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W E B Du Bois: A Forgotten Hero

Dr Nicholas Evans

Wilberforce Institute and the Department of History

University of Hull

In recognition of this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, commemorated this week, Dr Nicholas Evans talks about the life and work of W.E.B Du Bois, who fought tirelessly for a fairer society.

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Dr Nick Evans, Senior Lecturer in Diaspora History

On 21 March 1960, one of the most painful moments in the decades-long struggle against racial segregation in South Africa took place. At Sharpeville, on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the northern part of South Africa, 69 innocent people were killed at a peaceful demonstration against the imposition of so-called ‘pass laws’ blighting the everyday lives of all non-white South Africans during Apartheid. Such was the universal condemnation of the massacre that the United Nations has since adopted today as The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a day that we at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute observe as we strive for a fairer world.

A year after the events at Sharpeville another fighter against all forms of racial injustice, American William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois, died at his home in Accra, Ghana. On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we salute all those, past and present, who, like Du Bois and the protestors at Sharpeville, campaigned to make the world a fairer place.

Du Bois was born in 1868, three years after the end of the US Civil War and the ending of slavery in the United States. Whilst brought up in the more tolerant state of Massachusetts, much of his life centred upon trying to realise the freedom most assumed had been won with the end of the war. Educated at Harvard University, he was the first African-American to hold a doctorate and later the first to secure an academic appointment at an American university. He quickly rose to become an intellectual titan who spent his career opposing prejudice.

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