On Friday, the University of Pennsylvania named W.E.B. Du Bois an honorary professor, 49 years after his death.
The Harvard-trained African-American scholar and civil rights activist wrote the seminal sociological text “The Philadelphia Negro” while employed by Penn in 1896. He was never offered a teaching position because he was black.
Considered the first American sociological study, a new academic field at the time of its writing, “The Philadelphia Negro” is a study of the city’s African-American population, researched largely by interviewing residents door-to-door in black neighborhoods.
Du Bois went on to write several other widely influential books, including “The Souls of Black Folk” in (1903 and “Black Reconstruction in America” in 1935..
Many academic fields now claim Du Bois as their own.
” ‘The Philadelphia Negro’ is considered by sociologists as a foundational text,” said professor Tukufu Zuberi, chairman of the sociology department at Penn. The book is “considered by historians as a major beginning of social history. It is considered by social workers as the first work arguing for social intervention.
“It is used by psychologists to amplify what he meant, in the ‘Souls of Black Folks,’ by his idea of double consciousness.”
Zuberi says the fact that Penn hired Du Bois to do the study was a bold move for race relations in 1896. Still, he was not allowed to teach and he was not given an office.
After publication, he was passed over for professorships at major universities, eventually taking a job at Atlanta University. Later, he co-founded the NAACP.