Co-Author: LeAnne DeFrancesco
Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.
“There can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race, or poverty. But with all we accomplish all, even Peace.” — W.E.B. Du Bois, in The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History, 1947
February 23, 1868 — August 27, 1963
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (W.E.B. Du Bois) may have been born just after the end of the Civil War, but he found himself countering its ramifications — and other wars — throughout his 95-year life. A politically engaged scholar and leading thinker not just on race in the Jim Crow era, but also on global peace, Du Bois often encountered criticism from those who found him elitist, contradictory or dangerous.
Du Bois was born to a free Black family in the relatively integrated community of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868, and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. He taught history, classics, modern languages, literature and sociology; wrote several seminal books; lectured political and social academies; and undertook significant, data-driven studies examining social issues for African Americans.
While Du Bois is likely best known for his incredible impact on civil rights — notably as one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909 — he also was regarded as a major international peace activist. He saw a connection between white supremacy and war, and after World War II became a vocal advocate for world peace.
His politics became increasingly socialist, with him eventually joining the American Communist Party. He regarded atomic bombs as a global risk, and in 1950 chaired the international Peace Information Center — an organization created to build an American movement against nuclear weapons. It was quickly disbanded by the U.S. government for being subversive, although other organizations took up its mission.
Du Bois collaborated with labor unions and socialist-affiliated organizations worldwide to establish networks for peace and democracy, which exposed racist and militaristic policies within the U.S. government, making him an unpopular figure. He and his wife were surveilled by the FBI at different points throughout two decades.
In 1961, Du Bois became a naturalized citizen of Ghana, where he died two years later — the day before the historic March on Washington.