16. W. E. B. DuBois’s Home during His Research Study
As noted in this historical marker about W. E. B. Du Bois, the brilliant intellectual and writer lived in this neighborhood of Philadelphia for fifteen months of intensive interviewing of residents of the 7th Ward, a neighborhood which extended from 6th street to 23rd street. This area comprised the greatest concentration of African Americans in the city in the late 1890s. Du Bois’s research findings were published in 1899 as The Philadelphia Negro. This research also influenced Du Bois in the writing of his masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, a few years later.
Du Bois learned a great deal about the Philadelphia African American community at the end of the 19th century, and Mother Bethel AME was a critical part of his research. Although never an AME member himself, Du Bois had a deep appreciation for Christian spirituality – something which some scholars of Du Bois’s work have failed to appreciate. But, as Edward Blum notes, Du Bois “was not antireligious; he was against faith used for fraud, belief used to bully, and Christianity when used to control. Du Bois had much to teach about religious organizations, the power of belief, the intersections of religion and violence, the necessity of faith for social resistance, and the vitality of spiritual symbolism.”
Du Bois admired the work of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the ministry of late 1800s AME leader Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, in particular. Although not a Philadelphia resident, Turner was a major leader in his denomination in organizing mission outreach in southern Africa. Du Bois eulogized Turner as “the last of his clan: mighty men, physically and mentally, men who started at the bottom and hammered their way to the top by sheer brute strength; they were the spiritual progeny of ancient African chieftains and they built the African Church in America.”