W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Massachusetts in 1868. He received a B.A. from Fisk University in Tennessee, studied at the University of Berlin, and was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard (1895). Du Bois argued tirelessly for complete racial equality and integration. He disagreed with Booker T. Washington's stance toward political and social inequality, believing it too accommodating toward white racism. Du Bois's insistence on complete racial equality gained even greater importance after the Supreme Court upheld legally- sanctioned segregation ("separate-but-equal") in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case in 1896. In 1905 he joined with other civil rights advocates and formed the Niagara Movement to protest racial inequality and the separate-but-equal legal doctrine articulated in the Plessy case.
After internal dissension made the Niagara movement ineffective, Du Bois and white liberals formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The NAACP sought to end racial inequality and foster integration, primarily by challenging the legal basis of segregation. In an editorial at the conclusion of the First World War, a conflict in which large numbers of African-Americans served militarily, Du Bois called on his readers to use their special gifts and talents to lay claim to political promises yet unfulfilled:
By the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses, if now that the war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brains and brawn to fight the forces of hell in our own land.
We return from fighting.
We return fighting!
Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.