Civil rights leader and author, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. He earned a B.A. from both Harvard and Fisk universities, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard, and studied at the University of Berlin. He taught briefly at Wilberforce University before he came professor of history and economics at Atlanta University in Ohio (1896-1910). There, he wrote The Souls of Black Folk (1903), in which he pointed out that it was up to whites and blacks jointly to solve the problems created by the denial of civil rights to blacks. In 1905, Du Bois became a major figure in the Niagara Movement, a crusading effort to end discrimination. The organization collapsed, but it prepared the way for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in which Du Bois played a major role. In 1910, he became editor of the NAACP magazine, a position he held for more than 20 years. Du Bois returned to Atlanta University in 1932 and tried to implement a plan to make the Negro Land Grant Colleges centers of black power. Atlanta approved of his idea, but later retracted its support. When Du Bois tried to return to NAACP, it rejected him too. Active in several Pan-African Congresses, Du Bois came to know Fwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, and Jono Kenyatta the president of Kenya. In 1961, the same year Du Bois joined the Communist party, Nkrumah invited him to Ghana as a director of an Encyclopedia Africana project. He died there on Aug. 27, 1963, after becoming a citizen of that country.
Raised in Chinquapin, North Carolina, Randall Kenan is the author of the novel A Visitation of Spirits and the short story collection Let The Dead Bury Their Dead. The latter was nominated for the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. After the success of A Visitation of Spirits, Kenan began working on a new book. More than a dozen years ago, he rented a car and set out from New York on a cross-country journey to interview African Americans. The title of the book that resulted, Walking on Water, comes from the story of slaves en route from Africa who commandeered their ship off the coast of Georgia around 1800. Legend has it that they walked off the ship to an unknown fate. In his book, Kenan attempts to learn that fate. When he isn't writing, Kenan teaches writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. He is also a contributor to the New York Times and The Nation and was once an assistant editor at Knopf.