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Time Machine

Time Machine: Woman who grew up in Cedar Rapids married civil rights leader

W.E.B. DuBois. Clipping from The Gazette published Jan. 23, 2000.
W.E.B. DuBois. Clipping from The Gazette published Jan. 23, 2000.
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Nina Gomer — who would grow up in Cedar Rapids and marry one of the most prominent black leaders of the 20th century — was born on the Fourth of July, 1870, in Quincy, Ill.

When she was 6, her parents, Charles S. Gomer and Mary J. Schneider Gomer, moved to Cedar Rapids, where Charles was a cook at Brown’s Hotel on North Commercial Street (First Street). By 1877, he was the hotel’s head cook and bought a small house the following year at 186 Linn St. (A Avenue) for $615.

He became the cook at the Northwestern Hotel on First Avenue in 1880. In 1886, it was transformed into The Clifton, an elegant 70-room hotel that was painted bright red.

Gomer, a black Mason, worked in the kitchen, becoming head cook in 1890 and chef in 1895, The Gomers moved to 605 B Ave.

MARRIAGE

By then, Nina had left home to study at Wilberforce University in Ohio. It was there she met Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois, a professor. They were married May 6, 1896, at her home in Cedar Rapids. She was 25. He was 28.

DuBois had just received his Ph.D. from Harvard, the first black to earn a doctoral degree in the United States. Harvard published his thesis as Volume I of the Harvard Historical Series.

DuBois was born in Great Barrington, Mass., on Feb. 28, 1868. He graduated from Fisk University in 1888 and from Harvard in 1890, receiving his doctorate from Harvard in 1895.

After their marriage, the DuBoises moved to Philadelphia, where he began researching black lives and reforms for the poor in association with the College Settlement Assocation and the University of Pennsylvania. They lived in a one-room apartment in the Seventh Ward, the heart of the city’s black population of about 40,000.

DuBois began his research by going door to door in the poor neighborhoods that housed blacks, Jews and Irish immigrants. He described the blacks as Philadelphia-born entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and clergy.

TWO BABIES

When Nina became pregnant, DuBois moved her to Great Barrington, Mass., while he stayed behind to work on his book, “The Philadelphia Negro.” He didn’t see his son, Burghardt, until several weeks after the baby’s birth on Oct. 2, 1897. At the end of the year, his work in Pennsylvania was done and the family moved to Atlanta, where he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University.

According to later biographies, Atlanta was Nina’s first encounter with the racism of the Deep South. When 18-month-old Burghardt became sick, the DuBoises tried to find medical help for him, but the white doctors refused to treat a black. After being sick for 10 days, Burghardt died on May 24, 1899.

The DuBoises had a daughter, Yolande Nina, born in 1900.

SOCIAL EVENT

In 1909, DuBois was among the founders of the NAACP and served as the editor of NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. He would write 14 books, among them “Souls of Black Folk” in 1903, “Darkwater” in 1920 and “Dark Princess” in 1924. He was the first blacks elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and was editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of the Negro.

On April 9, 1928, the DuBois’ daughter Yolande’s wedding to Countee Cullen, a Harlem poet, was the social event of the year. Twelve hundred people were invited, but more than 3,000 showed up. The marriage was short-lived. The couple separated and divorced in 1929, with Yolande and her mother going to Paris for Yolande to recover.

Nina’s years of marriage to DuBois had turned her into an unassertive, pleasant adjunct to her famous and notoriously unfaithful husband. The daughter of a family friend described her as “retiring, sweet, very … I wouldn’t say aristocratic, because she wasn’t haughty.”

Yolande married again in 1931, to Arnette Williams, a football player, and they had a daughter, DuBois Williams, nicknamed “Baby” Williams. That marriage ended in 1936.

BALTIMORE

The DuBois family — DuBois, Nina, Yolande and “Baby” — moved to Baltimore in 1939. Dr. and Mrs. W.E.B. DuBois celebrated 50 years of marriage on May 12, 1946, with the family at their home in the Baltimore suburb of Morgan Park.

Nina DuBois died in Baltimore, on June 26, 1950, at the age of 79. She was buried in Fairview Cemetery at Great Barrington, beside her son Burghardt.

W.E.B. Du Bois remarried in 1951 and moved to Ghana in 1961, where he became a citizen when the United States refused to renew his passport. He died there Aug. 27, 1963, at age 95.

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