Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2016

Department 1

Africana Studies


Philosophy and activism formed a mutualist relationship in regards to 20th-century Black American politics. Emancipatory theories undergirded the civil disobedience and reformist action of the entire century. W.E.B. DuBois, renowned African-American academic at the forefront of American and Pan-Africanist liberation movements, is often divorced from his originary philosophical roots. As he became the first Black PhD graduate of Harvard University, his mentor was philosopher and psychologist William James. James is the forefather of American Pragmatism, a school of thought still alive and dynamic in this day. DuBoisian scholars tend however to stress the German Idealist influences on DuBois’s thought. Informed by protracted and ongoing theoretical and journalistic research, my project aims to locate the trace of Jamesian Pragmatism in DuBois’s scholar activism. I argue that DuBois’s struggles with Pragmatism engendered a way of thinking that resembles Marxist thought before DuBois ever went to Berlin. Further, DuBois’s idealist revision of Jamesian logic informs his pre-NAACP activism with the Niagara Movement. All in all, my research shows how, despite his disagreements with his mentor, DuBois does not quite disavow pragmatism throughout this very political academic career.

This research was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and was guided by Dr. Scott Hancock of Gettysburg College's History Department.


This paper was presented at the 11th Annual Conference for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, Entrepreneurship and Creative Achievement (EURECA) at American University in Cairo, April 18-21, 2016.