Your real work, my dear young man, does not lie with names. It is not a matter of changing them, losing them, or forgetting them. Names are nothing but little guideposts along the Way. The Way would be there and just be as hard and just as long if there were no guideposts,—but not quite as easily followed! Your real work as a Negro lies in two directions: First , to let the world know what there is fine and genuine about the Negro race. And secondly , to see that there is nothing about that race which is worth contempt; your contempt, my contempt; or the contempt of the wide, wide world.
In July 1897, Du Bois left Philadelphia and took a professorship in history and economics at the historically black Atlanta University in Georgia.  His first major academic work was his book The Philadelphia Negro (1899), a detailed and comprehensive sociological study of the African-American people of Philadelphia, based on the field work he did in 1896–1897. The work was a breakthrough in scholarship, because it was the first scientific study of African Americans and a major contribution to early scientific sociology in the .   In the study, Du Bois coined the phrase "the submerged tenth" to describe the black underclass. Later in 1903 he popularized the term, the " Talented Tenth ", applied to society's elite class.  Du Bois's terminology reflected his opinion that the elite of a nation, both black and white, was critical to achievements in culture and progress.  Du Bois wrote in this period in a dismissive way of the underclass, describing them as "lazy" or "unreliable", but – in contrast to other scholars – he attributed many of their societal problems to the ravages of slavery.