UMass Amherst
Du Bois: Activist Life
In his autobiography, Du Bois wrote, "I was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation which began the freeing of American Negro Slaves." Born on February 23, 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts -- a small town nestled in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. His family had lived there for generations and his ancestors had fought in the American Revolution. Of his boyhood, Du Bois wrote: "In general thought and conduct, I became quite thoroughly New England."
Mary Sylvina Burghardt and son Willie Mary Sylvina Burghardt Du Bois with her infant son, "Willie." Du Bois wrote of his mother that "she gave one the impression of infinite patience, but a curious determination was concealed in her softness." She died only months after Du Bois graduated from high school.

Alfred Du Bois Du Bois knew little of his father. Alfred Du Bois married Mary Burghardt in 1867. Soon after Du Bois was born, his father left, never to return. Du Bois described him as "a dreamer-- romantic, indolent, kind, unreliable, he had in him the making of a poet, an adventurer, or a beloved vagabond, according to the life that closed round him; and that life gave him all too little."

W.E.B. Du Bois, age 4 Du Bois at the age of four, dressed to conform to the Victorian era's idea of how well-behaved little boys should appear.

Note to W.E.B. Du Bois from grandmother, Sarah Burghardt A note from Du Bois (at age nine) to his grandmother, Sarah Burghardt.

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