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Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900

THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK

Leyre Gonzlez Goi


Mabel Huerta Gharib
Loredana Denis Totolan
May 23th 2014

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900

INDEX
Introduction2
About the author2
About the book2
Historical context3
First part: the veil and the color-line4
First part: the education.4
Second part: the education.5
Second part: the economy..6
Second part: race relationships.7
Third part: the Negro Church...7
Third part: his sons death.8
Third part: sorrow songs9
Conclusions.10
Bibliography11

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900

INTRODUCTION
The book contains several essays, some of which had been previously published in the
Atlantic Monthly magazine. Du Bois uses his own experiences as an African-American to
describe how life of black people was in the American society. We are going to analyse the
most relevant topics of these essays. For this, we have divided the book into three parts, the
first part is formed by chapters I to IV, the second part has chapters V to IX and finally the
third part has chapters X to IX. We have focused in the main issues that the author has dealt
with in each part. Obviously this partition is a personal choice we have made to analyse the
subjects.

About the author


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
He was born a few years after slavery was outlawed in the U.S., he died August 27, 1963, the
day before the historic civil rights march on Washington D.C. He witnessed the growth of
America into a world power; two global wars, the Korean conflict, and Americas open and
covert forays into Europes last scramble for colonial territory and Empire. His father
abandoned him and his mother at an early age. Later he discovers that his father was a veteran
who fought in the Civil War. This fact gave him to some extent a pride for his roots and race.
Du Bois was also one of the first black persons that continued his studies and went to
University. He attended Fisk College in Tennessee and received his bachelor's degree & later
completed a doctorate from Harvard. Du Bois chose to study at the University of Berlin in
Germany will there; he began to see the racial problems. After the completion of the study, Du
Bois accepted a position at Atlanta University to further his teachings in sociology. This was
a different job from the ones that black people had at that time. Usually they were servants,
butlers or cotton fields workers, but as a result of his education, Du bois could step out and
find an academic position.
About the book
W.E.B Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folks in 1903. The problem with this
publication is that it is not a story which can be narrated or told. The Souls of Black Folks is a
collection of essays that are grouped according to theme. Du Bois writes this book in a poetic
but formal style, using a great deal of metaphors. Each of the chapters opens with a quotation

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


of verse from a famous source followed by lines of music from an African-American spiritual.
He claims that the purpose of this book is to represent what means to be black in America at
the beginning of the twentieth century. He explains that his book aims to show the history,
religion, and struggle of the African-American people from their own point of view.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The book was written near the turn of the twentieth century (late 1800s to early 1900s). It
was a critical period for African Americans in the USA. In response to the end of the war
(1861-65), the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments had been passed in 1868 and 1870 to
legally recognize Black Americans as U.S. citizens. Nevertheless, there was still segregation
in the South. The Southern states were still feeling the effects of the Civil War by the end of
the 19th century. In spite of the improvements, there were limitations on black employment
opportunities and property ownership. Interracial marriage was illegal in every state and
public facilities, including schools, restaurants, hospitals, etc. were still segregated.
Main events
1866 Congress passes Civil Rights Act of 1866 which was intended to protect the civil
rights of African-Americans.
1868 Fourteenth Amendment is ratified
1870 Fifteenth Amendment is ratified
1871 Congress passes Ku Klux Klan Act Congress, which prohibited racial discrimination.
1865-72. Freedmens Bureau established by Congress provided practical aid to newly freed
black Americans in their transition from slavery to freedom.
1875 Congress passes Civil Rights Act of 1875 that guaranteed African Americans equal
treatment in public accommodations, public transportation, and prohibited exclusion from
jury service. The Supreme Court decided the act was unconstitutional in 1883.
1877 Reconstruction ends

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


FIRST PART: THE VEIL AND THE COLOR-LINE
In the first part of the book Du Bois begins by introducing two main concepts, that of the
color-line and that of the veil. These are two of the main themes presented in this first part.
the problem of the Twentieth century is the problem of the color-line. (3)
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: How does it feel to be
a problem? (7)
Only by being black they were qualified as a problem. Although their race was granted with
freedom, citizenship and suffrage they were still not seen as persons by the white society.
Moreover, they did not see themselves as persons, as people who needed to have rights and be
allowed to progress. They saw themselves as a problem as well, they thought that they did not
have the right to have the same houses as the white people, or the same cars, or the same jobs.
There were two worlds, the world of the blacks and the world of the whites. They were
separated by an invisible line which Du Bois called the veil The existence of this veil leads
to the split in two parts of the souls of the black, or, as Du Bois called it double
consciousness. This double consciousness means that they were both, Negros and
Americans. However, the blacks couldnt see themselves as either because they saw
themselves through the eyes of the white people who humiliate them and made them feel
unworthy of existence.
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. (8)
With these ideas present in The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois raises the following questions:
How would the black race overcome these obstacles? How would they find self-respect in this
environment? He answers them with two words: through education. Du Bois explains that in
their struggle to unite their two souls, the black race believed that freedom was their salvation.
Then, when they saw that freedom was not enough, they turned towards political power.
FIRST PART: EDUCATION
However, they saw that this was not bringing the progress they expected and they decided to
turn towards education. Du Bois claims that education is the only way to eliminate the veil.
Education is also the only achievement that can give them a new self-respect and a new selfconsciousness.
These ideas raised a conflict between Du Bois and the dominant leader of the black
community Booker T. Washington. Washington thought that it was better for the community
to forget and renounce to their rights and political power and concentrate all their energies on
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Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


industrial education, which was the only way for them to make money. But these ideas were
counterproductive to the long-term progress of the race. Du Bois insists that the right to vote,
the civic equality and especially education are essential for the African-American progress.

SECOND PART: EDUCATION


In the further chapters, Du Bois keeps exploring the problems that ail the Afro-Americans of
his time and proposing solutions. In Chapters from 5 to 9 he touches an array of topics, but he
keeps putting a strong emphasis in the importance of education for the Afro-American man to
get out of his problems and break the veil of race, and many other things. The chapters which
are more concerned with education are chapters 5 and 6, where he states the importance of
University and how higher education is the apt means to make men real men, and give them
ideals to fight for; at that time in the South (the area about which Du Bois speaks most times
in the book) many vocational schools and industrial schools were coming out and they were
an opportunity to have an education for many black people; but Du Bois rejects that
vocational schools are what black people should aim to and he focuses on university
education. At this time, black and white people did everything separately, including education
and school, black people studied in some places and white people studied in others, and
DuBois is against this because he says that black and white people must go side in side, to
work, study and live together. But in this fight towards equality, in this case equality in the
opportunity for knowledge, he says: Before the temple of Knowledge stands the Gates of
Toil, which to me means that there will be many problems and opposition when the blacks
fight for their rights to study and have an education (the temple of knowledge), and that it will
take a great effort from them to get over all that opposition (the Gates of Toil). "The function
of the Negro college, then, is clear: it must maintain the standards of popular education, it
must seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of problems of
race contact and cooperation. And finally, beyond all this, it must develop men." Such was the
idea of Du Bois about university and the black man: in order to become real men, black men
should go also to university, like white people did, to provide them with the standards and
ideals needed to be called a true man.

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


SECOND PART: THE ECONOMY
In the Chapter 5, The Wings of Atlanta, he speaks about the city of Atlanta and about how it
is rising economically after the war. He warns the city of Atlanta about the dangers of putting
too much effort and focusing too much in money getting, power and economy, and forgetting
about the juster world, the righteousness, the mystery of knowing that the old preachers told
the Afro-Americans. This chapter can be well resumed into the quote, "And to make men, we
must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living, not sordid money-getting, not
apples of gold.
He also discusses black poverty, which was a huge problem at his time (and maybe even
today to some degree) in many of these chapters. Chapter 7, The Black Belt, is a
sociological, but very literary and moving also, exploration of the city of Albany, in the heart
of the so-called Black Belt. The Black Belt was an area of the United States called like
that because of the great number of black people living in there and because of the black soil
of the land, which indicated great fertility of it. The Black Belt extends from southwest
Tennessee to east-central Mississippi, but Du Bois focuses in the state of Georgia, which as he
states in this chapter withholds the biggest number of Afro-Americans in the whole country
and more concretely, in the city of Albany and what goes inside of it. He shows many
instances of black poverty, broken familiesand how hard, despite hard working and fair
living, is the life for the black people in this town. In this chapter, and ends up describing the
Black Belt as a curious land in which a land full of rich legacy of human life is shadowed
by tragic past and big with future promise.
When it comes to black poverty, he discusses also the poverty of black farmers, descendants,
in a way, of the cotton industry. Du Bois points out how they live in a scheme coming from
the cotton industry and how many of their problems stem from there. He describes those
farmers as being very poor and ignorant, but also very unable socially to get out of such a
position; there are not many possibilities of social mobility for a black man, he stays poor and
ignorant because he lacks education and opportunities to do so, and so remainsHe states
also how prejudice and racism play against those farmers because white farmers are given
better conditions than the black ones and are less ignorant of how to play their cards well in
order to get what they need. The picture he describes of the black farmer is of someone
socially helpless, dispossessed of all the tools that would aid him to better his way of living
and his condition.

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


SECOND PART: RACE REALTIONSHIPS
Race relationships, although in a way are transversal to the book and the topic of all the
essays is race and the relationship of the race topic, concretely the Afro-American identity, to
other things, is deeply explored in one of the chapters, Chapter 9. He describes the
relationship between blacks and whites as non-existent due to the segregation which makes
them have no place in common, as they do everything separately because of their race. Du
Bois criticizes this, as he did when it came to education. He states there is a color-line
dividing the races, that will not go out or go away unless some work is done and the situation
changes. There is hostility towards the other in both communities, for many reasons: there is
hostility towards whites from blacks and towards blacks from the whites. The only way for
this color-line to disappear is that both parties learn to see past their opposing views and their
initial hostility and learn to live together, be supportive of the others. In his words, It is not
enough for the Negroes to declare that color prejudice is the sole cause of their social
condition, nor for the white South to reply that their social condition is the main cause of
prejudice.
THIRD PART: THE NEGRO CHURCH
One of the most important sociological aspects for the author was the religion and its
influence on African Americans liberation. Du Bois describes the rise of the Black Church
and its links to the black political movements. The author believes that the African American
religion is also impacted by the "double-consciousness," that duality of "two souls, two
thoughts []". Despite of the fact that the Church has offered comfort and salvation to black
people it has complicated their progress and their education at Universities. He recognises
that the black church has been a place of refuge and strength for black souls. But at the same
time he considers that some black people live in a dream because of the religion [] the one
is wedded to ideals remote, whimsical, perhaps impossible of realization [] (p.147, 1903).
On the one hand he admits that real Christianity promotes interracial relations. The real
Christian church, teach the most egalitarian principles in the world, everyone is the same to
the eyes of God. But on the other hand, the practice of white Christians did not reflect the
principles of equality and liberty. As Blum stated (2005) Although Du Bois denounced
Christian churches and whites who claimed to be Christians, he did not reject the potential
power of religion to make social change . The sociologist criticised those white people who

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


called themselves Christians but did not recognise black people as equals. Religion permitted
and strengthened slavery. Many of the worst characteristics of the Negro masses of today had
their seed in this period of the slaves ethical growth. Here it was that the Home was ruined
under the very shadow of the Church, white and black [] (143, 1903)
For Du Bois this fake Christianity established the doctrines of passive submission.
The long system of repression and degradation of the Negro tended to emphasize the
elements of his character which made him a valuable chattel: courtesy became humility, moral
strength degenerated into submission, and the exquisite native appreciation of the beautiful
became an infinite capacity for dumb suffering. (143, 1903).
Two approaches
The church often stands as a real conserver of morals, a strengthener of family life, and the
final authority on what is Good and Right" (148)
vs
Conscious of his impotence, and pessimistic, he often becomes bitter and vindictive; and
his religion, instead of a worship, is a complaint and a curse, a wail rather than a hope, a sneer
rather than a faith (155)
THIRD PART: HIS SONS DEATH
The author talks about his experience when his baby son passed away. He believes that his
son was never able to truly be under the effect of the Veil, or to be conscious of the color-line
because of his young age. Du Bois considers that his baby escaped from great suffering and
he hopes the younger generations of his people wont have to undergo this suffering caused by
discrimination. He comforts himself thinking that maybe it is better this way.
He knew no color-line, poor dear, -and the Veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet
darkened half his sun. My soul whispers ever to me, saying, Not dead, not dead, but
escaped; not bond, but free. pg 163
But for fresh young souls who have not known the night and waken to the morning; a
morning when men ask of the work-man, not Is he white? but Can he work? When men
ask artists, not Are they black? but Do they know? Some morning this may be, long, long
years to come. pg 164

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900


THIRD PART: SORROW SONGS
Du Bois gives special importance to what sorrow songs mean to his people. They are present
throughout the whole book, every essay begins with a sorrow song, and he dedicates a whole
chapter, the final chapter to these plaintive calls. They show the American slavery, injustice,
and oppression. These songs are the "music of an unhappy people but very important, they
are also prayers that breathe hope and "a faith in the ultimate justice of things" (198). The
cultural expressions of black folks, a definition of the word "soul. Sorrow songs represent an
important part of black peoples cohesion and a way of fight against oppression. It is a way to
denounce what African Americans were suffering. Du Bois describes them as the greatest
creation of his people, And so by fateful chance the Negro folk-songthe rhythmic cry of
the slavestands today not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful
expression of human experience born this side the seas (p.180, 1903)
The Music of Negro religion is that plaintive rhythmic melody, with its touching minor
cadences, which, despite caricature and defilement, still remains the most original and
beautiful expression of human life and longing yet born on American soil. Sprung from the
African forests, where its counterpart can still be heard, it was adapted, changed, and
intensified by the tragic soul-life of the slave, until, under the stress of law and whip, it
became the one true expression of a peoples sorrow, despair, and hope. (p. 137, 1903)
It is very important to point out that Du Bois see these spirituals as a ray of hope. Despite the
terrible situation for his people, he still believes that a change can be possible and the sorrow
songs are an important part to the get their freedom.

Literatura de los Estados Unidos de 1850 a 1900

CONCLUSION
The souls of Black souls represents a key work in the history of sociology, especially in the
African-American literary history. The author denounces the situation of his people. The
education, politics, religion, slavery, all the elements that affected their development as social
group that always has struggle for equal rights in the USA. Du Bois consider that education is
the key to be free. Fighting against people who believed that African Americans were only
able to perform manual labour. He criticised some currents of the religion (even in the Negro
Church) that benefited submission. But he truly believed in his people and he praised them for
the magnificent creation of the sorrow songs to convey their pain but also to give hope.
Maybe the most important thing for us is that Du Bois truly believed in the freedom of his
people and therefore in the freedom of the humanity.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blum, E. J. Sociation today. Volume 3, Number 1 Spring 2005 Religion and the
Sociological Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois . University of Notre Dame [ last access
May 2014]
http://www.ncsociology.org/sociationtoday/v31/blum.htm

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk, 1903. Electronic resource.


http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/webdubois/duboissoulsblackfolk6x9.pdf

Du Bois W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folks; Essays and Sketches. New York:
Allograph, 1968. Print.

Pierce, Y. The Soul od Du Bois Black Folk vol. 6, no. 2, 2003, [last access May 2014]
https://www.princeton.edu/~jweisenf/northstar/volume6/pierce.html

Rabaka, Reiland. W. E. B. Du Bois's Evolving Africana Philosophy of Education.


Journal of Black Studies 33.4 (2003): 399-449. JSTOR. Web. 01 May 2014.
<http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3180873?ref=searchgateway:cdad40f8b5c5718e73f90afae06ddaf3>.

Williams, Robert W. The Early Social Science Of W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois Review:


Social Science Research on Race 3.02 (2006)

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