W.E.B. Du Bois resigned from the NAACP on this day in 1934, here is why

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William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the African-American scholar, activist and Pan-Africanist, who is famous for being one of the pioneers of Pan-Africanism, resigned from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People () today in 1934.

So, what were the reasons for his resignation from this organization that he believed in, being one of its founders?

When the Great Depression of the 1930s took hold of America and Walter White rose to the leadership of the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois began to question the path and program of the Association. Although still opposed to the Communist Party, his politics became more radical as he began to doubt that the NAACP’s policy on anti-segregation was addressing its core needs of the masses (particularly the lower classes) of African Americans.

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This change coupled with his displeasure at the change of leadership and the deteriorating financial position of the Crisis magazine led on a path of a final eruption.

Du Bois tried to emphasize that the Depression resulted in economics rather than segregation and it was the greatest concern facing most African Americans while advising that the NAACP should change its focus accordingly. He presented a measured critique of the organization at the 1932 annual conference of the NAACP titled “What is Wrong with the NAACP?”

In his address, he acknowledged the achievements of the organization but argued that the continued fight against Jim Crow and the color line should be supplanted by heeding the ever more urgent plight of black workers.  He argued that the crisis in capitalism brought class struggle to the forefront and made economic survival the top priority.

W.E.B Du Bois/Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Eventually, the Depression brought about the end of NAACP’s The Crisis magazine’s self-support thereby infringing the independence of Du Bois as its editor.

On that score, Du Bois was no longer convinced the board of directors of the organization and Walter White were still focused on the ideologies that birthed the NAACP since the board no longer heeded his advice for change. Also, he was concerned with how the national office staff, particularly White, had become distant from the masses and concentrated the organization’s power at the expense of the branches and rank and file.

He presented a complex plan for that would have created regional councils of branches and let them have more control over the NAACP’s direction but again, this plan was ignored by the board and the executive secretary.

His failed attempts to move the organization in a new direction, the loss of control over the Crisis and his dislike of Walter White all came to a head in one incident. He published an editorial in the Crisis saying the gathering together of strength involuntarily segregated communities (which would later be espoused by black nationalists and black power advocates) was a tactic that should be considered. The organization built on the idea that all walls of segregation should be torn down immediately reacted with articles in The Crisis magazine disagreeing with Du Bois and calling him to the task.

It had become obvious that there was little else he could do in the organization. Du Bois resigned from the organization effective July 1, 1934.

However, Du Bois to the NAACP as director of special research from 1944 to 1948 during which he was active in placing the grievances of African-Americans before the United Nations, serving as a consultant to the UN founding convention (1945) and writing the famous “An Appeal to the World” (1947).

Earlier in 1895, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois became the first African-American to earn a doctorate (PhD) at the Harvard University. Indeed, his doctorate thesis titled “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in America” was the first book to be published by the University’s Press by 1896.

Kwame Nkrumah and Fathia with the Du Boises, Aug. 1963 [Source: Pan-African News Wire]

At the height of the cold war in the early 1950’s, Mr. Du Bois was devoted to promoting peace between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, after encountering a lot of opposition, controversies and criticisms due to his political stand, Du Bois left the U.S. to go and seek for a permanent citizenship in Ghana due to his support and close relationship with Kwame Nkrumah- the Ghanaian President. Du Bois finally died in Accra, Ghana on 27th August 1963.