Augustus Granville Dill, sociologist, business manager, musician, and colleague of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois, is best known for his work overseeing the publication of Du Bois’s journal, The Crisis, between 1913 and 1928. He also helped publish The Brownies’ Book, a pioneering magazine for black children published from 1920 to 1921. In many ways, A.G. Dill represented the possibilities but also the difficulties of the college-educated “talented tenth” generation that Du Bois lauded as civil rights pioneers in his seminal Souls of Black Folk (1903).
Born in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1881, Dill came of age in the era of Jim Crow. After graduating from Atlanta University with a B.A. in 1906, he earned a second B.A. at Harvard University in 1908. Dill was one of a handful of black students who matriculated at universities such as Harvard at the turn of the century but like his mentor Du Bois, he found few opportunities for advancement outside of the black institutions that had developed in response to segregation’s proscriptions. Atlanta University awarded Dill a Master’s degree in Sociology in 1909 and hired him as both a professor and organist for the school in 1910.
While in Atlanta, Dill helped produce a series of important sociological studies initiated by W.E.B. Du Bois and financed by the John F. Slater Fund. The “Atlanta Studies” included The College-Bred Negro (1910), The Common School and the Negro (1911), The Negro American Artisan (1912), and Morals and Manners Among Negro Americans (1914). These works documented the difficulties that African Americans faced under Jim Crow, particularly highlighting inequalities of education and economic opportunity. At the same time, the Atlanta Studies insisted that the small but active black bourgeois class was evidence of African American potential for full citizenship rights.
In 1913, Dill moved to New York City to serve as office manager and assistant editor at The Crisis, the journal begun in 1910 to publicize the work of the NAACP. In 1915, Dill also served as a musical director on Du Bois’s historical pageant, The Star of Ethiopia. Du Bois lauded his protégé as one of “the type of progressive young men who are making themselves felt in colored America.” Dill continued to manage business affairs at The Crisis and attended the 1916 Amenia Conference, a meeting organized by Du Bois to jumpstart African American civil rights activism in the wake of Booker T. Washington’s death the previous year.
By 1920, Dill’s primary energies were committed to work on The Crisis, the publishing venture of DuBois and Dill. Their inaugural project was The Brownies’ Book, which opened with the promise that the children’s magazine would “teach Universal Love and Brotherhood for all little folk–black and brown and yellow and white.” Unfortunately, The Brownies’ Book could not be sustained on subscriptions and meager advertising revenue. The magazine’s last issue appeared in December 1921. DuBois and Dill also published Unsung Heroes in 1921, a collection of historical sketches of prominent African Americans, but the dream of a black publishing house folded that same year. Despite these setbacks, Dill continued to work on The Crisis, a critical journal publishing both the civil rights work of the NAACP and the creative work of black artists.
In 1928, Dill was arrested in a New York City sting on homosexual activity, an event which forced him to resign from the Crisis. He continued to live in New York City until his final years, tutoring and playing the organ at John Haynes Holmes’ Community Church. In 1956, he died in Louisville, Kentucky after a long illness. Du Bois described him as a “sensitive artist and musician rather than the business man” but Augustus Dill was an important behind-the-scenes participant in the success of the Crisis in the early 20th century, and by extension, the NAACP.