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Commemorative Plaque for Black Civil Rights Activist and Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois

Du Bois was one of the most influential American intellectuals of the 20th century and a doctoral student at the Humboldt-Universität

On Friday, 28th January 2022, the Department of English and American Studies is inaugurating a commemorative plaque in honour of the academic, writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois in the main building of the Humboldt-Universität. Du Bois was one of the most influential American intellectuals of the 20th century and the first African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. Previously, he was a doctoral candidate and the first Black student at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin, which is today the Humboldt-Universität. In recognition of his research, Du Bois received an honorary doctorate in economics from the Humboldt-Universität in 1958.

“The idea of a commemorative plaque for Du Bois has been around for a long time. The direct impetus came a few years ago, when a group of Black Americans were looking for a Du Bois statue at the Humboldt-Universität. We are delighted to finally be creating a memorial for Du Bois, for whom the time as a student in Berlin was very formative," explains Dorothea Löbbermann from the Department of English and American Studies, who oversaw the implementation of the commemorative plaque.

The new memorial on the ground floor of the university's main building was designed by African Caribbean artist Jean-Ulrick Désert. The installation consists of three glass panels showing a group photo with Du Bois and other students, presumably from 1894, and two later portraits of the sociologist. The colour scheme for the commemorative plaque is based on the Pan-African flag and thus refers to the Pan-African movement, in which Du Bois played a key role. Among other things, he launched the Pan-African Congresses, which took place from 1919 onwards. 

Since 1998, the Humboldt-Universität has also organised the “W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures” and “Distinguished W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures” series to promote intercultural dialogue. In public lectures, international academics and intellectuals speak about current cultural issues, such as aspects of Black identity. 

Further information


Dr Dorothea Löbbermann
Department of English and American Studies
American Studies Program, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin