From the poverty of culture to the power of politics: the evolution of W.E.B. Du Bois

Kyle Beckham*, Shirin Vossoughi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The culture of poverty thesis did not emerge from the conservative shadows of American intellectual life, but from its most liberal hopes for the future. Most of its earliest champions were committed to the cause of Black uplift, but never escaped the shame and judgment of the culture of poverty thesis. We look to the life and writings of W.E.B. Du Bois for examples of alternative possibilities. We could see Du Bois as an elitist who subscribed to a culture of poverty framework. Though there is some evidence for this view in his writings, the image falters when we examine the evolution of Du Bois’ thinking—the core focus of this paper. We examine key intellectual struggles present across Du Bois’ writings to explicate: 1) his changing thoughts on leadership (the “Talented Tenth”); and 2) his move toward an ever-broader advocacy of political engagement as the primary motor for Black liberation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-86
Number of pages12
JournalDiaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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