The Souls of Black Folk: History and Social Importance

Published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk to date is DuBois most well known and still widely read work. Analyzed by the scholars of American Literature & History as well as those Civil Rights Activists, The Souls of Black Folk remains a testament to the understanding the magnitude of American racism and to also demand it end.

It inspired many blacks to consciousness and activism of the 1960's and a classic in the literature of Civil Rights. In it DuBois talks about his own life, his son and his son's death in relation to the problems and strife of everyday blacks in America. He makes his historic break with Booker T. Washington, the other great black leader and intellectual of the time. And in doing so encouraged blacks to take ownership with their lives and to better themselves before any conciliation could begin. "By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those greatwords which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

DuBois'writings in this novel, a compilation of essays, are divided also into respective units. Chapters One to Three form the first unit (history), chapters four through nine form the second unit (sociology), and chapters ten through fourteen, the third (spirituality). DuBois is also, as aformentioned, noted for the prophetic nature of his works. And the particular insight he has into black crime, inadequte education, the frustration of black subordination, the helplessness of educated black leaders to the masses, and the hopes of black parents at the birth of their children. These essays are probably the most prophetic and true in nature as they are subjects that many Americans of African descent in this country still struggle with.

Below are these selected essays, with passages that define the essay and reflect the struggles of blacks then, and now


Chapter IX Of the Sons of Master and Man "And when, by proscription and prejudice, these same Negroes are classed with and treated like the lowest of their people, simply because they are Negroes, such a policy not only discourages thrift and intelligence among black men, but puts a direct premium on the very things you complain of,--inefficiency and crime. Draw lines of crime, of incompetency, of vice, as tightly and uncompromisingly as you will, for these things must be proscribed; but a color-line not only does not accomplish this purpose, but thwarts it."

Chapter X Of the Faith of the Fathers "In some such doubtful words and phrases can one perhaps most clearly picture the peculiar ethical paradox that faces the Negro of to-day and is tingeing and changing his religious life. Feeling that his rights and his dearest ideals are being trampled upon, that the public conscience is ever more deaf to his righteous appeal, and that all the reactionary forces of prejudice, greed, and revenge are daily gaining new strength and fresh allies, the Negro faces no enviable dilemma. Con- scious of his impotence, and pessimistic, he often becomes bitter and vindictive; and his religion, instead of a worship, is a complaint and a curse, a wail rather than a hope, a sneer rather than a faith."


Chapter XI Of the Passing of the First Born "No bitter meanness now shall sicken his baby heart till it die a living death, no taunt shall madden his happy boyhood. Fool that I was to think or wish that this little soul should grow choked and deformed within the Veil! I might have known that yonder deep unworldly look that ever and anon floated past his eyes was peering far beyond this narrow Now. In the poise of his little curl-crowned head did there not sit all that wild pride of being which his father had hardly crushed in his own heart? For what, forsooth, shall a Negro want with pride amid the studied humiliations of fifty million fellows? Well sped, my boy, before the world had dubbed your ambition insolence, had held your ideals unattainable, and taught you to cringe and bow. Better far this nameless void that stops my life than a sea of sorrow for you."


Chapter XII Of Alexander Crummell "You will not wonder at his weird pilgrimage,--you who in the swift whirl of living, amid its cold paradox and marvel- lous vision, have fronted life and asked its riddle face to face. And if you find that riddle hard to read, remember that yonder black boy finds it just a little harder; if it is difficult for you to find and face your duty, it is a shade more difficult for him; if your heart sickens in the blood and dust of battle, remember that to him the dust is thicker and the battle fiercer. No wonder the wanderers fall! No wonder we point to thief and murderer, and haunting prostitute, and the never-ending throng of unhearsed dead! The Valley of the Shadow of Death gives few of its pilgrims back to the world."


Chapter XIII Of the Coming of John "He had left his queer thought-world and come back to a world of motion and men. He looked now for the first time sharply about him, and wondered he had seen so little before. He grew slowly to feel almost for the first time the Veil that lay between him and the white world; he first noticed now the oppression that had not seemed oppression before, differences that erstwhile seemed natural, restraints, and slights that in his boyhood days had gone unnoticed or been greeted with a laugh. He felt angry now when men did not call him "Mister" he clenched his hands at the "Jim Crow" cars, and chafed at the color line that hemmed in him and his."