Cover image for The Souls of Black Folk
Title:
The Souls of Black Folk
Author:
Du Bois, W. E. B.

Kendi, Ibram X.

Elbert, Monica E.
Subject:
Biography & Autobiography
Sociology
African American Nonfiction
Nonfiction
Description:
The landmark book about being black in America, now in an expanded edition commemorating the 150th anniversary of W. E. B. Du Bois's birth and featuring a new introduction by Ibram X. Kendi, the National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." When The Souls of Black Folk was first published in 1903, it had a galvanizing effect on the conversation about race in America—and it remains both a touchstone in the literature of African America and a beacon in the fight for civil rights. Believing that one can know the "soul" of a race by knowing the souls of individuals, W. E. B. Du Bois combines history and stirring autobiography to reflect on the magnitude of American racism and to chart a path forward against oppression, and introduces the now-famous concepts of the color line, the veil, and double-consciousness. This edition of Du Bois's visionary masterpiece includes two additional essays that have become essential reading: "The Souls of White Folk," from his 1920 book Darkwater, and "The Talented Tenth."For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group

Penguin Classics
Date:
1996/04/01
Digital Format:
Adobe EPUB

HTML

Kindle
Language:
English

Summary

Summary

The landmark book about being black in America, now in an expanded edition commemorating the 150th anniversary of W. E. B. Du Bois's birth and featuring a new introduction by Ibram X. Kendi, the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist

"The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line."

When The Souls of Black Folk was first published in 1903, it had a galvanizing effect on the conversation about race in America--and it remains both a touchstone in the literature of African America and a beacon in the fight for civil rights. Believing that one can know the "soul" of a race by knowing the souls of individuals, W. E. B. Du Bois combines history and stirring autobiography to reflect on the magnitude of American racism and to chart a path forward against oppression, and introduces the now-famous concepts of the color line, the veil, and double-consciousness.

This edition of Du Bois's visionary masterpiece includes two additional essays that have become essential reading: "The Souls of White Folk," from his 1920 book Darkwater, and "The Talented Tenth."

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.


Author Notes

Civil rights leader and author, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on February 23, 1868. He earned a B.A. from both Harvard and Fisk universities, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard, and studied at the University of Berlin. He taught briefly at Wilberforce University before he came professor of history and economics at Atlanta University in Ohio (1896-1910). There, he wrote The Souls of Black Folk (1903), in which he pointed out that it was up to whites and blacks jointly to solve the problems created by the denial of civil rights to blacks. In 1905, Du Bois became a major figure in the Niagara Movement, a crusading effort to end discrimination. The organization collapsed, but it prepared the way for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in which Du Bois played a major role. In 1910, he became editor of the NAACP magazine, a position he held for more than 20 years.

Du Bois returned to Atlanta University in 1932 and tried to implement a plan to make the Negro Land Grant Colleges centers of black power. Atlanta approved of his idea, but later retracted its support. When Du Bois tried to return to NAACP, it rejected him too.

Active in several Pan-African Congresses, Du Bois came to know Fwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, and Jono Kenyatta the president of Kenya. In 1961, the same year Du Bois joined the Communist party, Nkrumah invited him to Ghana as a director of an Encyclopedia Africana project. He died there on August 27, 1963, after becoming a citizen of that country.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Guardian Review

"Herein lie buried many things which, if read with patience, may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the 20th century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line". This prophecy may have seemed far-fetched when first published in 1903, but it was to prove more and more compelling as the century advanced. Its author was WEB du Bois, the greatest of the early civil-rights leaders, a figure of towering significance in American politics and letters, whose life and work are - alas - little known on this side of the Atlantic. Remembered for his single-minded commitment to racial justice and his capacity to shape black consciousness, Du Bois used language and ideas to hammer out a strategy for political equality and to sound the depths of the black experience in the aftermath of slavery. In his book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois set out to paint a vivid portrait of black people in the decades after emancipation in 1862 - how they lived and who they really were: and thus to enlighten white America - still profoundly attached to the myths of black inferiority - as to the true meaning of being black in post-civil war America. The book was, as Du Bois's biographer David Levering Lewis describes it, "like a firework going off in a cemetery . . . sound and light, enlivening the inert and despairing. It was an electrifying manifesto, moblising people for bitter, prolonged struggle to win a place in history." It combined life portraits of characteristic individuals, based on Du Bois's travels in the south, with descriptions of the social and economic conditions of the rural poor, a deeply historical understanding of American race relations, and reflections on leadership and the role of education. It also included fiction, poetry and musical scores. His chapter, "The Sorrow Songs", expands on the significance of the bars of music from famous Negro spirituals which, alongside verses of English poetry - the two representing the Negro's divided inheritance - are threaded through as epigraphs to each chapter. Despite his own agnosticism, the vernacular "sorrow songs" became the privileged vehicle for expressing "the deep religious feeling of the real Negro heart" - the soul of black experience. The biblical echoes and cadences of the black church in the book's language made it for later generations, as critic Arnold Rampersad has said, itself "a kind of sacred book". William Edward Burghardt du Bois (he insisted on the pronunciation "Du Boyce") was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, a small, Republican New England town set among the rivers and hills of south-west Massachusetts. He was a mulatto, of Huguenot Calvinist and Bantu African slave descent. His father, Alfred, disappeared early, and Willie was brought up by his mother, Mary Silvina, and her family, the Burghardts, free blacks who prospered in small farming, and had lived in Great Barrington since the 17th century. Precociously clever as a boy, and moving easily in Great Barrington's inter-racial society, Du Bois was nevertheless the only black child in his class; an episode when a white girl refused to accept his visiting card made him aware that he was "different from the others". Later, he expanded this sense of isolation into a fully- fledged philosophy. He went to Fisk University in Nash-ville, his first experience of the black south, and taught for two summers in rural Tennessee, where he "touched the very shadow of slavery". "Hence forward," he said, "I was a Negro." He came to understand how emancipated slaves who, as Levering Lewis observes, had come "singing, praying and aspiring out of slavery", had so swiftly fallen into poverty, degradation and indifference as a result of their marginalisation. Du Bois aimed to show instead the spiritual depth and complexity of life behind "the veil". This was one of two metaphors he coined to characterise the black experience; the other was the concept of "double consciousness". The veil has biblical associations; double consciousness, philosophical ones. Du Bois argued that racism and the practices of segregation excluded blacks from mainstream American life - "shut them out of their world by a vast veil". Exiled within, a stranger in his own home, always looking at himself through the eyes of another race, being both African and American, the Negro was destined to have a double self, a divided soul, the bearer of a "double consciousness . . . One ever feels his two-ness . . . two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body." Du Bois offered no resolution, accepting that blacks were destined to live permanently with this tension. Paradoxically, he also believed that the veil offered the Negro a profound insight into his divided nation. As in Hegel's dialectic of master and slave, the slave, confronting "the mortal terror of his sovereign master", was driven by this struggle-to-the- death to a higher consciousness of freedom than that of white Americans. Du Bois went on to Harvard, the summit of his educational ambitions (he said he was "at - but not of - Harvard"), where he fell under the influence of teachers such as Josiah Royce, William James and George Santayana. After graduation, he became the first African-American to study in Berlin. There, this prickly, somewhat arrogant young man was liberated. He found the relative lack of racism in Europe remarkable. He mimicked the German student style, grew a Kaiser-like moustache and adopted Bismark as a hero. He discovered classical music and opera, especially Wagner. Lohengrin plays an important part in the fictional "Of The Coming of John" chapter, where John, a southern black man returning from a northern education, murders his white "double" (the other John) for taking liberties with a black woman, and faces lynching by his townsfolk. Du Bois read German literature and philosophy - Goethe, Heine, Schiller, above all Hegel. The imprint of Hegel's view of the progress of the World Spirit as a series of stages marked by successive conceptions of freedom, remained with him throughout his life, as sociologist Paul Gilroy has suggested. More significantly, he made contact with the powerful tradition of the German social sciences - Alfred Wagner, Schmoller, Max Weber - and became fired with the desire to turn these critical tools on the racial situation in the US. He returned to Harvard to complete his PhD - another African- American first - before launching his unprecedented programme of sociological research. His work on the conditions of life among Negro communities in Philadelphia and around Atlanta provided the foundations of several chapters in The Souls of Black Folk as well as underpinning the avalanche of political journalism, novels and other writings he launched on the world. Passionate about the power of ideas, Du Bois was also a determined political activist. He wrote, lectured and travelled everywhere. In 1905 he launched the Niagara Movement, the first black-led organisation committed to civil and political rights, and subsequently co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the most powerful integrated civil- rights organisation until the upheavals of the 1960s. He began to edit its enormously influential campaigning journal, The Crisis, writing polemical editorials that addressed every conceivable topic of interest to black Americans. By the 1890s the abolitionist dream had faded, and Black Reconstruction, designed to build emancipated slaves into the political system, had been defeated. The old southern white oligarchy and the "new rich", in collusion with northern industrialists, who wanted to invest in a south with a plentiful supply of cheap black labour, began to roll back the tide. Ex- slaves, without incomes or capital, were driven off the land into the indebtedness and poverty of share-cropping. Following the Plessy v Ferguson decision, in which the supreme court upheld Homer Plessy's conviction in Louisiana for travelling in a whites-only train carriage, "Jim Crow" legislation spread through the south, segregating public facilities. White supremacist ideas began to circulate again. Then the lynchings began. . . The Souls of Black Folk was Du Bois's attempt to stem this reversal. It was distinctive for its unswerving commitment to the black ballot and the liberal education that had helped Du Bois to expand his own mind. This brought him into collision which the most powerful black leader of the time, Booker T Washington - known for his manipulative cunning as "the wizard" - with his influential base at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and his supporters among the northern philanthropists. In his autobiography Up From Slavery (1901) and elsewhere, Washington advocated an accommodation with the south- the famous "Atlanta com-promise" - based on trading the black right to vote against better economic opportunities, and advocating a narrow, vocational training for blacks, designed to equip them to be industrial workers. This quarrel split the black movement down the middle, and was compounded by Du Bois's ideas on leadership. In Souls , Du Bois criticised Washington's charismatic style and educational programme, and called for a "saving elite", or "talented tenth" of educated African-Americans to give direction to the civil-rights struggle, offering "leadership by exceptional men" (though it should be pointed out that Du Bois was passionately pro-feminist and forged political as well as emotional relationships with many women activists). Was Du Bois's "talented tenth" idea, as Washington and others charged, elitist? Du Bois had spent long periods in, and learned much from the south: his experiences there had transformed his political outlook. However, he was formed, intellectually, among northerners. His peers and political associates were largely drawn from the talented sons and daughters of urban, middle-class, northern black professionals, with privileged backgrounds and university educations. Washington claimed to speak on behalf of the downtrodden, poor southern blacks who lacked such prospects. For Du Bois, this was no reason for denying them their political and educational rights. Certainly, Washington's "industrial training" was not designed to produce committed political leadership. Besides, where was the leadership of the immediate post-slavery decades likely to come from other than the ranks of the educated, politically conscious, free black professionals of the north? This elitist/populist tension recurred in the later split between Du Bois's integrationist perspective and the Afro-centric approach of Marcus Garvey, whom Du Bois strongly opposed. It surfaced again during the "Harlem renaissance", Du Bois, in this instance, finding the leaders of the "arts and letters movement" too removed from the concerns of ordinary black folk. In different versions, it continues to haunt African-American politics today, for example in the suspicion shown by black community activists towards mainstream politicians. In fact, though Du Bois was constantly locked in argument of this kind about the future direction of the struggle, his outlook was constantly expanding. He spent more time in Europe, began to learn more about the plight of colonial peoples of African descent, and met the leaders of the anti-imperialist struggles of the day. He helped organised several Pan-African congresses, including the famous fifth held just after the end of the second world war in Manchester, and attended by Amy Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah. This growing Pan-Africanism helped him to place the race issue in a wider, trans-Atlantic context. In the later part of his life, as the situation for African- Americans worsened during the depression years, Du Bois became increasingly pessimistic about the chances of equality, and disillusioned with the land of his birth. His racial thinking shifted emphasis, from the integration of a new group into an old nation, to the creation of a new, black nation. He mistrusted the motives behind the American Communist party's growing involvement in race issues during the 1930s, arguing that the racial division between white and black workers made America an "exception" to Marx's class-struggle theory. However, as his disillusionment grew, he showed increasing communist leanings. After his 1947 appeal to the UN on behalf of the black struggle was supported by the Soviet Union and opposed by the US, he gravitated towards the far left, defending the Rosenbergs and eulogising Stalin. He joined the Peace Information Centre, defined by the US government as an "agent of foreign interests", was refused a passport and, when finally allowed abroad in the late 1950s, met Khrushchev, Mao Zedong and Chou En- lai before attending independence celebrations in Ghana and Nigeria. He had supported Martin Luther King in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott in 1955-6, but had become deeply alienated from America, partly as a result of continuing passport problems, and in 1961 he accepted Nkrumah's invitation and went into self-imposed exile in Ghana, becoming a Ghanaian citizen in 1963. On August 27, aged 95, on the eve of the great civil rights march on Washington, he died and was given a state funeral in Accra. His place in history was publicly acknowledged from the Washington march platform by Roy Wilkins of the NAACP - "at the dawn of the 20th century, his was the voice calling you to gather here today in this cause". To order The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB du Bois (Norton), for pounds 7.95 plus free p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 066 7979. The Souls of WEB Du Bois is the Sunday Feature on Radio 3 at 5.45pm tomorrow. Caption: article-dubois.1 He came to understand how emancipated slaves who, as [David Levering Lewis] observes, had come "singing, praying and aspiring out of slavery", had so swiftly fallen into poverty, degradation and indifference as a result of their marginalisation. Du Bois aimed to show instead the spiritual depth and complexity of life behind "the veil". This was one of two metaphors he coined to characterise the black experience; the other was the concept of "double consciousness". The veil has biblical associations; double consciousness, philosophical ones. Du Bois argued that racism and the practices of segregation excluded blacks from mainstream American life - "shut them out of their world by a vast veil". Exiled within, a stranger in his own home, always looking at himself through the eyes of another race, being both African and American, the Negro was destined to have a double self, a divided soul, the bearer of a "double consciousness . . . One ever feels his two-ness . . . two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body." Du Bois offered no resolution, accepting that blacks were destined to live permanently with this tension. Paradoxically, he also believed that the veil offered the Negro a profound insight into his divided nation. As in Hegel's dialectic of master and slave, the slave, confronting "the mortal terror of his sovereign master", was driven by this struggle-to-the- death to a higher consciousness of freedom than that of white Americans. Du Bois went on to Harvard, the summit of his educational ambitions (he said he was "at - but not of - Harvard"), where he fell under the influence of teachers such as Josiah Royce, William James and George Santayana. After graduation, he became the first African-American to study in Berlin. There, this prickly, somewhat arrogant young man was liberated. He found the relative lack of racism in Europe remarkable. He mimicked the German student style, grew a Kaiser-like moustache and adopted Bismark as a hero. He discovered classical music and opera, especially Wagner. Lohengrin plays an important part in the fictional "Of The Coming of John" chapter, where John, a southern black man returning from a northern education, murders his white "double" (the other John) for taking liberties with a black woman, and faces lynching by his townsfolk. Du Bois read German literature and philosophy - Goethe, Heine, Schiller, above all Hegel. The imprint of Hegel's view of the progress of the World Spirit as a series of stages marked by successive conceptions of freedom, remained with him throughout his life, as sociologist Paul Gilroy has suggested. More significantly, he made contact with the powerful tradition of the German social sciences - Alfred Wagner, Schmoller, Max Weber - and became fired with the desire to turn these critical tools on the racial situation in the US. Was Du Bois's "talented tenth" idea, as Washington and others charged, elitist? Du Bois had spent long periods in, and learned much from the south: his experiences there had transformed his political outlook. However, he was formed, intellectually, among northerners. His peers and political associates were largely drawn from the talented sons and daughters of urban, middle-class, northern black professionals, with privileged backgrounds and university educations. [Booker T Washington] claimed to speak on behalf of the downtrodden, poor southern blacks who lacked such prospects. For Du Bois, this was no reason for denying them their political and educational rights. Certainly, Washington's "industrial training" was not designed to produce committed political leadership. Besides, where was the leadership of the immediate post-slavery decades likely to come from other than the ranks of the educated, politically conscious, free black professionals of the north? This elitist/populist tension recurred in the later split between Du Bois's integrationist perspective and the Afro-centric approach of Marcus Garvey, whom Du Bois strongly opposed. It surfaced again during the "Harlem renaissance", Du Bois, in this instance, finding the leaders of the "arts and letters movement" too removed from the concerns of ordinary black folk. In different versions, it continues to haunt African-American politics today, for example in the suspicion shown by black community activists towards mainstream politicians. - Stuart Hall.


Booklist Review

DuBois was an educator who became a major nineteenth-century proponent of immediate, across-the-board equality of blacks in politics, economics, and society and advocated using college-educated blacks as the means to this change. In this he was at odds with Booker T. Washington (see below), who advocated advancement of blacks through hard work rather than exercise of civil rights. Souls of Black Folk is a collection of richly articulated, even beautiful, essays on DuBois' own experiences and on black suppressions and sensibilities in general.


Library Journal Review

This release is in honor of the centennial of the publication of Du Bois's classic collection of writings on the experiences of the newly freed slaves after the Civil War. As in the print version, the audiobook includes a small portion of one of the Negro sorrow songs, songs that express the sadness and the hopes of the slaves. Du Bois looks at the history of African Americans to 1903, discussing how the government had not lived up to its promises. He brings forward his ideas of the "talented tenth" and the importance of educating this group so that they can help improve the world for other African Americans. Du Bois also attacks the beliefs of Booker T. Washington, who suggested that African Americans educate themselves to be better farmers and laborers and not aspire to professional careers. The audio ends with a short story, documenting the lives of two men named John, one black and one white, who leave the plantation where they grew up to attend college and return to deal with the changes in themselves and the expectations of their communities, with tragic results. Warren Hazlett does a masterful job of reading this wonderful work. It should find a home in all libraries, especially those with African American history collections.-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

From Farah Jasmine Griffin's Introduction to The Souls of Black Folk Since its publication in the spring of 1903, The Souls of Black Folk has became a founding text of African-American studies: Its insistence on an interdisciplinary understanding of black life, on historically and philosophically grounded analysis, on the scholar's role as advocate and activist, and on close study of the cultural products of the objects of examination-all became tenets of the study of black life in United States. In its insistence that any understanding of the United States has to be attentive to the contributions and struggles of black Americans, Souls has also contributed to a revision of American history and culture. Furthermore, in recent years the book has spoken to students of postcolonial and critical race studies as well. However, the text was never meant for a purely academic audience. And perhaps here lies its greatest contribution: It is a brilliant, multifaceted, learned book addressed to an intelligent lay audience as a means of informing social and political action. Du Bois's best-known intellectual contributions are introduced here: "double consciousness," "the Talented Tenth," "the Veil," and the Du Bois versus Washington debate (see "Comments and Questions) that has characterized our understandings of black leadership throughout the twentieth century continue to be the major contributions of the text, and they have been explored and written about at length. With these concepts, Du Bois provided a basic vocabulary and foundational language for scholars and students of African-American history and culture. Double consciousness defines a psychological sense experienced by African Americans whereby they possess a national identity, "an American," within a nation that despises their racial identity, "a Negro." It also refers to the ability of black Americans to see themselves only through the eyes of white Americans, to measure their intelligence, beauty, and sense of self-worth by standards set by others. Du Bois defined the Talented Tenth as "leadership of the Negro race in America by a trained few." In The Souls of Black Folk, he envisions this educated elite at the vanguard of racial uplift. Later in his life he disavowed this theory. Du Bois's ideas have been explored in detail, but only recently, through the efforts of black feminist writers such as Hazel Carby, Joy James, and Nellie McKay, has his notion of black leadership as fundamentally masculine received scholarly attention. These writers have opened up new ways of reading The Souls of Black Folk . Another distinctive feature of the book is Du Bois's consistent use of the first person, his insertion of himself as a subjective student of and participant in black life and culture. In the opening pages, he introduces himself to his reader in the following manner: "And, finally, need I add that I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil." With this Old Testament allusion Du Bois establishes his relationship to the people about whom he writes as one of sacred matrimony: of man to woman, of husband to wife. In Genesis 2:23 Adam says of Eve: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Du Bois's use of the Veil, the enduring metaphor of the book, not only refers to that which separates black from white, to that through which black folk peer at the world, but it might also be the veil that covers women's faces in many religious traditions. So those who live beneath the Veil, the black folk, might be gendered as female-ever mysterious, unknowing, and unknowable-while the black elite, intellectuals and leaders, are gendered male. Du Bois promises readers that he has "stepped within the veil" and raised it to expose "deeper recesses." While he elsewhere claims to have lived behind the Veil throughout his life, here he positions himself as someone who dwells both within and just outside its cover-and, most important, as the investigator, the communicator, the native informant who can render the mysteries behind the Veil known. The fourteen chapters that follow this promise represent Du Bois's best efforts to make known the strivings and yearnings of black folk in the United States of America. There is something, however, that remains unknowable and impenetrable even to this great bronze Adam. In the first nine chapters, all of which were revised from previously published essays, Du Bois turns to academic fields of knowledge such as history, sociology, and philosophy to assist in his interpretation of the complexity of black lives. While these fields help to provide the framework for his analysis, his prose is shaped by biblical and mythological narrative, metaphor and allusion. In the last five chapters, only one of which had been published previously, though they are still informed by philosophy, sociology, and history, Du Bois turns to elegy, poetry, religion, and song. In doing so, he attempts to better understand and express the longings of those who live beneath the Veil; consequently, he turns his critical eye to black people and their culture in an effort to comprehend how they have made sense of the absurdity of their situation. Excerpted from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.