Souls of Black Folk
Souls of Black Folk

Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois, Manning Marable

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Overview

Enriched Classics offer readers accessible editions of great works of literature enhanced by helpful notes and commentary. Each book includes educational tools alongside the text, enabling students and readers alike to gain a deeper and more developed understanding of the writer and their work.

With a dash of the Victorian and Enlightenment influences that peppered Du Bois’s impassioned yet formal prose, the largely autobiographical chapters of The Souls of Black Folks take the reader through the momentous and moody maze of Afro-American life after the Emancipation Proclamation: from poverty, the neo-slavery of the sharecropper, illiteracy, mis-education, and lynching, to the heights of humanity reached by the spiritual “sorrow songs” that birthed gospel music and the blues. The capstone of The Souls of Black Folk is Du Bois’s haunting, eloquent description of the concept of the black psyche’s “double consciousness,” which he described as “a peculiar sensation....One ever feels this 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.”

Enriched Classics enhance your engagement by introducing and explaining the historical and cultural significance of the work, the author’s personal history, and what impact this book had on subsequent scholarship. Each book includes discussion questions that help clarify and reinforce major themes and reading recommendations for further research.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781317251699
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 12/22/2015
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was an American sociologist, civil rights activist, and author. A strong advocate of Pan-Africanism, he was the first black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard University and cofounded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His best-known book, The Souls of Black Folk, is widely considered to be one of the most important works in African American literature. 

Read an Excerpt

The Souls of Black Folk

100th Anniversary Edition
By W. E. B. Du Bois

Signet Classics

Copyright © 1995 W. E. B. Du Bois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0451526031


Chapter One



Of Our Spiritual Strivings


O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand,
All night long crying with a mournful cry,
As I lie and listen, and cannot understand
The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea,
O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I?
All night long the water is crying to me.
Unresting water, there shall never be rest
Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail,
And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west;
And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea,
All life long crying without avail,
As the water all night long is crying to me.

— Arthur Symons


Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience — peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards — ten cents a package — and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card, — refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head, — some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the 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. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. 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 history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted, dispersed, or forgotten. The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of Egypt the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness. Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man's turning hither and thither in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like absence of power, like weakness. And yet it is not weakness, — it is the contradiction of double aims. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan — on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde — could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would- be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a- dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people, — has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.

Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain — Liberty; in his tears and curses, the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came, — suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences: —


"Shout, O children!
Shout, you're free!
For God has bought your liberty!"


Years have passed away since then, — ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation's feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem: —


"Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble!"


The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people, — a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.

The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,—like a tantalizing will-o'- the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpetbaggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power, — a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of "book-learning"; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself, — darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance, — not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois Copyright © 1995 by W. E. B. Du Bois. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword, Charles Lemert Introduction by Manning Marable The Forethought Introduction Fifty Years After, 1953 Introduction by Du Bois Of Our Spiritual Strivings Of the Dawn of Freedom Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others Of the Meaning of Progress Of the Wings of Atlanta Of the Training of Black Men Of the Black Belt Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece Of the Sons of Master and Man Of the Faith of the Fathers Of the Passing of the First-Born Of Alexander Crummell Of the Coming of John Of the Sorrow Songs The Afterthought

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The Souls Of Black Folk 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Lee4 More than 1 year ago
Very good book I read the book in college, and the second time I get a better understanding of Du Bois.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book "rocked my socks" from page one. DuBois writes, not as a victim of society, but as the proud member of an advanced society. He describes the "ways" -- the culture, society, beliefs, traditions, songs, meanings, faith, strengths, and hopes of African American people. He sets many misbeliefs right. He corrects many wrong impressions. He speaks the unspoken for the silent. This powerful book gave permission to a culture, validations for success in education, and political rise to the civil rights movements after his death. A graduate of Harvard and a founder of universities and the NAACP, DuBois is an "intellectual engine" for his generation. I found this book of essays a profound and important keystone in American history.
melodyaw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is impossible to rate The Souls of Black Folk too highly. It is a worthwhile read solely for the impact that it has had upon American society, both in its time and in the decades since its 1903 publication. The Souls of Black Folk was a major contribution to the African-American literary tradition, and it is also a cornerstone of the literature on sociology. Beyond its historical and educational value, though, I highly recommend this book to everyone for the piercing glimpses Du Bois offers into the souls of all men and women.W. E. B. Du Bois first came under the spotlight by opposing Booker T. Washington, a prominent member of the African-American community who emphasized the importance of accommodating the policies of race separation prevalent in a Jim Crow society.Du Bois believed that in order to attain suffrage, political representation, and civil rights, American society had to acknowledge the wrongs done to African-Americans and strive to integrate them fully into U.S. society. His book documented the conditions of post-slavery America while simultaneously arguing for improvements in the unequal black and white communities.Du Bois was an impassioned advocate for higher education. While Washington focused on educating blacks for the trades and manual labor, Du Bois insisted that blacks should have access to intellectual education rivaling that available to whites. As Manning Marable states in Living Black History, ¿Few books make history, and fewer still become foundational texts for the movements and struggles of an entire people. The Souls of Black Folk occupies this rare position. It helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century.¿ (96)However, more than simply a revealing microcosm of post¿Civil War and Jim Crow society, The Souls of Black Folk offer brilliant glimpses into mankind as a whole, regardless of color. Du Bois discusses religion, politics, history, education, money, morality, music, and mortality. His chapter on death of his young son, his first child, is some of the most impressive, tender, and passionate prose I have ever read.It is easy¿at least, it was for me¿to pigeonhole Du Bois as a figure who did much for his race in the Jim Crow era, but whose work is outdated and useful only as a historical account. However, this view does Du Bois, and yourself for that matter, a disservice. I found his insight profound and his opinions valuable even after more than a century, and I learned a lot about the nature of people.The salience of The Souls of Black Folk attests to Du Bois¿s insistence on the importance of an intellectual tradition, both among black thinkers and, on a grander scale, in the then-emerging field of sociology.Though at times the book seems to be a rather disparate collection of essays loosely centered on African-American (and cultural) identity, that connection serves, in fact,. to emphasize that topic¿s importance by displaying the ways in which racism was affecting all areas of African-American life.I have one piece of advice for enjoying this book: I listened to it on audiobook, and I¿ve discovered that I tend to pay better attention to stories than intellectual discourse in audiobook format. If you¿re anything like me, you may want to read a paperback or e-book. You¿ll want to highlight dozens of passages anyway!
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Great book
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A Must read to understand the pass