Fifty years ago there were few people who did not know who W.E.B. Du Bois was. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced Doo Boys) was a founding member of the Niagara Movement, a group that evolved into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A prolific and confrontational writer, he expounded on the necessity of racial, economical and gender equality, demilitarization and the destructive nature of colonialism, among other social justice topics. Du Bois wrote many novels, plays and poems, but may be best remembered for his 1903 book, "The Souls of Black Folk."
Du Bois' opinions were sought by world leaders and intellectuals, including Langston Hughes, Mohandas Gandhi, Mao Zedong of the People's Republic of China, Booker T. Washington and Albert Einstein, according to UMass. In 1960, at age 92, Du Bois moved to Ghana, where he died three years later.
Through a $200,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, the University of Massachusetts is digitizing the more than 110,000 items in its Du Bois special collection - 168 linear feet of correspondence, pictures, pamphlets, mementos, novels, essays and secondary resources other people compiled about Du Bois. The Du Bois digitization will begin this summer and is expected to take two years to complete.
"In our time his legacy has faded," said Robert S. Cox, special collections archivist at UMass. "This will be a way to bring him back to the limelight.
Cox and Danielle M. Kovacs, curator of collections, are now working on developing a set of keywords to help this process go more smoothly. This common vernacular will help archivists quickly catalog the material, but will also improve the public's ability to accurately search for information. Once the digitization is completed, the materials will be available at a UMass-based Web site.
Kovacs said she receives several phone calls per day from scholars interested in the Du Bois collection. It's an exciting prospect, she said, to see what people will distill from the database once it's online.