The Souls Of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois Du Bois was one of those people who studied and learned a lot of things about the world, a lot of things that he found to be extremely unjust. This became his source of energy for becoming an intellectual guide for America, warning it of “the 20th century color problem” and suggesting sound and rational courses of action for the country to take. His contention was expressed lyrically and with passion in The Souls of Black Folk that he wrote in 1903. His main philosophy was that an educated black elite should lead blacks to liberation.

This deviated sharply with the emphasis by Booker T. Washington that industrial training for blacks and virtual silence on the questions of social and political equality. Washingtons ideas fitted well with the views of many conservative whites but were opposed by many black leaders, among them Du Bois. While writing The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois declared that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”–and predicted the racial conflicts that continue to plague our society. As up and coming spokesperson for the African-Americans in the early 1900s in the age of white dominance, Du Bois urged the establishment of an “all-black party” and preached the need for black “conscious self- realization” and for the separate autonomy of the black community. At the same time he stressed the white man’s responsibility for correcting racial inequality and pleaded for mutual understanding, for a nonviolent solution to a centuries-old dilemma.

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The first few chapters cover the Freedmans Bureau and Booker T. Washingtons philosophical applications on equality of the African-American. Du Bois creates a hybrid form of expression in The Souls of Black Folk, this is covered in chapter three. Du Bois uses this mode of writing to question American definitions of racial identity and difference and the political implications of these definitions. He then utilizes this turn-of-the-century ambiguity in definitions of race in order to argue for the necessity of recognizing, accepting, and utilizing the ethnic and racial diversity of the American people.

In doing so, Du Bois uses racist positions in order to argue against racism. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois created a text of mixture that incorporated fiction, musical notation, poetry, memoir, and history in order to establish for himself a multi-cultural audience of blacks and whites who he encourages to question the validity of racial discrimination and to! take political action to further the cause of social equality for members of non-white races. Du Bois was opposed to Booker T. Washington but this book brings out the reasons why. Du Bois stood in opposition to Washington because: had a program that was narrow. Washingtons philosophy was that African-Americans would only survive through submission and believed they should stick to manual work and try to join the American consumer mentality in that way.

Du Bois maintained that it was not only unjust, but illogical for the white community to continue attempting to thrust the blame for the black man’s condition solely on to the shoulders of the former slaves. The blame was shared by both races, but it was up to the whites as the economically and politically stronger of the two to initiate the necessary steps involved in correcting the situation. The way for a people to gain respect is not continually belittling and ridiculing themselves; that, on the contrary, all African-Americans must insist continually, in season and out of season, that voting is necessary to modern manhood. That color discrimination is barbarism, and a disease. And he presented the problem to the white man in a way he could understand.

You can’t help but notice a type of intellectual disgust for the South on the part of Du Bois in this book. He intellectually browbeats them throughout the book, at times quite obviously. Being raised in a wealthy New England home and having studied at Harvard and in Europe, Du Bois could not identify personally with the majority of the poor blacks in the South. The position of African-Americans will need to assert itself in that day when increasing wealth and more intricate social organization prevent the South from being, as it so largely is, simply an armed camp for dissuading black folk. Such waste of energy cannot be spared if the South is to catch up with society.

Another interesting point was Du Bois concept of African-American psychology: “gifted with second-sight in this American world,–a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.” What I found interesting was the parable between Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the Declaration of Independence, which is referred to as a document that African-Americans could demand their freedom–an interesting irony in American history: a country based on the protection of individual rights, yet allowing the ownership of slaves. Du Bois expounded that no human group had ever achieved freedom without being compelled to murder thousands of its oppressors. By keeping this a low-key, intellectual study instead of a passionate cry for rebellion, Du Bois set an example of positive change which the country direfully needed at the beginning of the century. This not only a book for blacks and whites in America, but for people who are stigmatized and discriminated against by their outer appearances rather than by their skills and deeds. Just as many people in other circumstances of life, a African-American living in America at the beginning of the 20th century necessarily was bombarded by social and personal pressure from every side. Du Bois makes this effect on personality clear: >From the double life every African-American must live, as a person of color and as an American, that is swept on by the current of the nineteenth century, while yet struggling in the status-quo of the fifteenth century.

They must arise a painful self-consciousness, an almost gloomy sense of personality and a moral uncertainty which is fatal to self-confidence. Rise up and take a stand looking forward to a better tomorrow. Du Bois’ contention for this plight to gain equality was part of his philosophy and answer to the anxiety. His advice for this was put in patience, humility, and ingenuity that should replace impulse, manliness, and courage for the young African-Americans to prosper. With this sacrifice there is an economic opening, and perhaps peace and some prosperity. Du Bois mixed both intellectual argumentation with a “reader come sit by me and let me show you some scenes of the South of this here train window” type of story telling. It was a bit jolting, but creative.

The story “Of the Coming of John” is powerful and could be well used by itself as a study text on the struggle of the blacks in post reconstruction days. I believe Du Bois is truly an American hero next in line after Washington and Lincoln as one of the most significant Americans who fought for individual freedom in the midst of opposing opinions and obstacles. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both black and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face. I understand that Du Bois’ ideas were not to fight so much for the African-Americans cause, but to fight for the cause of the country and for civilization itself. Du Bois’ message is for the sake of the country in the 20th century. He has advice for both blacks and whites, as ” both must change, or neither can improve to any great extent.” This reading helped to understand more on how African-Americans needed their equality.


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