Servant Leadership Profile: W.E.B. Du Bois – Black History Month

W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard University, instrumental in the foundation and development of NAACP...

Note: In honor of Black History Month, I am highlighting great servant leaders from African American history. Today’s recognition goes to William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (W. E. B. Du Bois).

Who Was W.E.B. Du Bois?

In the course of his long, turbulent career, W. E. B. Du Bois attempted virtually every possible solution to the problem of twentieth-century racism—scholarship, propaganda, integration, national self-determination, human rights, cultural and economic separatism, politics, international communism, expatriation, third world solidarity. – David Levering Lewis

W.E.B. Du Bois was, first and foremost, a civil rights activist. In addition, he was the first African American to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University, a professor of economics at Atlanta University, instrumental in the foundation and development of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), described by Martin Luther King as, “a radical all of his life” and was labeled “The Father of Pan-Africanism“. He also wrote in support of Joseph Stalin on occasions and was generally considered a proponent of communism. He maintained, against many contemporaries, that White people should play a critical role in the fight for civil rights.

What Du Bois Did

W.E.B. Du Bois Du Bois was among the most effective and influential leaders in the civil rights movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was instrumental in the development of NAACP. He broke barriers and challenged contemporaries. He led by example, was among the most educated African Americans in his era and spent his life serving others. Included among his accomplishments are:

  • Established the Department of Social Work at Atlanta University
  • Founder and editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis
  • Wrote and published over 4,000 essays, articles and books
  • Helped found the Niagara Movement, which has been argued a precursor to the NAACP
  • Was the first African American to achieve a Ph.D at Harvard
  • Was the Publications Director at the NAACP
  • Editor-in-chief of NAACP’s, “The Crisis”
  • Was a women’s suffrage activist
  • Fought for civil rights
  • Opposed Booker T. Washington’s support of separate but equal (Jim Crow laws)
  • Wrote three autobiographies
  • Helped organize the “Negro exhibition” at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.
  • Published Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer, the Harlem Renaissance writers
  • An early member of Alpha Phi Alpha

Servant Leadership Quotes by W. E. B. Du Bois

  • “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”
  • “A little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work and manly striving, would do us more credit than a thousand civil rights bills.”
  • “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
  • “Believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life.”

Why W.E.B. Du Bois is a Servant Leader

W.E.B. Du Bois represents a great example of how Servant Leaders are not always liked by all. To be sure, Du Bois was loved by many. His writing, causes and influence played a huge part in the advancement of Black Americans in the early 20th century. However, his positive perspective on communism, especially at a particularly difficult time of the mid 20th century, was often ill-received. He was quoted as saying, “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Stalin] was probably too cruel; but… he conquered Hitler.” Yet, as Martin Luther King later reflected, this should not be perceived as the negative it has become. Du Bois was not afraid to speak his mind regarding what he believed was best for others – whether that meant affirming Stalin or opposing Booker T. Washington. Much of his work – especially his writing, progressed civil rights for Black Americans.

Further Reading on W.E.B. Du Bois



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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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