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Through his combination of reporting, commentary, cultural analysis, and history, I realized that my own intellectual development needed not be limited by genre or discipline. And thus I count The Souls of Black Folk as the work that has most influenced my career, which has taken me to the very same Atlantic in which Du Bois first published parts of that work.

I still have that freshman-year copy, dog-eared, stained, and crumbling, with the margins so full of notes and the pages so saturated with highlighter that the annotations cease to have meaning.


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But written all over that book in smudges, black and blue and pink, green, and yellow, is one experience that I cannot forget: epiphany. That epiphany unfolds today. As America faces the demons of brutality and extrajudicial killing, as it is possessed by the ghosts of white supremacy and ethnonationalism, as voting rights for black people continue to be assailed by the state, and as the equality and desegregation gains of the Civil Rights Movement suddenly seem fragile and rather reversible, it is obvious that while Du Bois now rests, his most-famous work does not.

The first note about The Souls of Black Folk is its unusual structure.

(PDF) An Analysis of W.E.B Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk | Macat Education - caresubstuxu.gq

With carefully collected epigraphs and musical scores that precede each section, these chapters are transfigured into a panorama, a look at the same fundamental questions through multiple lenses. The first lens is perhaps the most popular. Du Bois takes a few different paths to answering the question at the heart of this essay: What does it mean to be black? As an introductory text to the era, it is a necessary work. In finding the effort of Reconstruction at fault, Du Bois subverts the common view among many historians of the era that Reconstruction was destined to fail because of deficiencies among black people and of the cause itself.

He describes how the enduring system of racism continued to control nearly everything even half a century after slavery, an idea he develops in subsequent essays. Throughout the rest of The Souls of Black Folk , the political and social forces that contributed to the failure of Reconstruction are in essence an invisible antagonist.

Washington is the third essay in sequence. The dispute between the two men, caricatured as a war between a liberal-arts-minded radical upstart with goals of forcing America to confront racism with reparations, and an appeasement-minded apologist with the goal of cajoling black people into practical submission, is often remembered as acrimonious, and not incorrectly.

However, one notes that the start of this rivalry, as officially announced in The Souls of Black Folk , reads more like a student respectfully reproaching an old teacher. Du Bois knew Washington well, and understood the experiential and regional differences that necessarily made him de-emphasize the pursuit of civil rights and integration for black people.

This essay, together with the next three sections, forms a semicoherent suite of work in a multifaceted format: criticism of Washingtonian ideals of the black South supplemented with gripping personal experience and reporting. Du Bois tells the story of his life as a young teacher in a small town, where he became attached to a black community that still struggled to find its way through destitution and marginalization in a changing world. As the town becomes increasingly afflicted by criminality, vicious inequality, and industrial exploitation, Du Bois—with a touch of ivory-tower condescension—highlights the mean cycles of their lives.

The moving account is probably meant as a dig toward Washington and the kinds of lives Du Bois believes are the end results of his philosophy. He lauds the rise of liberal-arts historically black colleges as a way to move the race beyond obsession with materialist concerns and toward the pursuit of humanity. Du Bois explores the lands where brutal chattel slavery drove profits under King Cotton, and where a new system akin to it arose almost instantly out of the ashes of Reconstruction.

In the first two works of this tetrad, Du Bois travels the breadth of the South and lands in Dougherty County, Georgia, where he surveys the debt-driven tenant-farming and sharecropping system that maintained racial hierarchies. In perhaps the most-chilling connection to the current political and racial moment, Du Bois details the foundation of policing as one not of law and order, but of control of black bodies.


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The last four essays in The Souls of Black Folk are, in my reckoning, the most beautiful writing that Du Bois produced, and constitute the emotional heart of the book. Here, the veneer of Du Bois as a measured, journalistic observer is peeled back to reveal the man underneath, and the resulting work is a set of deeply personal and exploratory chapters. A northern black man born free in New York in , Crummell became a trailblazer in both the theological and the educational worlds, but was met at every turn with prejudice and obstruction.

His dream of Pan-Africanism and of using religion to organize black resistance never quite materialized, but Du Bois stresses how he never succumbed to the despair and depression that should so naturally follow from being both a witness to and a crusader against racism. The author took an interest in fiction—specifically speculative fiction and science fiction—and dabbled in using short stories as a vehicle to probe the corners of his developing philosophies and sociological conclusions.

A school he establishes is shuttered after he attempts to teach students about race and racism. On the surface, this chapter is a defense of the spiritual as an essential distillation of the Negro condition, and worthy on its own as both a complex high art and a quintessentially American art. But this essay is also about the creators of that art: taking on fully the role of activist, Du Bois launches an angry and forceful defense of black people and black culture and offers a full-throated call for the recognition of black personhood.

In the first two works of this tetrad, Du Bois travels the breadth of the South and lands in Dougherty County, Georgia, where he surveys the debt-driven tenant-farming and sharecropping system that maintained racial hierarchies. In perhaps the most-chilling connection to the current political and racial moment, Du Bois details the foundation of policing as one not of law and order, but of control of black bodies.

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The last four essays in The Souls of Black Folk are, in my reckoning, the most beautiful writing that Du Bois produced, and constitute the emotional heart of the book. Here, the veneer of Du Bois as a measured, journalistic observer is peeled back to reveal the man underneath, and the resulting work is a set of deeply personal and exploratory chapters. A northern black man born free in New York in , Crummell became a trailblazer in both the theological and the educational worlds, but was met at every turn with prejudice and obstruction.

His dream of Pan-Africanism and of using religion to organize black resistance never quite materialized, but Du Bois stresses how he never succumbed to the despair and depression that should so naturally follow from being both a witness to and a crusader against racism. The author took an interest in fiction—specifically speculative fiction and science fiction—and dabbled in using short stories as a vehicle to probe the corners of his developing philosophies and sociological conclusions.

A school he establishes is shuttered after he attempts to teach students about race and racism.

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On the surface, this chapter is a defense of the spiritual as an essential distillation of the Negro condition, and worthy on its own as both a complex high art and a quintessentially American art. But this essay is also about the creators of that art: taking on fully the role of activist, Du Bois launches an angry and forceful defense of black people and black culture and offers a full-throated call for the recognition of black personhood.

Du Bois ends The Souls of Black Folk with a sincere hope that racism and the color line that he had so thoroughly examined could be—with more efforts like his, undoubtedly—eradicated soon. This hope, we know now, would prove to be premature. In the following pages unfolds one of the foundational texts of understanding the persistent concepts of race and racism in this grand experiment of America—and thus of understanding America itself.

Namely, his crude and chauvinistic descriptions of women, his genteel elitism, and his theory of black leadership feel at odds and out of touch with a current black political moment that embraces feminism, womanism, queer theory, a populist anticapitalist ethos, and decentralized leadership. Anyone who writes about blackness in America owes a debt to The Souls of Black Folk, and contributes to this accretion over the mother-of-pearl it provides. In my field of journalism, the thread between Reconstruction, the history of racism, and the unstable ground of free blackness in America are necessary starting points for any reporting or commentary on race.

The demands of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rejection of respectability politics in much of current black art and cultural criticism are animated by the understanding that double-consciousness is a traumatic psychic burden.

Activists today seek to challenge the delegitimization of blackness and black culture that even makes such a double consciousness exist, and by which whiteness enforces itself as the norm by code-switching, apologia, and shame. Thus, The Souls of Black Folk is also a primer for any young activist or thinker who simply seeks validation in their own interests, character, culture, and questions, or any nonblack person seeking better understanding of a veil that can only be truly known with experience.

Even years later, this book stands as a titanic work of immense foresight and insight. For all audiences—black or not, American or not, academic or activist or adolescent reader—this work should be part of the bedrock of an education on America and its culture. With that bedrock, things will become clearer. Unfortunately for us and for Du Bois, the answers for us today and the answers for him in are all too similar.

The Souls of Black Folk

Vann R. Newkirk II is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers politics and policy. Vann is also a co-founder of and contributing editor for Seven Scribes, a website and community dedicated to promoting young writers and artists of color. In his work, Vann has covered health policy and civil rights, voting rights in Virginia, environmental justice, and the confluence of race and class in American politics throughout history, and the evolution of black identity.

He is also an aspiring science-fiction writer, butterfly lover, gardener, gamer, and amateur astrophysicist. Vann lives in Hyattsville, MD with his wife Kerone. Steve Prince is an artist, educator, and art evangelist. Through his complex compositions and rich visual vocabulary, Steve creates powerful narrative images that express his unique vision founded in hope, faith, and creativity. The Souls of Black Folk. Follow Us.

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