Civil rights leader and author, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. He earned a B.A. from both Harvard and Fisk universities, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard, and studied at the University of Berlin. He taught briefly at Wilberforce University before he came professor of history and economics at Atlanta University in Ohio (1896-1910). There, he wrote The Souls of Black Folk (1903), in which he pointed out that it was up to whites and blacks jointly to solve the problems created by the denial of civil rights to blacks. In 1905, Du Bois became a major figure in the Niagara Movement, a crusading effort to end discrimination. The organization collapsed, but it prepared the way for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in which Du Bois played a major role. In 1910, he became editor of the NAACP magazine, a position he held for more than 20 years. Du Bois returned to Atlanta University in 1932 and tried to implement a plan to make the Negro Land Grant Colleges centers of black power. Atlanta approved of his idea, but later retracted its support. When Du Bois tried to return to NAACP, it rejected him too. Active in several Pan-African Congresses, Du Bois came to know Fwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, and Jono Kenyatta the president of Kenya. In 1961, the same year Du Bois joined the Communist party, Nkrumah invited him to Ghana as a director of an Encyclopedia Africana project. He died there on August 27, 1963, after becoming a citizen of that country.
Born a slave in Maryland in about 1817, Frederick Douglass never became accommodated to being held in bondage. He secretly learned to read, although slaves were prohibited from doing so. He fought back against a cruel slave-breaker and finally escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1838 at about the age of 21. Despite the danger of being sent back to his owner if discovered, Douglass became an agent and eloquent orator for the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. He lectured extensively in both England and the United States. As an ex-slave, his words had tremendous impact on his listeners. In 1845 Douglass wrote his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which increased his fame. Concerned that he might be sent back to slavery, he went to Europe. He spent two years in England and Ireland speaking to antislavery groups. Douglass returned to the United States a free man and settled in Rochester, New York, where he founded a weekly newspaper, The North Star, in 1847. In the newspaper he wrote articles supporting the antislavery cause and the cause of human rights. He once wrote, "The lesson which [the American people] must learn, or neglect to do so at their own peril, is that Equal Manhood means Equal Rights, and further, that the American people must stand for each and all for each without respect to color or race." During the Civil War, Douglass worked for the Underground Railroad, the secret route of escape for slaves. He also helped recruit African-Americans soldiers for the Union army. After the war, he continued to write and to speak out against injustice. In addition to advocating education for freed slaves, he served in several government posts, including United States representative to Haiti. In 1855, a longer version of his autobiography appeared, and in 1895, the year of Douglass's death, a completed version was published. A best-seller in its own time, it has since become available in numerous editions and languages.
Booker Taliaferro Washington, 1856 - 1915 Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Hales Ford, Virginia, near Roanoke. After the U.S. government freed all slaves in 1865, his family moved to Malden, West Virginia. There, Washington worked in coal mines and salt furnaces. He went on to attend the Hampton, Virginia Normal and Agricultural Institute from 1872-1875 before joining the staff in 1879. In 1881 he was selected to head the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a new teacher-training school for blacks, which he transformed into a thriving institution, later named Tuskegee University. His controversial conviction that blacks could best gain equality in the U.S. by improving their economic situation through education rather than by demanding equal rights was termed the Atlanta Compromise, because Washington accepted inequality and segregation for blacks in exchange for economic advancement. Washington advised two Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, on racial problems and policies, as well as influencing the appointment of several blacks to federal offices. Washington became a shrewd political leader and advised not only Presidents, but also members of Congress and governors. He urged wealthy people to contribute to various black organizations. He also owned or financially supported many black newspapers. In 1900, Washington founded the National Negro Business League to help black business firms. Washington fought silently for equal rights, but was eventually usurped by those who ideas were more radical and demanded more action. Washington was replaced by W. E. B. Du Bois as the foremost black leader of the time, after having spent long years listening to Du Bois deride him for his placation of the white man and the plight of the negro. He died in 1915.