August 3: William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist, 1963

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

WEB DuBois
WEB DuBois

William Edward Burghardt Dubois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. As a young man he had already developed a deep concern for the advancement of his race, and at 15, he began to advocate for black Americans in his capacity as the local correspondent for the New York Globe.

In 1896, following the completion of his doctoral degree, Dubois received a fellowship to conduct research in the seventh ward slums of Philadelphia. His work with the urban black population there marked the first scientific approach to sociological study, and for that reason, Dubois is hailed as the father of Social Science.

In 1903, while teaching at Atlanta University, he published his book The Souls of Black Folks, in which he outlined his philosophical disagreement with important figures such as Booker T. Washington, who argued that Black people should forego political equality and civil rights and focus instead on industrial evolution. DuBois believed instead in the higher education of a “talented tenth” whose education would naturally help other African Americans achieve.

In 1906, he sought others to aid him in his efforts toward “organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth.” The result was the so-called “Niagara Movement” (named for the group’s first meeting site, which was shifted to Canada when they were prevented from meeting in the U.S.), the objectives of which were to advocate civil justice and oppose discrimination. In 1909, most of the group members merged with white supporters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed. DuBois advanced his causes, sometimes at odds with the white leadership of the NAACP, in the magazine Crisis.

A leading participant in several Pan-African meetings, DuBois renounced his American citizenship and moved to Ghana, where he died in 1963, on the eve of the March on Washington. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of DuBois, “His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill the immense void.”

Collect of the Day

Gracious God, we thank you for the witness of William Edward Burghardt DuBois, passionate prophet of civil rights, whose scholarship advanced the dignity of the souls of black folk; and we pray that we, like him, may use our gifts to do justice in the Name of Jesus Christ our Liberator and Advocate; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God for ever and ever. Amen.


Jeremiah 34:8–18

Galatians 2:15–20

Mark 3:23–29

Psalm 113:1–7

Preface of Baptism

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

20 thoughts on “August 3: William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist, 1963

  1. Dose anybody else think it at least mildly inappropriate to put up as an example of holiness a “freethinker” (nineteenth century polemic for “atheist” or, more rarely, “agnostic”) who saw the Church chiefly as an institution holding people of his race back? To have him on the same day as a faithful priest of our Church is to denigrate the corporate and theological memory of the Rev Bragg.

  2. There’s precious little in the bio as it now stands to indicate why DuBois should be recognized on the church calendar. Following chronologically in sequence with so many notable persons of color, it would seem that while he’s certainly a renowned figure, his omission from the sequence would not leave a void.

  3. Collect: Is the term ‘black folk’ the best term to use in this collect? Yes, it is in the title of his 1903 book – but still. It just seems so out of place in the collect.

    Bio: This gentlemen needs a ‘who he is’ statement – and a ‘why he is important’ statement.

    1st paragraph: ‘he began to advocate for black Americans’. Coming so quickly after Father Bragg (on the same day) this bio uses black Americans (without capitalizing Black?)? It just is not consistent.

    4th paragraph: ‘meeting in the U.S.’ This is the only instance of this abbreviation in HWHM (that I found). Why not spell out United States?

  4. I agree with John and Sam above. Please let’s not add him to our calendar of saints. Despite his contributions to sociology (not exactly “the father” of that field, there were others, like Max Weber, and people before them who laid the groundwork) and to the civil rights movement, he did not act on faith in God and in Christ in his work. And I disagree that Booker T. Washington’s contributions to the lives and achievments of African Americans were insignificant compared to his; educating the “top tenth” is good (what Dubois emphasized), but building up the lives of those not in the “top tenth” is also important. –I didn’t believe John above when he called DuBois an “apologist for Stalin,” but Dubois wrote quite a paon to Stalin in 1953 in the National Guardian. I think it was on the occasion of Stalin’s death. Here is the beginning:
    March 16, 1953
    On Stalin
    By W.E.B. DuBois

    “Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly; never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place with dignity. He was the son of a serf but stood calmly before the great without hesitation or nerves. But also – and this was the highest proof of his greatness – he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.

    Stalin was not a man of conventional learning; he was much more than that: he was a man who thought deeply, read understandingly and listened to wisdom, no matter whence it came. He was attacked and slandered as few men of power have been; yet he seldom lost his courtesy and balance; nor did he let attack drive him from his convictions nor induce him to surrender positions which he knew were correct. As one of the despised minorities of man, he first set Russia on the road to conquer race prejudice and make one nation out of its 140 groups without destroying their individuality.”

  5. Clarification: in no way in my comments above did I mean to detract from DuBois’ insistence that African Americans work for political equality, and his role in shaping the civil rights movement to that end. We can admire that achievement, however, and give him credit and honor for it, without naming him a saint.

  6. August 3: William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist, 1963

    This is someone of whom I have heard, and whose work was needed, timely, and significant. Was he a theist? A Christian? A Holy man? Was the biography written for “Holy Women, Holy Men” or for “Who’s Who”? Either way, it begs for the opening and closing reference points for which Michael Hartney has repeatedly spoken. I would hope for other improvements, as well. I fail to find a single word here to indicate any Christian strand to his work or his life. Based on the bio, there is not the slightest reason to include him in “Holy Women, Holy Men” – unless we come up with a proper preface for “People whose work we just plain like anyway.”

    Lacking a religious dimension in the bio, any further comment on the readings, the collect or the preface seems pointless.

  7. To add to what has been said above, it might be instructive to ask if Dubois would be offended to be included in our book. If we can say honestly that we think he would be, then what reason can be given to set aside the Gospel injunctions to honor our elders and to love our neighbors as ourselves? We would dishonor him to include him in a work that he himself would find at best odd and at worst rather backwards and strange.

  8. I strongly agree with the above comments. If commemorations such as this one (& John Muir, etc.) are included, let’s be honest and rename “Holy Women, Holy Men” to “Famous People who May or May Not be Associated with Christianity.”

  9. In the first and second paragraphs, the “B” in the man’s name is spelled with a lower case letter. Upper case is correct.

    I also suggest that we avoid the anachronistic usage “African Americans” in the third paragraph. This appears to have been used simply as a variant to avoid reusing the words “black Americans”.

    There seems to be some inconsistency in using “black” and “Black” interchangeably in this biography.

  10. I agree that the biography in HWHM does not explain why DuBois is included in a volume of “Holy Women” and “Holy Men”. But see this review from The Journal of Southern Religion:

    Edward J. Blum. W.E.B. Du Bois: American Prophet. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8122-4010-8. Reviewed by Alan Scot Willis, for the Journal of Southern Religion.

    For Edward J. Blum, religion is the key to understanding W.E.B. Du Bois. In W.E.B. Du Bois: American Prophet, Blum contends that too many scholars have ignored Du Bois’s religious thought, and counters this “error” in the scholarship by arguing that “Du Bois cannot be fully understood without reference to his religious imaginations” (180). Further, Blum contends that this apparent neglect within existing scholarship skews scholars’ views of one of the twentieth century’s most perceptive, and public, intellectuals. Thus, Blum’s goal is two-fold: to illuminate Du Bois’s religious message and imagination, and to reclaim the secularized Du Bois as a religious thinker. Blum succeeds admirably in both endeavors.

    for the full text, see:

  11. The blurb also leaves me wondering why HMHW and not just a biography list.

    If he should he be included I would ask: Why August 3? Neither birth, nor as is traditionally used, death date.

  12. St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church (Odessa, TX) offers a Tuesday morning Bible Study group which has been studying the Psalms in their connection to commemoration of Holy Women, Holy Men.
    Since the comments about DuBois are the most negative in their content, we would be interested in knowing if the SCLM is rethinking this commemoration as it prepares for General Convention this summer.
    (We are studying Psalm 113 today.)

    • Thanks for your interest. The SCLM is recommending that Holy Women Holy Men be re-authorized for trial use without revision of the list of commemorations. We continue to gather responses to the commemorations and the collects and lessons.

      Ruth Meyers
      Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

  13. I greatly admire the author of The Souls of Black Folks, despite his unfounded praise of the putative war-time ally and mass murderer, Stalin. One can revere Dr. Du Bois and his contributions without absurdly including him in a book of Christian role models. He wasn’t. And he certainly would decline the honor. Let us not dishonor him by honoring him in such an insincere way, and let us not engage in the kind of guilt-ridden liberal paternalism that so angered him. BTW, just to be clear, I’m a card-carrying liberal, but I know well-intended hypocrisy when I see it.

  14. As a professional historian, I have long been an admirer and am deeply indebted to DuBois and his work. Yet, as an Episcopal Christian, I question whether we should honor a Marxist and an Atheist who joined the Communist Party immediately in the wake of The horrors of Stalinism coming to light. In his later years Du Bois even praised the means of Lenin and The Bolsheviks for worldwide revolution. Does honoring DuBois this further the Great Convention of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Do we pay the same homage to the Nazis, for instance, because they rebuilt the German Economy? I am all for universal inclusion but should be not stick to professed Christians who worked for peace? Thank you.

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