was born November 11, 1896 in Indianapolis, Indiana on a farm which had been part of the underground railroad and had served as a stopping point for runaway slaves on their way to Canada. It belonged to her grandfather, a former slave who had been freed prior to the Civil War.
Over the years she studied at the Sorbonne, Oberlin, and attended Yale on a Rosenwald Fellowship in Creative Writing. She received both her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music from Oberlin. After receiving her MA degree, she was appointed Head of the Fine Arts Department at Tennessee State College.Â
Later she took over the directorship of the Negro United of the Federal Theater in Chicago. While in that position she adapted Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape for an all black cast and worked on a black version of The Mikado. She also wrote the music for a children’s play.
An avid historian, she also wrote biographies of Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker, and Paul Robeson.
Graham was married to educator and social reformer W.E.B DuBois in 1951, one year after the death of Nina Du Bois, his wife of fifty-five years. During the next ten years the Du Boises were involved in various and sundry legal battles with the government during the McCarthy era over Du Bois’ involvement with the Communist Party. In 1961 the Du Boises moved to Ghana and became citizens at the instigation of then President Kwane Nkrumah.
After her husband’s death in 1963 and the military coup in 1967 which ousted Nkrumah from power, Shirley Graham Du Bois moved to Cairo where she lived for many years. When she later tried to return to the United States, the State Department refused to issue her a visa citing her association with subversive groups over the years. She was subsequently allowed to visit the United States for two months in 1971. During a more exhaustive visit in 1975 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Shirley Graham Du Bois died on March 27, 1977 in Peking, China where she had gone for treatment for breast cancer.