Philadelphia Negro, a work that was beginning of his reputation as a sociologist, Du Bois accepted an offer from Atlanta University in 1897 to teach History and Economics. There, Du Bois planned a long-range series of studies dealing with the issues and problems that faced black Americans. The result was the Atlanta University Studies, which was one of the first continuous sociological surveys in the United States. Du Bois hoped that through scientific inquiry, the oppressive conditions of black Americans could be brought to world attention and that the shadows of racial prejudice could be dispelled by the light of reason. But after almost ten years of patient research, Du Bois was shocked into action by the Atlanta Riot of 1906. Disinterested scientific investigation was not enough. He began to see that direct social action was needed to counter the political and economic oppressions that stood in the way of black aspirations.
Du Bois resigned from Atlanta University on July 15, 1910 to accept the position of Director of Publicity and Research of the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Du Bois outlined the history and significance of Atlanta University in a chapter by that name in the multi-authored anthology From Servitude to Service (American Unitarian Association 1905). In addition to a discussion of the school's founding and early presidents, Du Bois emphasized Atlanta University's vital relevance to “racial uplift,” to the training of graduates who became teachers in Georgia schools, and to the social-scientific study of African American life and conditions.