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Souls of Black Folks Research Papers

W.E.B. Du Bois is the author of Souls of Black Folks and it is in this larger work that he repeatedly reveals a sense of justice, the lack of which would have been forgivable given his experiences.  An essay on Souls of Black Folks would include how Du Bois urges blacks to judge the South discriminatingly rather than holding the current generation responsible for the sins of slavery.  However, he also holds whites accountable for the continuing discrimination that the black man experiences. 

And the deep compassion that Du Bois feels for his fellows is revealed again and again.  He helps the reader understand the psychological mechanisms through which blacks come to support even the most despicable criminal in their ranks when whites hunt and persecute him.  And he argues for reasonable expectations of the blacks of his era. The literature term paper or essay should discuss the quote by Du Bois: “[N]o people a generation removed from slavery can escape a certain unpleasant rawness and gaucherie, despite the best of training,”.

The Souls of Black Folk is a series of writings and opinions on different topics with a common base.  One interesting communality with Johnson’s work is DuBois’ emphasis on black music.  Each of his chapters begins with a few bars of a different “sorrow song” reflecting some poignant aspect of the black experience.

In his opening remarks, Du Bois makes a statement about his own era, yet it was truly prophetic of times to come.  He said, “[T]he problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”.  Then in a passage reflecting the evasiveness of identity in a way not totally unlike that found in Johnson’s book, Du Bois describes the duality of the black man in this country.  He says:Souls of Black Folks

[T]he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and 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. … One ever feels his twoness –- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The symbol of the veil separating the black and white worlds provides the nexus among the chapters.  He describes the conceptualization of the Negro that older Southerners hold when he says:

Somewhere between men and cattle, God created a tertium quid, and called it a Negro –- a clownish simple creature, at times even lovable within its limitations, but straitly foreordained to walk within the Veil.

Much of Du Bois’ book is essentially a history of the striving of the black peoples, yet it is much more readable and inspiring than typical history fare.  His suggestion that blacks are not studied honestly and carefully in his era resonates with the opinions of many yet today.  As he says, “It is so much easier to assume that we know it all.  Or perhaps, having already reached conclusions in our own minds, we are loth [sic] to have them disturbed by facts”. 

Du Bois discusses slavery with a passion only a black individual could feel, yet he looks objectively at the problems created when northern whites freed thousands of people without a plan for their future.  He describes the “dark human cloud that clung like remorse on the rear of those swift columns” of advancing Union soldiers, and is brutally frank about the treatment some Negroes received as they followed their liberators with childlike faith. 

The fascinating history lesson is interspersed with chapters that are essentially personal anecdotes –- tales of two summers teaching poor rural black children within the Veil, a piece that pays homage to Alexander Crummel, one of the author’s personal heroes, and so on.  Throughout the various essays and sketches, Du Bois conveys the belief that blacks are still in “race-childhood”.  He points out that they have been separated from much of the cultural wisdom that was their legacy in Africa, and they have been freed in a land in which their only familiar role is that of slave.  Many are unable to engage in commerce or other economic and social activities required of freed men because they have no background in such mysteries, and no black elders to instruct them.  In a rather shocking admission, he says that it might be better for an “partially undeveloped people” to be ruled by their “strong and better neighbors” for a time.  Unfortunately, that is not what is transpiring in the South, according to the author.

Du Bois takes on the tough subjects, criticizing Booker T. Washington for his “Atlanta compromise”, insisting that “Mr. Washington’s programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races”.  At the same time, he gives Washington credit for his more fruitful ideas and realizes that the man really does love his people, and that he wants their best interests ultimately served.  A recurring theme is that blacks can certainly be trained, in fact must be if they are to survive as free men.  After all, “[t]o stimulate wildly weak and untrained minds is to play with mighty fires”.  Yet the author disagrees with Washington that trades and vocations are the only appropriate starting place.  He sees the need for universities as well, for where else will black teachers receive their training?

The author of The Souls of Black Folks repeatedly reveals a sense of justice, the lack of which would have been forgivable given his experiences. 

  • Du Bois urges blacks to judge the South discriminatingly rather than holding the current generation responsible for the sins of slavery. 
  • Du Bois also holds whites accountable for the continuing discrimination and racism that the black man experiences. 
  • The deep compassion that Du Bois feels for his fellows is revealed again and again. 
  • Du Bois helps the reader understand the psychological mechanisms through which blacks come to support even the most despicable criminal in their ranks when whites hunt and persecute him. 
  • Du Bois argues for reasonable expectations of the blacks of his era.  “[N]o people a generation removed from slavery can escape a certain unpleasant rawness and gaucherie, despite the best of training.”

Thus, Du Bois offers the reader a diverse meal –- rich food for thought.  As a university-educated man, perhaps it is not surprising that he views education as the bridge between the races.  Yet the black man is not obliged to cross the bridge and enter the white world.  Rather, white and black will have a meeting of the minds in the middle of the span of intellect.  Thus, for harmonious integration of the cultural identity of Americans, Du Bois prescribes “a union of intelligence and sympathy across the color-line”.  Noting that in the “new South,” members of the two races are increasingly segregated in every setting from universities to streetcars, he points out that no new interaction has evolved to replace the master-slave relationship of the past.  Du Bois calls for connection as the avenue to cultural integration.  When the best black minds and hearts connect with the best minds and hearts of their white neighbors, the author is optimistic that both races will benefit tremendously.

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