Black History Month – Part Four

by Jessica Reppert

There are a lot of things we take for granted in life. As we celebrate Black History Month, one of the biggest things I’ve noticed is education. Throughout February, we’ve celebrated several important Black American authors from the past and present. This week, all three of our celebrated authors showed me that education is something not to be taken for granted; education should be cherished and embraced. If anything, we should realize that getting up for an 8 a.m. class is the least of our worries. This week we’re celebrating W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Olaudah Equiano, all men who struggled for an education, but never gave up on their dream for one.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. By the age of 15, Du Bois was a correspondent for two Black newspapers. After graduating high school in 1884 he attended Fisk University, an all Black school, on a scholarship. He received a B.A. from Fisk University in 1888, then a B.A. from Harvard University in 1890. He continued the rest of his education at Harvard, receiving his M.A. in 1891, and his Ph.D. in 1895.

Du Bois was an historian, a sociologist, a novelist, an editor, and a civil rights activist. He was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, a “black protest organization that pressed for equal rights in the early 1900s,” (Gale Biography in Context). He was also later a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Some of W.E.B. Du Bois’s work includes:

  • The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911 Novel)
  • Selected Poems (c. 1964 Poetry Volume)
  • Haiti (1938 Play)
  • The Conservation of Races (1897 Non-Fiction)
  • The Negro in the South: His Economic Progress in Relation to His Moral and Religious Development (1907 Non-Fiction) – Written with Booker T. Washington
  • Columnist for several newspapers across the country

Du Bois died at the age of 95 on August 27, 1963, in Accra, Ghana, where he spent his last few years and became a citizen not long before his death.

Check out W.E.B. Du Bois’s Gale Biography in Context for more information.

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born on April 5, 1856, in Hale’s Ford, Virginia. Born into slavery on a plantation, he was the son of a white man and the plantation cook. As a boy, he attended school as much as possible, but he was mostly self-taught. At age 16 he attended Hampton Institute, a well-known Black college, fulfilling his dream of a proper education. To offset the cost of his tuition, room, and board, Washington worked as a janitor at the school. He graduated with honors in 1875 and went on to be an educator for other Black Americans across the country for many years. Washington urged Blacks towards self-improvement through education to show their equality to whites rather than trying to demonstrate it through protests that had not been working up to that point.

Washington was an educator, a social activist, and a writer. He received honorary degrees from Harvard University in 1896 and Dartmouth College in 1901. He was the founder, and for many years the President, of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington also served as an adviser to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

Some of Booker T. Washington’s writing includes:

  • Up From Slavery (1901 Autobiography)
  • Working With the Hands (1904 Autobiography Sequel)
  • The Negro in Business (1907 Non-Fiction)
  • The Negro in the South: His Economic Progress in Relation to His Moral and Religious Development (1907 Non-Fiction) –Written with W.E.B. Du Bois

Washington died on November 14, 1915, in Tuskegee, Alabama.

For more information on Booker T. Washington, check out his Gale Biography in Context.

Olaudah Equiano is thought to have been born around 1745 into the African Igbo, or Ibo, tribe in present day Nigeria. He was captured at age eleven to be sold into slavery. He was purchased by a European slave trader and taken to Barbados, whose sugar plantations made it the richest British colony of the day. Equiano wasn’t traded in Barbados, so he was taken to Virginia where he worked on a tobacco plantation. After a short time there, he was traded to a British naval officer. Under his new master, Equiano learned how to sail and took on a European name, Gustavus Vassa. He spent much of his life sailing, mostly between the American Colonies and England, and worked several side jobs to earn money. Along the way, Equiano gained as much knowledge and education as he could. He asked young white boys to help him learn to read and write, and, for many years, his Mistress helped him with his education, too.

By 1766, Equiano had saved up enough money to purchase his own freedom. After many years of writing, editing, and visits with several publishers, Equiano’s autobiography and most well known work, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, was published in 1789.

In 1792, Equiano married an Englishwoman, Susan Cullen, with whom he had two daughters, Anna Maria and Johanna. Olaudah Equiano, known in his later years as Gustavus Vassa, died in 1797.

For more information on Olaudah Equiano, visit his page on Gale Biography in Context.

For more on the African Ibo tribes, check out this video from Films on Demand.

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