluded the book with suggestions for social reform. In a word, Dr. Du Bois’s work humanized the study of the African American population and his approach became a model for understanding the same.
Dr. Du Bois established one of the first departments of sociology between 1886 and 1915 at Atlanta University. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study was the model for his sociological laboratory at Atlanta University during this period. Dr. Du Bois wanted the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and the other leading educational institutions to study the problems of African Americans. During his years as an active academic sociologist, he thought the resulting knowledge gained from social science would lead to solutions to problems confronted by the African American community. He argued that if the greatest universities in the land would take up the cause of educating the world about the humanity of the Negro then the race problem would be solved. Sociology would solve the race problem by reporting the facts. He reasoned that if people knew the facts, solutions to the problem would follow.
Dr. Du Bois’s citizenship in the academy has been widely recognized and his contributions have had a profound impact on the world as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and for being recognized by the leaders of the African independence movement and pan-Africanists from Europe and the Caribbean as the father of Pan-Africanism.
Dr. Du Bois is one of the most important scholars and public intellectuals of his generation. The Department of Sociology and the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania are proud to support the appointment of Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois as Honorary Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies.