Today in Boston by Ethan Underhill: 4/23/1904 — The Sociologist 🔎

He had not 1, not 2, but 3 Crimson degrees.

He earned the first as a second bachelor’s by 1890. He had a Master’s by 1892, and by 1895, after a stint at the University of Berlin, he’d shipped back up to Cambridge to become the first African American to hold a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Still, upon delivering a lecture on race at his alma mater by the dirty water today in 1904, William Edward Burghardt DuBois explained that he’d been “in Harvard but not of it.”

Just what did he mean by that?

He meant that @Harvard’s Administration had refused to recognize the first bachelor’s degree he’d earned at Nashville’s historically black @Fisk1866 University.

He meant that he’d studied alongside the sons of the wealthiest men in the world, and that he’d had to pay his own way through scholarships, summer jobs, and nominal help from family and friends.

He meant that the place was prejudiced, plain and simple. That if he hadn’t first gone to Fisk and tasted the cruelty and shame of Southern segregation, suppression, and bloodshed of black bodies, he’d have expected his Harvard classmates to be as kind to him as his neighbors back in his native Great Barrington out in the Berkshires had been.

Instead, Harvard gave W.E.B. DuBois a twisted gift. His time at Fisk had shown him overt racism, but Cambridge had exposed him to institutional racism’s northern subtleties — as if keeping black students out of the dorms were at all subtle. Ultimately, his exposure to these systemic problems inspired his life’s work as an academic, activist, and orator.

That’s how he landed at such a rich and powerful definition of education as “that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men.” And women.

Over the next 59 years of his life, DuBois would go toe-to-toe with Booker T. Washington over the future of the black experience in America, work with @todayinboston friend William Monroe Trotter to establish the Niagara Movement, and lay the groundwork for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (@naacp).

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