The Souls of Black Folk
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
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.
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
>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
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