YVC Philadelphia youth volunteers and staff are celebrating Black History Month by sharing the stories and lessons of historical figures that we admire. We will be posting here as well as on our social media platforms, so please follow along with us as we recognize black excellence and show our gratitude for the generations of black heroes who have sacrificed everything to move us towards a more inclusive and just society.
W.E.B. Dubois was a champion for equality as an activist, organizer and civil rights leader. He founded a group of African American scholars and professionals dedicated to protesting inequality called the Niagara Movement. The quote above was from a Niagara Movement speech he delivered in 1905 and unfortunately remains extremely relevant and timely more than 115 years later. and was among the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Locally, Du Bois served as an assistant instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1896-1897. He conducted a study of Black Philadelphians and published the results in his work titled The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899). This work was trailblazing and is one of the reasons Du Bois is credited as being one of the founding fathers of American Sociology.
Many of Du Bois words still ring true today. Here are some notable quotations that still require our attention and focus today:
A "great nation, which today ought to be in the forefront of the march toward peace and democracy, finds itself continuously making common cause with rate hate"
"Daily the Negro is coming more and more to look upon law and justice, not as protecting safeguards, but as sources of humiliation and oppression. The laws are made by men who have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have absolutely no motive for treating the black people with courtesy or consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would rather punish ten innocent negroes than let one guilty one escape." -The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.
"A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect."
"There is always a certain glamour about the idea of a nation rising up to crush an evil simply because it is wrong. Unfortunately, this can seldom be realized in real life; for the very existence of the evil usually argues a moral weakness in the very place where extraordinary moral strength is called for." -The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, 1897.
"I believe that all men, black and brown, and white, are brothers, varying, through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development."
"I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls; the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love."