I have a presentation on W.E.B. Du Bois and the Souls of Black Folk to give tomorrow. Here are my slides and my annotated passage!

W.E.B Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk

Ray Wilkins, former president of the NAACP, upon news of W.E.B Du Bois death, called the former writer/advocate a voice that called for the equality actions of the generation, urging the crowd at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” to reread Du Bois’ “The souls of Black Folk.” That statement is very hard to disagree with. So I won’t.

Du Bois’ “Souls of Black Folk” has a mesmerizing quality that is hard to ignore. In the passages our book uses, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” the reader learns of Du Bois’ encounters with racism as a youth, his theories on double consciousness and his opinions of a man whom he fears “Withdrew many of the high demands of Negros as men and American citizens” (Du Bois, 465).

Du Bois writes in Spiritual Strivings, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife … Without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (Du Bois, 455). It’s this passage that details the situation the American Negro is in. Does conceding to the American ideal harm his race’s identity? Will, like Du Bois postulates, this moment in history have lasting effects on what the Negro will become in America?

This conundrum is evident in the following: “He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that his Negro blood has a message for the world” (Du Bois, 465). There are so many phrases that jump of the page in simple, excellent description: Negro soul, white Americanism and Negro blood are all descriptive phrases that bring to mind clear pictures. First we, as readers, need to decipher what Negro soul and Negro blood mean. An attempt to bleach their Negro souls’ in a flood of white Americanism relates to the efforts of many Americans to clear other races of their religious, and in a lot of cases intellectual, beliefs (think Antin and Zitkala-Sa). In his argument against the points of Booker T. Washington, Du Bois highlights the error in regards to Washington’s view on education. Du Bois writes:

But they also know, and the nation knows, that relentless color-prejudice is more often a cause rather than a result of the Negro’s degradation; … They insist that there is a demand for a few such institutions throughout the south to train the best of the Negro youth as teachers, professional men and leaders. (Du Bois, 467).

By saying that their “Negro blood has a message for the world” he is speaking about putting their culture into preeminence in popular society. If Du Bois can get his wish it will mean the overwhelming will and fortitude of Negros will change their station in America. Du Bois argues that Washington’s propaganda has done the following:

His doctrine has tended to make the whites, north and south, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators. (Du Bois 469).

Washington wanted the Negro people to concede the desire for immediate equality – he wanted his race to focus their energies on acclimating wealth. He figured throughout time, the two races would grow a mutual respect and the social issues would be resolved. Du Bois really didn’t like this. The argument Du Bois gives is that all the things Washington is teaching his disciples to fight for are inevitably tainted if they do not have their base rights of voting, civic equality and the education of youth according to ability. Du Bois will echo this with the following:

“We have no right to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children, black and white” (Du Bois, 468).

Du Bois argued, correctly, that Washington’s “propaganda” did the following:

  1. The south was justified in their attitudes towards the Negro because of the Negro’s degradation.

  2. The prime cause of the Negro’s failure to rise more quickly is his wrong education in the past.

  3. His future depends, primarily on his own efforts, (Du Bois, 469).

As we established earlier, Du Bois is fighting for the soul and blood of the Negro. The south continued to terrorize Negro’s via lynching’s (although Washington openly came out against that on repeated occasion, according to our conversation in class) – which was infringing on the blood of the Negro. The second point, the Negro’s failure to rise by a lack of education, was a direct stab at wounding their intellectual soul. The third was untrue for the reasons of Civic equality we discussed earlier.

Du Bois, in his later life, would come into strain with his American heritage. His views became more and more communistic, and he would renounce his American citizenship and move to Ghana by the end of the 1950s. Was this the last strain of tolerance toward the American people? I like to think that Du Bois, frustrated with a lack of change by the American government, finally just moved to a place where he Negro blood and soul would be welcomed and not just silently resented.



Works Cited

  1. Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Souls of Black Folk.” The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: Volume two. 453-470. 1st. Karen S. Henry. Boston. Bedford, 2008. Print.

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