Du Bois’s posture met with little popularity, for it was at the time that the nation had witnessed the undermining of the “Reconstruction Amendments”—which had given blacks the legal prerogatives of the vote, access to, and equal rights under the law—by the 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Fergusson or the “separate but equal” doctrine.
Du Bois’s political idealism was a product of his childhood observations of and participation in the civic activities of his home town and of his formal education in the 19th-century disciplines of history and sociology, both of which held firm to a belief in human progress and the perfectibility of man in society.
Born in great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868, Du Bois grew up in a typical New England small-town environment, where social and economic activities were reinforced by strong traditions in “primary democracy”: all of its citizens had a right to be heard. The people of Great Barrington considered their community to be one with a moral purpose; thus, assuming social responsibility was an integral part of civic life. Having grown up in such an environment, Du Bois had little direct experience with the social, political, and economic exclusion of blacks before he went south to attend Fisk University in 1885.
Du Bois also realized as early as 1900 that organized…