The Souls of Black Folk (Norton Critical Editions Series) / Edition 1

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Overview

When it was published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk revolutionized thinking about the experience of African Americans in the United States.
This collection of essays on African American history, culture, and society probes fundamental issues of race and justice and documents Du Bois’s conviction that the "soul" of the black community must be preserved and revered. The text reprinted here is that of the first book edition (1903).
"Contexts" presents a fascinating collection of political and biographical documents related to the text. Also included are eighteen photographs that accompanied Du Bois’s 1901 article "The Negro As He Really Is."
"Criticism" offers thirteen contemporary and recent assessments of Du Bois and Souls, rounding out the picture of this enduring work.

First published in 1903, this extraordinary work not only recorded and explained history, it helped to alter its course. Written after Du Bois had earned his Ph.D. from Harvard and studied in Berlin, these 14 essays contain both the academic language of sociology and the rich lyrics of African spirituals, which Du Bois called "sorrow songs."

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Editorial Reviews

Sacred Fire
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.

Born in Massachusetts in 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was the foremost black intellectual of his time&#8212and mind you, his time stretched all the way from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A man of staggering intellect and drive, he was the first black to hold a doctorate from Harvard University. Du Bois wrote three historical works, two novels, two autobiographies, and sixteen pioneering books on sociology, history, politics, and race relations. He was a founder of the NAACP, pioneering Pan-Africanist, spirited advocate for world peace, and tireless fighter for civil rights during the darkest days of Jim Crow.

Du Bois was also a prophet: At the turn of the century, he wrote in the "forethought" of this seminal collection of essays that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line." That statement has resonated throughout this turbulent century and remains just as fresh today as in 1903. The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of fourteen powerfully written essays that are by turn testimony and autobiography, stands as a monumental achievement and quite possibly his most influential work. The book is both a vivid portrait of the conditions facing freshly emancipated black folk at the turn of the century and a still-relevant discussion of the dilemma of race in the United States. It was here that Du Bois introduced his influential concept of "double-consciousness": the struggle of black people trying to define themselves as both black and American.

What makes these unflinching, luminous, and troublesome essays so powerful is that each builds upon the other to try to answer questions about race that have perplexed, enraged, and divided America for over a century. Written in part to counter Booker T. Washington's prevailing strategy of accommodation, The Souls of Black Folk created a fresh way of looking at and protesting the multifaceted oppression of black people.

New York Times Book Review
The Souls of Black Folk throws much light upon the complexities of the negro problem, for it shows that the key note of at least some negro aspiration is still the abolition of the social color line. -- New York Times review, April 1903; Books of the Century
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393973938
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Norton Critical Editions Series
  • Edition description: Norton Critical Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 552,257
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Ph.D.Cambridge), is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research, Harvard University. He is the author of Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513–2008; Black in Latin America; Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora; Faces of America; Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self; The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Criticism; Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars; Colored People: A Memoir; The Future of Race with Cornel West; Wonders of the African World; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and The Trials of Phillis Wheatley. His is also the writer, producer, and narrator of PBS documentaries Finding Your Roots; Black in Latin America; Faces of America; African American Lives 1 and 2; Looking for Lincoln; America Beyond the Color Line; and Wonders of the African World. He is the editor of African American National Biography with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and The Dictionary of African Biography with Anthony Appiah; Encyclopedia Africana with Anthony Appiah; and The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, as well as editor-in-chief of TheRoot.com.

Terri Hume Oliver is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. The title of her dissertation is The Ends of Childhood: An American Rhetoric of Minority. She has published reference entries on Cynthia Ozick, Susan Cheever, and Robert Beck, and was a research assistant for The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.

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Read an Excerpt

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience--peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards--ten cents a package--and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,--refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in aregion of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,--some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one&rsquos self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,--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.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,--this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted, dispersed, or forgotten. The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of Egypt the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness. Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man's turning hither and thither in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like absence of power, like weakness. And yet it is not weakness,--it is the contradiction of double aims. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan--on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde--could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a-dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people,--has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.

Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain--Liberty; in his tears and curses, the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came,&mdashsuddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:--

'Shout, O children!
Shout, you're free!
For God has bought your liberty!'

Years have passed away since then,--ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation's feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:--

'Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble!'

The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,--a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.

The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,--like a tantalizing will-o'-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpetbaggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power,--a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of 'book-learning'; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,--darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,--not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.
A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defence of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the 'higher' against the 'lower' races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress, he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil,--before this there rises a sickening despair that would disarm and discourage any nation save that black host to whom 'discouragement' is an unwritten word.
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Table of Contents

Biographical Note
Introduction
The Forethought
I Of Our Spiritual Strivings 3
II Of the Dawn of Freedom 15
III Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others 43
IV Of the Meaning of Progress 62
V Of the Wings of Atalanta 76
VI Of the Training of Black Men 89
VII Of the Black Belt 111
VIII Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece 136
IX Of the Song of Master and Man 164
X Of the Faith of the Fathers 190
XI Of the Passing of the First-Born 209
XII Of Alexander Crummell 217
XIII Of the Coming of John 230
XIV Of the Sorrow Songs 252
The Afterthought 268
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 26, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    Very good book I read the book in college, and the second time I get a better understanding of Du Bois.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    One of the most direct writings from the black community

    This book "rocked my socks" from page one. DuBois writes, not as a victim of society, but as the proud member of an advanced society. He describes the "ways" -- the culture, society, beliefs, traditions, songs, meanings, faith, strengths, and hopes of African American people. He sets many misbeliefs right. He corrects many wrong impressions. He speaks the unspoken for the silent. This powerful book gave permission to a culture, validations for success in education, and political rise to the civil rights movements after his death. A graduate of Harvard and a founder of universities and the NAACP, DuBois is an "intellectual engine" for his generation. I found this book of essays a profound and important keystone in American history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2006

    The Essential Directive of Black History

    For some who don't grasp Black History it may seem tedious or slow in understanding. This early account of Black History is powerful in it's ability to guide the reader through the hows and whys of the struggle and why the struggle continues today. DuBois gives the reader an understanding of the roots of why America will never gain it's greatest strength until it releases it's bloody grip from the neck of a people who suffered to show it how to love. Even then he said that the problem of race and seperation will have to be discussed openly, honestly, and dealt with for us to grow as a healthy nation and world.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    APPRENTICE DEN

    Ashclan

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    LEADERS DEN

    Ashclan

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    Love it

    Great book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2011

    Moving, Emotional, Poignant!

    In Souls of Black Folk I heard a voice of a my people intrenched in a what seemed to be a temporary situation but sad to say relevant in today's community and societies as a whole. Double consciousness still a major issue, "but our dogged strength alone keeps us from being torn asunder..." This book was riveting, I have the physical copy that is old and worn and on its 15th read, so I figured I'd by the Nook copy so I will always have it on my MAC and ready for me to peruse!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2007

    Must read (or listen to)

    Yes, DuBois had an eloquent writing style and it may be difficult to get through all the elegance of his style and the times. But the information presented is a MUST. I listened to the audiobook. It is/was fascinating and makes me want to read more of Black History.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2004

    great book

    A Must read to understand the pass

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2002

    THE SOUL OF A BLACK MAN MANIFESTED IN WORDS

    A highly recommended book for all blacks to read, it is a must, Mr. Dubois speaks from the soul and manifest what is in the minds of most black 'folks'. Speaks on the conditions of slavery and its effects on an entire people. All whites and republicans should read this novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2000

    A student review

    W.E.B. DuBois was a pioneer of African American literature and thought. This book of essays will Make you rethink the progress and status of African Americans throughout America's history, and will help you understand and sympathize much more. this book has some disturbing anti-semiotic passages in it. I find it strange that DuBois can so effectively and reasonably argue for the equality of African-Americans while so irrationally claims such anti-Semitic comments. Except for this problem, (which should not be overlooked), the book is very important and powerful, and it did and continues to do a lot for the advancement of African-Americans in the US. It is sort of like a guide for an African America who is lost and does not really understand who he is. DuBios presents his information in a chronological and straightforward manner. I would recommend this book to truth seekers and soul searchers!

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    Posted January 25, 2010

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    Posted August 30, 2011

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    Posted March 26, 2010

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    Posted November 10, 2011

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