The Souls of Black Folk

W.E.B. Du Bois, arguably the most influential civil rights advocate in history, presents a compelling appeal for racial equality in The Souls of Black Folk. I found the most interesting aspect of this piece to be the way in which Du Bois introduces each chapter: by pairing a verse of European poetry with a stanza from a ‘sorrow song’- traditional slave music. Despite their differences, they are both equally significant pieces of art. The sorrow songs, Du Bois explains, “stand to-day not simply as the sole of American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side of the seas”; living proof of the capabilities of African Americans (156).


Du Bois’ writing is based upon the idea that education, particularly higher education, is necessary for the liberation of the black community. He explains that the freedman of his time is not actually free, despite what’s written in the 13th Amendment. Du Bois suggests that racial prejudice has caused the black man to doubt the value of seeking an education. In order to overcome this prejudice, Du Bois says blacks must not only learn to help themselves, but to demand “work, culture, liberty- not singly but together, not successively but together” (7).


It is here that Du Bois and his contemporary, Booker T. Washington, differ. The former is immovable in his demands, whereas the latter is far more conciliatory. In Chapter III, Du Bois makes his most convincing argument in the piece, largely by exposing flaws in Washington’s ‘programme.’ Du Bois recognizes that Washington’s Atlanta Compromise, which supports black submission to white rule, will do far more bad than good for the black community. By establishing African Americans as an inferior class, how can any progress be made towards a more equal society?


It’s easy to see why Du Bois would think this way. As a Harvard graduate who became a successful leader in the black community, Du Bois understood the importance of education in catalyzing the advancement of African Americans. However, he also understood just how difficult the struggle for equality would be, having seen the poor living conditions in Dougherty County, GA and other such places.  These experiences further supported Du Bois in his attempt to educate, and eventually liberate, the black man.

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