Short and Sweet Reviews // The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

“Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

// W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of both American literature and of black protest. Written by the historian and civil rights activist, W.E.B. Du Bois, and first published in 1903, the book is a collection of essays on race and has become one of the most important books concerning the history of race relations in this country.

I first started this book over a year ago but quickly put it back down when I found it to be very different from what I expected. I thought I was going to read something very dry, academic, and full of stats, figures, and facts. Instead, I found something that was full of feeling, more feeling than I was prepared for I suppose. Now a whole year later I’ve picked it back up and this time, I am amazed. This man writes beautifully!

When I was done my mind was blown and I am now a little different than I was before reading it.

I guess it just never occurred to me before to think about the details of what happened after slavery was abolished. How did the children of slaves educate themselves? How did they make a living? And how did they navigate around the hatred they encountered everywhere they went from white people? This book answered a lot of those questions and sparked a desire for me to learn more.

“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

// W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk


The first essays are the “meat” of the book and talk mostly of “The Veil”, Du Bois’ visual manifestation of the color line and metaphor for all the separates black people from the world and opportunities white people enjoyed. These essays are very informative but it was some of the ones toward the end that I liked the best. His essay on his first born child almost brought me to tears, the story of the two sons left me angry, and the one about slave songs was very interesting and has me searching the internet for old recordings.

I cannot say much more without giving it all away but trust me, this book deserves all the praise it has received. It is a must-read but it isn’t necessarily an easy one. If you come to it with your heart open and the time to really think about what is being said, then by the end you will find yourself more aware and more full of feeling and understanding for the people who suffered in this country during, and just after, the abolishment of slavery.

Read it because it is good, but more than that, read it because it is important for us to know our own history and which direction we must head in the future.

“Progress in human affairs is more often a pull than a push, surging forward of the exceptional man, and the lifting of good duller brethren slowly and painfully to his vantage-ground.”

// W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk



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