The Quotable W. E. B. Du Bois

By Nicholas Parker
February 23, 2017
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Photo portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: psnypl_scg_730

W. E. B. Du Bois, the African-American thinker and activist whose writings influenced generations of freedom fighters, was born on February 23 in 1868. Over the course of his long life, Du Bois wrote several books, most notably The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America, and he was the founding editor of The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP and the oldest black publication in the world, for nearly 25 years. While nearly a century and a half has passed since Du Bois' birth, many of his writings still feel as relevant today as they did in the early 20th century. Here are some quotations from Du Bois, coupled with our images of him from the Photographs and Prints Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

"Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States." -- "Niagara Movement Speech," 1905.

"In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no 'two evils' exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say." -- "Why I Won't Vote," The Nation, 1956.

"Daily the Negro is coming more and more to look upon law and justice, not as protecting safeguards, but as sources of humiliation and oppression. The laws are made by men who have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have absolutely no motive for treating the black people with courtesy or consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would rather punish ten innocent Negroes than let one guilty one escape." -- The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.

Photographic portrait of W. E. B. Du Bois at age four

W. E. B. Du Bois at age four.


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1872.

 "The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression." -- John Brown: A Biography, 1909.

"There is always a certain glamour about the idea of a nation rising up to crush an evil simply because it is wrong. Unfortunately, this can seldom be realized in real life; for the very existence of the evil usually argues a moral weakness in the very place where extraordinary moral strength is called for." -- The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, 1897

"Believe in life! Always human beings will progress to great, broader, and fuller life." -- "Last Message to the World," 1957.

If you want to learn more, search for more images of Du Bois from the Schomburg Center's collections, or browse the complete list of his works in the Schomburg Collection, which includes the W. E. B. Du Bois papers. Got any other quotes from W. E. B. Du Bois? Let us know in the comments!