In 1939 sociologist, activist, author, and cofounder of the NAACP, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois, had a house built at 2302 Montebello Terrace in the neighborhood of Morgan Park. Barred from many neighborhoods by Jim Crow laws and redlining, Black people could build and own their homes in Morgan Park, a few blocks away from Morgan State University (which was called Morgan College until 1975). Other notable residents of the neighborhood included the musical giants Eubie Blake and Cab Calloway, and the founder of the Afro-American newspapers, Carl Murphy. According to Murphy’s daughter, he and Du Bois would discuss civil rights on walks around the neighborhood. Du Bois’ house was designated as a Baltimore Landmark by the City Council in 2008.
W.E.B. Du Bois was arguably the most important Black scholar, author, and activist of the first half of the 20th century. He was born in 1868, just three years after the end of the Civil War, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of a working class Haitian father and a Black American mother. The first Black graduate of his high school, Du Bois received his first undergraduate degree from Fisk University. He completed his studies at Harvard University, where he became the first Black student to earn a PhD. He then taught at several universities including Wilberforce University and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1899 he published a groundbreaking study of African Americans in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. During his tenure at Atlanta University, his young son died after Du Bois spent the night looking for one of the three Black doctors, as no white doctor in the city would treat the sick child.
In 1903 he published The Souls of Black Folk, a pioneering work in sociology and African-American literature. The same year, Du Bois wrote his influential essay, "The Talented Tenth," in which he argued for the development of a small group of educated Black people, as well as agitation and protest, as the path to racial equality. In 1905 he helped organize the Niagara Movement, a civil rights group that demanded political and social equality for Black Americans, and was a forerunner of the NAACP. The group split in 1908, partially due to disagreements about accepting women members, which Du Bois supported. In 1909 he retired from teaching to co-found the NAACP, and edit its magazine, The Crisis. Du Bois was active in the NAACP until 1948 when he left over ideological differences.
Du Bois lived in the two-story white shingle home with a detached garage from 1939 until the death of his first wife, Nina, in 1950. They moved to Baltimore to be closer to their daughter, Yolande, a city school teacher. While living in Baltimore, Du Bois wrote Dusk of Dawn (1940), Color and Democracy (1945), and The World and Africa (1947). During this period Dr. Du Bois also maintained a home in New York City.
Du Bois continued his political activism through the Pan-African, anti-colonial, and peace movements. Although not a member of the Communist Party at the time, he had socialist ideals, and worked with organizations and individuals connected to it. This resulted in punitive measures by the U.S. Departments of Justice and State, which revoked his passport from 1952 until 1958. Increasingly disillusioned with the United States, he moved to Ghana to work on the Encyclopedia Africana. He officially joined the Communist Party in 1961. Du Bois died in 1963, at the age of 95, in Ghana. His daughter, Yolande Du Bois Williams taught in Baltimore City Public Schools, including Paul Laurence Dunbar and Booker T. Washington High Schools, for forty years. When she died in 1961, her funeral was held at Morgan Christian Center at Morgan College, just blocks away from her parents’ former home on Montebello Terrace.
The research and writing of this article was funded by two grants: one from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and one from the Baltimore National Heritage Area.