Institutional racism and minimal recognition: Inside Du Bois’ complicated history at PennBreaking News
tags: racism, African American history, academia, Du Bois
Legendary sociologist and writer W.E.B. Du Bois notably worked at Penn over a century ago, and his legacy is celebrated at the University with the dorm that bears his name. But the experience of one of America's foremost Black thinkers at Penn is fraught with more discrimination than is often recognized.
Du Bois came to Penn in 1896, the same year that the Supreme Court ruled segregation was constitutional in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. In 1879, William Adger, James Brister, and Nathan Mossell became the first Black students ever to enroll in the University. Penn would not hire a fully-affiliated Black professor until 1936, when William Fontaine became an assistant professor of Philosophy.
Leading scholars suggest that Du Bois was treated poorly by the University and other professors during his short stint as an "assistant instructor" from the summer of 1896 to the following year. Du Bois did not have an office at Penn. He did not teach any students at Penn, but conducted research in the Sociology Department on Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia, which resulted in his groundbreaking book, "The Philadelphia Negro," which is often cited as the first-ever scientific study about race.
Du Bois, a writer, activist, and scholar, was known for being one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which continues to promote equal rights today. He also led the Niagara Movement, a group of Black social and political reformers, and edited the group's journal, "Crisis."
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