Read The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois Donald B. Gibson Monica W. Elbert Online


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) is the greatest of African American intellectuals--a sociologist, historian, novelist, and activist whose astounding career spanned the nation's history from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. Born in Massachusetts and educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, Du Bois penned his epochal masterpiece, TheWilliam Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) is the greatest of African American intellectuals--a sociologist, historian, novelist, and activist whose astounding career spanned the nation's history from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. Born in Massachusetts and educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, Du Bois penned his epochal masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, in 1903. It remains his most studied and popular work; its insights into life at the turn of the 20th century still ring true....

Title : The Souls of Black Folk
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The Souls of Black Folk Reviews

  • BillKerwin
    2019-02-24 02:39

    While reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, I asked myself whether any other book offered such penetrating insight into the black experience in equally impressive prose. The first name that came to me was The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois.The Souls of Black Folk was published in 1903, and just as the two directions of black leadership in the tumultuous 60's and '70's were symbolized by Martin and Malcolm, the two directions at the turn of the last century—a period punctuated by lynchings and race riots—were embodied in Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Washington, born a slave in the South, urged blacks, at least for the present, to accept Jim Crow and disenfranchisement in return for safety and peace, while they concentrated on attending trade schools and developing--and demonstrating to white society--their integrity and character. (White society praised Washington; Theodore Roosevelt invited him to dinner at the White House.) W.E.B. DuBois, born free in the North, insisted on the vote and full civil rights, and encouraged the development of black intellectuals, the “talented tenth," urging them to complete not only four years of college, but post-graduate degrees as well. (Dubois was the first black person to earn a doctorate from Harvard).In this collection of fourteen essays, his first great influential work, Dubois begins by anatomizing racism and analyzing its consequences, most notably how racism—particularly “the color line”—places every black person beneath the “veil,” creating a special way of seeing—painful, but also illuminating—which comes from being set apart. In “The Dawn of Freedom,” he offers a perceptive view of reconstruction, and in “Of Booker T. Washington and Others” he coldly, devastatingly, holds up Washington's ideas for critical examination. Throughout the first quarter of the work, he excels in conveying sociological insights in a magisterial--almost biblical—fashion. Beginning with “The Meaning of Progress,” where Dubois' reminiscences about his days teaching in a one-room school-house, his style becomes gentler, more sentimental. His portaits of individual scholars and community elders are sharp but also deeply moving. Dubois continues with his portraits in individual essays, each about a different part of the south or a particularly notable person, and by the end of his tour we have gained much insight into the “souls of black folk” in his day. The book ends with “The Sorrow Songs,” an examination of the nature of the Negro Spiritual, which is not only a fine example of sociology but a groundbreaking work of musicology too.If you have not read it, you should, for this book is not only a milestone of African-American thought but also a classic of American Literature. Its wisdom and rhetorical power have shown more brightly with the years, as it sits there, on the shelf of essentials, welcoming the advent of Ta-Nahisi Coates.Here follow two samples of Dubois' prose, the first of realistic description, and second of transcendent rhetoric. The first is about a man Dubois met in “The Black Belt,” where Cotton once was King: I remember one big red-eyed black whom we met by the roadside. Forty-five years he had labored on this farm, beginning with nothing, and still having nothing. To be sure, he had given four children a common-school training, and perhaps if the new fence-law had not allowed unfenced crops in West Dougherty he might have raised a little stock and kept ahead. As it is, he is hopelessly in debt, disappointed, and embittered. He stopped us to inquire after the black boy in Albany, whom it was said a policeman had shot and killed for loud talking on the sidewalk. And then he said slowly: "Let a white man touch me, and he dies; I don't boast this,—I don't say it around loud, or before the children,—but I mean it. I've seen them whip my father and my old mother in them cotton-rows till the blood ran; by—" and we passed on.The second is a question--relevant for all of us--about of the Negro Sprituals:Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope—a faith in the ultimate justice of things. The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?

  • Ken Moten
    2019-01-28 05:45

    "I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,As the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.Look not upon me, because I am black,Because the sun hath looked upon me:My mother's children were angry with me;They made me the keeper of the vineyards;But mine own vineyard have I not kept." - Song of Solomon 1:5-6 KJVBright Sparkles in the Churchyard These are the lyrical and musical epigraphs preceding chapter seven."The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line, -- the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea." This is going to be a hard book to review well. That is because of how well rounded and layered this book is at examining African-American life. There is much in this book that has made it so special. This book is to modern sociology what The Interpretation of Dreams was for psychology. In this book W.E.B. Du Bois offered one of the most complete studies of African-American life, history, politics, and culture. No book has really been able to over-shadow its relevance and its timelessness. It was written by the first Black man to earn a Harvard University doctorate degree. The book was published in 1903, a generation removed from slavery in the United States, yet it is still relevant to my life (four generations removed from slavery) and the present day. 112 years has not seen a lot of time pass!This book has been the foundation text that civil rights and Black advancement in America was built on. This book influenced so many people whose careers come out of it. From the Harlem Renaissance to the thesis of my favorite novel (Invisible Man) to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness all find roots in this book. Du Bois would, in the long years after 1903, change is stance on certain ideas presented in this book, most famously concerning his theory on The Talented Tenth, but he never had anything beyond spelling or proofreading corrections done in subsequent editions of this book since he wanted it to stand as a snapshot of how he saw the world in 1903.Trying to list the ideas and multiple purposes this book is putting forward is maddening. It puts forward in idea that a special 10% of African-Americans would become this alpha-class that would lead the rest of the race (he abandoned that as his interest in socialism grew). The book also list the theory of Black people having "double-consciousness" which he defines as the "sense of always looking at one's 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." He goes onto say that the history of Black Folks is the tension between this duality of identity and I do not see any good counter-argument to this from my personal experience."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..." The above quote is from the first two paragraphs of the book. This excerpt is something that Black Americans consciously or unconsciously have to always confront. Of course this book, being part self-study, uses Du Bois own life in order to examine the Black experience. This book is also a very thorough polemic against Booker T. Washington. Du Bois sees Washington and his influence as one of the worst calamities to hit the African-American nation. Booker T. Washington believed that Black people should not seek social equality or political independence, but should strive for economic equality only and be guided on political matters under strict, White supervision; Black education should not include the liberal arts, but be limited to vocational trades. All of this infuriated Du Bois and led to an intense rivalry between the two that only ended with Washington's death in 1915. A whole chapter of this book is devoted solely to refuting Washington and his accommodationist beliefs. The sad state of political status and employment of Black Folk are also covered in this book and it is depressing to see how much things have not changed. Given the recent spat of police shootings it makes reading the following quote even more painful: "...the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves...For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination. For, as I have said, the police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re-enslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man's conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims. - from chapter 9. This has been confirmed, by now, as not just a Southern problem, but as a nation-wide issue now. Another issue is the lack of balanced employment. Du Bois was convinced that if greedy land-owners did not perpetually swindle Black people out of ownership, there would not be such a large movement of people from rural areas to the urban areas. He was, in-fact, witnessing the origins of The Great Migration. One of the more interesting things covered in this book are Negro Spirituals. Each chapter of this book contains two epigraphs (as demonstrated at the beginning of this review). One is a random quote vaguely related to the chapter, but the second quote is a musical notation of a passage from a spiritual. The last chapter of this book is dedicated to talking about the deep cultural and artistic importance of the spirituals (called Sorrow Songs by Du Bois) and he talks about their origins and of the musical group most noted for interpreting them: The Fisk Jubilee Singers. Each chapter quotation is also listed in this part of the book, but if you can read music you will guess the universally recognized ones like Swing Low or Steal Away.While I would like to keep thoroughly dissecting this book, I will probably just keep shaping the review as I think of new things to examine in it, in the future I may keep adding on, but I find that it is especially difficult for me to analyze this book that is so old, but so relevant and personal. I will give Dr. Du Bois the last word then:"Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare. Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed THE END"

  • Eric
    2019-02-04 03:24

    Man, this guy can preach. I opened The Souls of Black Folk (1903) and found myself ten years old watching Ken Burns’s The Civil War with my dad, dumbstruck by Morgan Freeman’s readings of mighty polemical passages from Frederick Douglass. The whole land seems forlorn and forsaken. Here are the remnants of the vast plantations of the Sheldons, the Pellots, and the Rensons; but the souls of them are passed. The houses lie in half ruin, or have wholly disappeared; the fences have flown, and the families are wandering in the world. Strange vicissitudes have met these whilom masters. Yonder stretch the wide acres of Bildad Reasor; he died in war-time, but the upstart overseer hastened to wed the widow. Then he went, and his neighbors too, and now only the black tenant remains; but the shadow-hand of the master's grand-nephew or cousin or creditor stretches out of the gray distance to collect the rack-rent remorselessly, and so the land is uncared-for and poor. Only black tenants can stand such a system, and they only because they must. Ten miles we have ridden to-day and have seen no white face.You can also hear Emerson in the tough eloquence, in the tone of terse King James vigor that unites this portfolio freely mixed of sociological theory, short fiction, historical essay and, underlying all, personal reminiscence of the color line as it cut through the author’s life. The sojourning soul of the poet--the kind of phrase, at once flowery and utterly clear, that Du Bois favors--pervades and completes Du Bois the sociologist, the educator, the activist. The effect of the whole is pretty extraordinary. I can’t quite believe I've neglected this book until now, on the verge of thirty. Du Bois puts forth a comprehensive treatment of the “Negro Problem” circa 1900, with elegantly resonant historical vistas-- The war has naught to do with slaves, cried Congress, the President, and the Nation; and yet no sooner had the armies, East and West, penetrated Virginia and Tennessee than fugitive slaves appeared within their lines. They came at night, when the flickering camp fires shone like vast unsteady stars along the black horizon...(the Federal government’s century of vacillating commitment to its black citizens is all compressed into those “unsteady stars”)--and suggestive speculations about the mechanics of mass uplift that will never go out of date. And I say that despite all the academic carping about the book’s outdated “paternalism”--people often invoke that supposed sin whenever they can’t duck the fact that peoples are led, for good or ill, by someone. Given a widespread academic armchair Marxism, and Du Bois’ own later fellow traveling, I’m amazed that some critics choose to see his ideal of a college-bred “Talented Tenth” as narrow bourgeois smugly diffusing useless genteel airs over their struggling brethren, instead of the quasi-Leninist cadre of devoted race-men he actually intended them to be. And Du Bois’ “Social Darwinism” was actually Darwinian: unlike his white counterparts, who used the phrase to argue that social struggle had ended, with the European empires and empire-builders deservedly and permanently on top, Du Bois insists that the struggle among classes and races continues with unflagging intensity and unpredictability; he holds that the first priority of turn of the century American blacks, so often helplessly baffled by the forces arrayed against them, should be the creation of an intellectually penetrative, politically uncowed, economically savvy educated class to serve as the race’s champion and advocate in a complex modern industrial society over which rapacious empires and callous conglomerates rule a roiling brawl of ethnically contrasting, mutually antipathetic competing labor groups. The Progressive Era dream of the educated upper middle class joined with the government to halt the worst depredations of capitalism is no more vulnerable to irony than the ideal of a purely unassisted laboring class liberating itself.

  • Darwin8u
    2019-01-30 06:29

    "The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land."- W.E.B. Du Bois I seem to be reading backward in time, not universally, I've read slave narratives and I've read Frederick Douglass, but mostly I've read about race backwards. I immersed myself in Coates, King, and Baldwin, and now Du Bois. Certainly, Booker T must be next.I loved the book and how Du Bois danced between a sociological and cold examination of slavery, share cropping economics, home life, racism, etc., and flipped into an almost lyrical hymn about being black at the end. The chapter on his dead son (Chapter 11) moved me to tears, but so too did the chapter on Alexander Crummell (Chapter 12) and the chapter on the two Johns (Chapter 13). These chapters rang for me like good poetry and lyrical storytelling always does. But Du Bois is also sharp. He delves into the issues of the Freedmen's Bureau (Chapter 2), critiques Booker T's limited vision for his people (Chapter 3), and addresses his thesis that the blacks of the South need (1) the right to vote, (2) the right to a good education, and (3) to be treated with equality and justice. Du Bois also introduced me to the idea of "double-consciousness" or "always looking at one's 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." Other things I loved? I loved his focus on education, his critique of the economics of both slavery and the post slavery economy in the South, hell, his critique of capitalism to a degree. I also loved his imagry of the veil: "So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil."This last year (actually the last couple years) has been hard. What seemed to be a jump forward on race for a couple decades, seems to have aggrivated and angered some deep, dark cyst in white America's soul. So, now I'm drawn to these narratives. They give me hope that the journey is not over for our too often divided nation. I hope that, given time, love, education, respect, and economic security, the wounds of slavery and discrimination, will continue to heal. Sometimes a fever doesn't break immediately. Sometimes an infection needs to burst to heal. Hopefully, things will calm the F down. Hopefully, like Du Bois suggests/sings:"Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed - The End."

  • Roy Lotz
    2019-01-26 03:32

    W.E.B. Du Bois was many things: pioneering social scientist, historian, activist, social critic, writer—and, most of all, a heck of a lot smarter than me. I say this because, while reading these essays, I had the continuous, nagging feeling of mental strain, which I found hard to account for. There is nothing conceptually difficult about his arguments; in fact, most are quite straightforward. Although his sentences do twist and turn, they’re not nearly as syntactically knotty as other authors that I have waded through. So what was it?I have decided that it is Du Bois’s broadness and versatility which made The Souls of Black Folk so exhausting for me. His writing style is poetic, in that every sentence carries with it multiple shades of meaning. His social advocacy is rendered in prose dense with Biblical echoes and classical allusions; his vignettes push forwards with the emotional weight of a sermon, but are couched in the learned style of a professor; his arguments are never dry, never sterile, but always proffered with full consciousness of their significance to the lives of real people.What I find especially impressive about Du Bois is his self-assurance. In some older American authors—such as Melville, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and even the philosopher William James—I find a strange, self-conscious embarrassment of their Americanness. It is as if these authors were painfully aware that they were aping European art-forms, and struggling to find a native voice. There is none of this in Du Bois. His prose, his arguments, his concerns, and his manner are all firmly American, without a tinge of doubt, shame, or apology. Perhaps it is no coincidence that I feel the same way about another American author, Frederick Douglass, who speaks with the same eloquent self-assuredness. It is a great irony, then, that Du Bois, who felt a “double consciousness”—a clash between his identity as an American and a “Negro”—somehow managed to escape that other double-consciousness that has plagued America’s great white authors: being a European and an American. The conflict between wishing to continue, and to claim as ours, the heritage of the Old World—the awkward knowledge that we have no Shakespeare, no Goethe, and no Dante—coupled with our desire to break off on a new path.Meanwhile, Du Bois writes in a voice that is distinctly his own. And, more importantly, distinctly American. So let us relish the poetic justice that our most genuine voice emanated from a people who were systematically trampled underfoot.

  • Trevor
    2019-02-05 02:43

    This is really not the book I thought it was going to be. I thought this would be a more-or-less dry book of sociology discussing the lives of black folk in the US – you know: a few statistics, a bit of outrage, a couple of quotes, some history, but all written in a detached academic style. It isn’t like that at all, although there are bits of it that are written exactly like that. Du Bois has been one of those people that I’ve been seeing about the place for some time now. There is an extensive discussion of his work in WJT Mitchell’s Seeing Through Race and in a few of the books on racism in the US I’ve read. But again, I really thought what he did was straight sociology. This book, I suspect his most famous, is really anything but straight sociology. It is strikingly well written. It uses a variety of forms – there’s even a short story – and, given the book is so short, you should probably just read it rather than my review. What I was most interested in this book for to see what he had to say about ‘double consciousness’. I’m utterly fascinated by this idea and it is, I believe, one of the key ideas that people like Goffman have taken from du Bois. So, the genealogy runs from du Bois, through Goffman to people like Claude Steele and their work on the presentation of self, stigma and stereotype threat. Double consciousness is the idea that being black means having to have more than one soul. There is seeing yourself as ‘yourself’ and then always also having to see yourself as you are seen by those around you, those who have power. As du Bois says, what black folk long for is to be both black and American – to arrive at a kind of self-consciousness that does not require the denial of one in attaining the other. Something that writers like bell hooks run with.The short story in this book – a story about two first sons, one black and one white, and their parallel, though strikingly different journeys through life, present a stark vision of the constraints placed on one life and the soulless destitution of the other. I found this story moving, but also a fascinating way to make the point about the nature and consequences of racism in the US – the extremes people will go to so as to keep people in their place and how hard it is, once you have seen the ‘truth’ to convince those around you of that ‘truth’ - this is, again, a reworking of Plato's allegory of the cave and with similar consequences both for those able to 'escape' the cave, those left behind in the cave and those forced to return to the cave. Speaking from a position outside of ‘normal’ understanding always means sounding like a madman. It is the price of the getting of wisdom. Du Bois does not make the getting of this wisdom sound easy nor does he present the 'benefits' of such acquisition as terribly positive - but he does make clear that there is no other path, that all other ways lead to servitude. This book is rightly famous, but I can’t help thinking it must have really surprised people when it first came out (if only because it really surprised me all this time later) and must have been an insanely brave book to write. Not because (or not only because) of the content (du Bois got to pay and pay for his opinions, as is made all too clear in the introduction and timeline of his life), but it really would have taken guts to break so many rules associated with the ‘genre’ of academic writing as is done here. It all makes for a fascinating read.

  • Melki
    2019-02-19 23:26

    There is such beautiful writing here. Some of it is full of hope:He arose silently, and passed out into the night. Down toward the sea he went, in the fitful starlight, half conscious of the girl who followed timidly after him. When at last he stood upon the bluff, he turned to his little sister and looked upon her sorrowfully, remembering with sudden pain how little thought he had given her. He put his arm about her and let her passion of tears spend itself on his shoulder.Long they stood together, peering over the gray unresting water."John," she said, "does it make every one—unhappy when they study and learn lots of things?"He paused and smiled. "I am afraid it does," he said."And, John, are you glad you studied?""Yes," came the answer, slowly but positively.She watched the flickering lights upon the sea, and said thoughtfully, "I wish I was unhappy,—and—and," putting both arms about his neck, "I think I am, a little, John."*Some is filled with despair:It was several days later that John walked up to the Judge's house to ask for the privilege of teaching the Negro school. The Judge himself met him at the front door, stared a little hard at him, and said brusquely, "Go 'round to the kitchen door, John, and wait." Sitting on the kitchen steps, John stared at the corn, thoroughly perplexed. What on earth had come over him? Every step he made offended some one. He had come to save his people, and before he left the depot he had hurt them. He sought to teach them at the church, and had outraged their deepest feelings. He had schooled himself to be respectful to the Judge, and then blundered into his front door. And all the time he had meant right,—and yet, and yet, somehow he found it so hard and strange to fit his old surroundings again, to find his place in the world about him. He could not remember that he used to have any difficulty in the past, when life was glad and gay. The world seemed smooth and easy then. Perhaps,—but his sister came to the kitchen door just then and said the Judge awaited him.The Judge sat in the dining–room amid his morning's mail, and he did not ask John to sit down. He plunged squarely into the business. "You've come for the school, I suppose. Well John, I want to speak to you plainly. You know I'm a friend to your people. I've helped you and your family, and would have done more if you hadn't got the notion of going off. Now I like the colored people, and sympathize with all their reasonable aspirations; but you and I both know, John, that in this country the Negro must remain subordinate, and can never expect to be the equal of white men. In their place, your people can be honest and respectful; and God knows, I'll do what I can to help them. But when they want to reverse nature, and rule white men, and marry white women, and sit in my parlor, then, by God! we'll hold them under if we have to lynch every Nigger in the land. Now, John, the question is, are you, with your education and Northern notions, going to accept the situation and teach the darkies to be faithful servants and laborers as your fathers were,—I knew your father, John, he belonged to my brother, and he was a good Nigger. Well—well, are you going to be like him, or are you going to try to put fool ideas of rising and equality into these folks' heads, and make them discontented and unhappy?"*And then there was my horror at realizing that more than a century has passed since this book was first published, and there is so much that has not changed. *Both selections are from Chapter 13 - Of the Coming of John. Please read it here:

  • Eddie
    2019-01-27 04:42

    Speaks The Truth To PowerIn 1903, two years after Booker T. Washington's autobiography, "Up from Slavery: An Autobiography", W.E.B. Du Bois published "The Souls of Black Folk", a series of essays which today most consider a seminal work in African-American Sociology literature. Du Bois view of race relations in American at the dawn of the 20th century was clear, critical and deeply profound.Throughout the fourteen chapters Du Bois uses a metaphor, the veil, with considerable deftness:"...the Negro...born with a veil...gifted with second sight...double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others."Du Bois shares his thoughts on Emancipation & the Post-Emancipation era, "...there was scarcely a white man in the South who did not honestly regard Emancipation as a crime and its practical nullification as a duty." In other chapters he covers: the education of the Negro, Negro suffrage, tenant farming, and Negro spirituals a.k.a Sorrow Songs. In the chapter, "Of the Black Belt", we take a journey with him as he travels through the Black Belt of Georgia - which is not a reference to the large number of people of color in the area but to the color of the soil. In "The Coming of John", the lone fictional chapter, Du Bois relates a short story of two Johns, one white and one Negro, both coming home to the South after attaining an education in the North.I could go on and on but this one relevant text that you must read for yourself.

  • Becky
    2019-02-23 05:33

    FINALLY finished! This book has been my 'errand book' book for ages now. I'd read a page or two while waiting in the car while running errands, or in line at the post office or the grocery store, etc, and... I'm not sure that is the best way to read this book. I can appreciate it for its role in literature and history, but reading this way made it feel like this slim little book would never end. It got rather tedious towards the end, I'll be honest. That being said, there is some really good stuff in here, and I do think that this book is one that should be read by everyone... just maybe in a more structured way. Maybe an essay per night before bed or something. Anyway, I don't know what I can say about this one that hasn't been said about a bazillion times before, so this is probably going to be one of my lamest reviews. *shrug* Sorry.

  • Clint Priest
    2019-02-01 01:33

    I really did not care for this book at all, one that is considered a major literary work. The book was to describe the black experience in America around the turn of the century but it comes off as nothing more than indulgent prose. It seems to strive for how eloquently it can complain and disagree with contemporaries like Booker T. Washington. I really hoped for better from this book and hoped to learn from a new perspective but all I learned is that W.E.B. DuBois is a professional bloviator.

  • Christina Marie
    2019-02-13 22:46

    Read this in college a while ago... Loved it. Changed the way I think. It was the first time I was introduced to the concepts of "the veil" and "double consciousness". My mind was blown.

  • Aubrey
    2019-02-16 03:33

    Much that the white boy imbibes from his earliest social atmosphere forms the puzzling problems of the black boy's mature years.On Feb 1st, 1903, a century ago and counting, W.E.B. Du Bois introduced this work with the statement that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." It is the Twenty-First century. I regularly teach students who have known no other century than this. All of them have aspirations to go to college. Very few of them are white, and as someone who's neither straight nor neurotypical, I'd imagine a fair amount of them are the same. There's no guarantee that pursuing higher education in California will protect them, or that limiting the search to "liberal" states will offer a buffer between them and those who follow in the footsteps of their forebears and enact their violence outside the realm of video games. All that these "liberal" states have are in preponderance are brown nosing equivocators who think social justice and property destruction are incompatible, as if the Boston Tea Party, the Bastille, Stonewall, the Berlin Wall, etc, etc, etc, meant nothing. The fact that I haven't seen a single black student or employee at my center makes sense in the state with what has been called "the biggest prison building project in the history of the world."On the one hand, everything has changed since Du Bois penned this peace. On the other, nothing has, as the politics that went into trying and failing to make the Reconstruction the best that it could be was same shit, different day. I've spent a good portion of my time on the Internet learning about the history of the South, capitalism, the sapping of the black creation by the white overlords, education, respectability politics, despair and self-annihilation brought on by racism, the global search for Black Lives Matter, and lynching that these pages cover, and the fact that I had to turn to unorthodox connection when education failed to deliver means the Internet can't solve what the Powers That Be choose to ignore. On a minor note is the prose, which is dense and distanced from modern conventions enough that I am extremely thankful that this work made its way into my headlights before Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 drew me into its long slog of a grasp. On a major note is how Du Bois completely sidelines women and the working class in the favor of guidance by a genteel philosopher kingdom (it's okay if they're white by the way. we can't blame them for all that racism has caused). Considering how often he and Wells-Barnett worked together, he has no excuse, although it does give a preamble to him shafting her when it came to giving credit for the foundation of the NAACP. As a result, guess who's autobiography I'm willing to spend time on.I guarantee you that there are people who are reading certain books on this website and in the US and crying because they know what the stakes are. I can also guarantee you that there are people who aren't reading certain books on this website and think that those crying people deserve to be culled so that they, the non-criers, can keep their precious cars and handbags and military industrial complex. I'd hope that I'd culled the last of those from my literary contact list, but they just keep on popping up every time they think they can use people as metaphors without normalizing said people's murders. If you don't think now is the time to start taking a serious look at yourself and your habits of conforming, have fun ranking your friends and family in terms of whom you'd give up first when the police came knocking and whom you'd give up last. Contrary to popular belief, survival of the fittest does not have a steep learning curve. You just lie low and hope that they kill enough people around you to get bored and move on.The silently growing assumption of this age is that the probation of races is past, and that the backward races of to-day are of proven inefficiency and not worth the saving. Such an assumption is the arrogance of peoples irreverent toward Time and ignorant of the deeds of men. A thousand years ago such an assumption, easily possible, would have made it difficult for the Teuton to prove his right to life. Two thousand years ago such dogmatism, readily welcome, would have scouted the idea of blond races ever leading civilization.

  • Paula
    2019-02-15 04:39

    I appreciate DuBois’s classic study of race as an historical document, and at times even as a piece of literature. I particularly value his depiction of the political, social and material conditions in the South immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. Nevertheless, I question some of his proposals and conclusions. Although his views may have been radical in 1903, many of them now sound paternalistic and outdated. Perhaps that, in and of itself, is a sign of progress. The Souls of Black Folk, of course, is didactic. It’s also a polemic, for DuBois’s stated aims are to both instruct and convince his audience. Many indications in his prose suggest that he conceived his audience to be “the best kind” of white people, and more Northern, I think, than Southern. I don’t think his arguments are directed toward “the best kind” of Negro. I use these terms because they are his, and because this sorting of people, both black and white, into categories of “best” and “worst,” is one of the things that most irritates me about DuBois’s thinking. He touts The Talented Tenth (although he may not have coined this phrase, it became intimately associated with his ideas) as worthy candidates for a classical liberal education and as the source of leadership for “their race.” He admits the need for a sort of benevolent guardianship (by the Talented Tenth and enlightened whites) over the masses of unschooled and largely impoverished black folks in the South. He says, “the paths of peace winding between honest toil and dignified manhood call for the guidance of skilled thinkers, the loving, reverent comradeship between the black lowly and the black men emancipated by training and culture.” Besides the Talented Tenth, two other concepts are integral to Du Bois’s thinking, that of The Veil, which is both a physical and social demarcation of difference, and double-consciousness, defined as “a peculiar sensation, . . . this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others . . . . one ever feels his two-ness,--an American, a Negro.” Although he argues against Booker T. Washington’s preaching of abandonment of political and social goals in order to focus solely on material gains for blacks, Du Bois himself proposes that blacks not fit to benefit from the education he proposes for The Talented Tenth should indeed settle for training in a trade and much more limited aspirations.(Apparently, Du Bois modified these views somewhat later in his life.) On the other hand, Du Bois is often forceful in his defense of equal rights for all blacks, for example, when he states, “Negroes must insist continually, in season and out of season, that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys.” Although many of the social conditions that Du Bois references have been ameliorated over time, some of his observations sound uncomfortably current today, such as the following: “the white folk say it [the county prison:] is ever full of black criminals,--the black folks say that only colored boys are ever sent to jail, and they not because they are guilty, but because the State needs criminals to eke out its income by their forced labor.”

  • Andrew
    2019-02-02 23:46

    So far, so good. This collection of short essays was written in 1903 and basically changed the way people thought and talked about race in America. DuBois broke down the notion of a scientific explanation for racism and racial bigotry. He essentially went to the University of Atlanta to do just the opposite, to accomplish by scientific means some understanding of race relations and what was called at the time "the Negro problem." After only a few years, he realized that you can't solve a social problem with hard science - it's like trying to write a poem with a Rubik's cube, or determine the square root of a prime number by reading the collected works of Marx. The answer will fail to satisfy the original question - may lead to interesting further inquiry, though. Anyway, though his prose can be a little list-heavy, he's got some incredibly strong blunt-edged phrases. "How does it feel to be a problem?" is essentially how he translates most questions about race by white people. Which is the truest version of the question of race as put to the person on whom racism is perpetrated. W.E.B. DuBois was a heavy thinker, and his reading of the dualism of racism - that is, being able to see oneself dually, as seen by oneself, like oneself, and as seen by the rest of society, as unlike the collective Self - is essentially what some of the more progressive thinkers (Edward Said comes to mind) of the twentieth century have come to. And DuBois was onto this in 1903. W.E.Burghardt DuBois will make you think, and he makes you work for it, but so far it's worth it.

  • david shin
    2019-02-08 03:29

    This is one of the books that every human being should read in their lifetime. No other book is more profound or searing as DuBois' evaluation of the problem between the color line. It is both challenging and heart-breaking. Though we have made progress since the dawn of the twentieth century, we still have a long way to go.I would recommend this book not only to those interested in issues of race, but also anyone interested in American culture and society as a whole. It is a telling book that shows where we have come from as a society, and where we should be heading.

  • Brittany
    2019-02-11 22:35

    This is my first time ever reading any of DuBois's literature and I am BLOWN away. I'm just going to list what I loved about the book, and try not to give too much. THIS BOOK WILL MAKE YOU DIG DEEPER. 1. Climate Change of his writing. DuBois starts the book off with very a fact driven, political, and sociological nature that leaves no doubt of the racial injustice and inequality of the 19th Century. For a reader who isn't quite history driven, the first few chapters may be hard to follow. (Maybe it was just me) Also DuBois uses intricate, "dual meaning" wordplay yet will recapture the reader with rhetoric. He asks many thought provoking questions. As you move towards the middle of the book, his writing becomes less sophisticated, yet still intelligible. He captures the reader through personal experience upon his travels to the South and time teaching. By the end of the book, Dubois will capture you with spirit, emotion, and poetic like prose. 2. Timeless. This book is the very meat and bone of the racial injustice of America today. The progression of our People will arguably cause some to say, "no. things have changed. Blacks have rights, power, and money." But do we ? "The Veil" of Black consciousness that DuBois writes of in several angles, will either be a completely new concept to you, or speak directly to you as a Black American. 3. DuBois's Diplomacy. I found it to be very interesting, that through Dubois's journey of self awareness and the discovery of his state of being -that he wasn't aware of before his migration to the South- he never seemed to exude hatred for Whites, yet he presumably despised their ways. This may be due to the fact that Dubois' was partially White himself and grew around Whites. But its amazing to see how he never played on a Good Whites vs Bad Whites dichotomy. Even in his essay about Booker. T, he classily spoke highly of him, his work, and integrity. This book has introduced me to Dubois as not just a Black historical figure, but an AMERICAN historical figure. Dubois clearly was far more intelligent, educated, culturally diverse, and brilliant than most if not every Black AND White literary, educator, sociologist, activist, etc, in America, during his time. This book is a classic. It is an American masterpiece.

  • janet
    2019-01-26 04:32

    Still figuring what it all means. I'll get back to you on that, but it's deep. He used three utterly complex phrases: "the color line", "double consciousness," and "the veil" and the discussion of race in America has never been the same since. The second term wasn't a new term but he used it in his own brilliant and particular ways-not just one. I don't know who coined the first term. For all I know, it was Du Bois, but I kind of doubt it. The third term is from the bible, but he takes control of it. Here is an example of his influence today. I read an article about the construction of race by Viet Thanh Nguyen and he started with a reference to Du Bois and "the color line'. I was reading an academic article in Spanish about Afro-Ecuadorian identity and the author cites Du Bois's positive concept of "double-consciousness" a number of times. While I have tried to read Souls in its historical context, I might just side with Jauss and interpret him based on his influence on post colonial studies and cultural studies today. If you weren't sure about reading it, now's the time.

  • Eric
    2019-02-09 03:40

    A very short book, but packed with different ways of looking at the aftermath of slavery in the United States.By turns, it's history, autobiography, sociology, economics, religious studies, eulogy, musicology... even fiction. There's an illustrative story near the end.And a great example of poetry-in-prose, when the subject is the emotions of those subject to The Veil (his word for the uncrossable color line). DuBois is a master of the English language, always using the right style to communicate the subject matter.

  • Janani
    2019-02-03 23:39

    My mind is absolutely blown.

  • Jan Priddy
    2019-02-02 00:31

    It is an important book and I am glad to have read it. Apparently I am the first reviewer to notice that Du Bois has done precisely what Sojourner Truth warned against. I had to hunt for it, but here it is: "...if colored men get their rights, and colored women not theirs, the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before."—Sojourner Truth, 1867There is discomforting harping on classes of black people, those who have pursued "advancement" and those who have failed, for which "two hundred and fifty years" of helpless servitude have led them to "ignorance, shiftlessness, poverty, and crime" and his appalling antisemitism. For the suffering of poor southern blacks, he blames "the sons of poor whites fired with a new thirst for wealth and power, thrifty and avaricious Yankees, shrewd and unscrupulous Jews" ("Of the Sons of Master and Man").Du Bois details the post-Civil War struggle to find a place for millions of freed people in American society, and the mistakes made. He counters Booker T. Washington's occupational training with a desire for education as a pathway to "manhood", and in other ways explains how it is that slavery still haunts our nation. Rather than inviting these people of color (a phrase he uses here) to their places at the table, Booker T. wanted them trained to serve, and, lost to Mammon, we all lost some of our humanity. This is compelling history, some charming prose if often purple—Du Bois liked to show off with the classics and prove his humanity with "elevated" diction. In some chapters the writing suggested an unfortunate cross between Louisa May Alcott and P.G. Wodehouse, though without humor. He reserves his concern for men with little mention of black women except as victims of rape and other abuse until a black woman shows up from Greek mythology, but no woman of color is cited by name until two thirds through the book. There is no suggestion that black women might want some respect as people. It is a history not of black folk, but only of black men, and only one northerner's view. He assumes that black southerners did not notice the bigotry with which they were treated in the Jim Crow South until they experienced the contrast with the North, which seems naive, if not offensive. This book might as easily have been written by a white man of two hundred years ago, and I am sorry for that. In choosing his chapter epigraphs, two come from "Mrs. Browning," but for all his education, he found no poetry from persons of color, though he was aware of Phillis Wheatley—the only black woman named in the text. It goes some way to explaining the first stanza of (his son-in-law) Countee Cullen's "Heritage" (1925)What is Africa to me:Copper sun or scarlet sea,Jungle star or jungle track,Strong bronzed men, or regal blackWomen from whose loins I sprangWhen the birds of Eden sang?One three centuries removedFrom the scenes his fathers loved,Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,What is Africa to me? There is some painful irony in his neglect of women that Du Bois was raised by a single mother, that he was awarded scholarships to college and was a man before he first encountered the Jim Crow South. Though he appeals repeatedly to the Christian conscience, he was not a Christian. He worked to the end of his life for racial justice and world peace. Finally, be warned. Du Bois has written in an "elevated" style that was customary among 19th century writers anxious to prove their humanity. The result is a book that is not as comfortable to read as it might be for modern readers had he written as I hope he spoke. He was an intelligent man, well educated, and wise. He knew his audience would require every bit of evidence he could muster that he was a human being and that led to an almost crippling use of purple prose. For a different use of formal literary register juxtaposed with the vernacular—and humor!—read Zora Neale Hurston's The Eyes Were Watching God from years later.

  • Linda
    2019-01-31 01:24

    The classics challenge offered the perfect opportunity for me to read Du Bois’ classic The Souls of Black Folks. It is an assortment of essay, some of which were published in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine, before being assembled and published as a book in 1903. Each chapter in The Souls of Black Folks begins with a poetic epigraph including a musical score. The poetry was not written by Du Bois. Some are traditional spirituals. Others are poems written by African-Americans as well as white American and European poets. All of the poems share similar themes of suffering and liberation. I thought that the epigraphs were effective in setting the stage for the reader to have a personal experience.Each essay deals with a different aspect of the issue of race in America. Some of the essays are very personal. Others are historical, while still others are political and philosophical. All are extremely thought provoking.Du Bois’s writing is special, but it requires concentration. His style is poetic and erudite. It would have been wonderful to read this in college, when I was in the midst of academia. I was prepared for most of his historical references, but I was behind the curve when he referenced Greek mythology. I was glad that I read this on my kindle. Every time DuBois referenced something that I wasn’t familiar with, I could tap the term and do a wiki search. I couldn’t read this straight through like a novel. I read one or no more than two essays at a time.Du Bois is, clearly, writing to a 1903 audience, but I was amazed at how many of the essays had contemporary application and meaning. This is an excellent book. I'm still thinking about several of the essays.I read The Souls of Black Folk for PrettyBooks’s Classics Challenge. The requirements are to read one classic a month, review the book and answer specific questions. My Challenge blog is: http://linda2015classicschallenge.blo...

  • Marta
    2019-02-07 23:52

    This seminal work of African-American scholarship was first published in 1903 and unfortunately is still relevant. Breathtaking in scope and written in eloquent, dignified and often poetic prose, Dubois examines the history and state of blacks in America from sociological, political, psychological and cultural point of view. He draws a picture of constant struggle, dispair, poverty, lack of education and motivation.This work is essential in understanding many of the issues facing African-Americans today. I had no idea, for example, that the criminal justice system's clear racial bias originated right after Emancipation - arresting black people for no or trivial reasons was a way of forced labor, a substitute for slavery.He discusses the "color veil" or "color line" that separates blacks and whites in every part of society and opportunity; and the duality of being black in America. "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 book is remarkable not just for its content but its writing and format as well. He mixes impassioned essays with scientific studies; autobiography, biography, anecdotal and fictional stories; prose with poetry, and even a chapter on the special American black music. All this in beautiful, classic-education inspired, exquisite language. It is a true work of art and must be read by all in America.

  • Lydia
    2019-02-12 02:38

    This is Du Bois state of the race book on the status of African-Americans at the turn of the 20th Century. He paints of bleak picture of a kidnapped, enslaved race that is suddenly set free with no education (against the law); no skills (for the majority of workers) and no family structure in the land of the free and home of the brave.Du Bois chronicles the hopes and dreams destroyed; the attempts at education undermined; the physical and psychological degradation at the hands of the Jim Crow system. He also views the rise of peonage and share cropper systems that purposely left many rural blacks enslaved and poor. Du Bois writing of black life in rural Daughtery County Georgia gives a view of the primitive and unhealthy environment of blacks at that time. For some reason, I suspect that there still communities in the South as well as the North that exist today.Du Bois also critiques the rise most powerful person in the black community, the clergyman. It is this person preaches Salvation to the black masses (his white counterpart preaches Redemption).The Negro Spiritual, many of which are mainly songs of sorrow, are analyzed. This is a book that resonates today as the urban poor are more alienated and their educational systems undermined. This probably speaks to those blacks that still call places such as the Mississippi Delta and Jenna, LA, home. It should be required reading for any African-American.

  • Alex
    2019-01-31 00:37

    Larsen describes him as "peppery," and I like that. He's civil, but he's quietly laying haymakers. It's an important book. To a depressing extent, when we talk about racial injustice these days, we're still repeating DuBois.It is nonfiction - essays on the challenges Blacks face in the wake of the Civil War - so be aware, it's not like it's going to have a plot. I'm reading it one chapter at a time between other things; going straight through was making me miss some stuff.The prologue, with the iconic question, "How does it feel to be a Problem?" and the confession that, looking at white folks, Du Bois sometimes wanted to just "beat their stringy heads," is worth the price of admission.

  • Lark Benobi
    2019-02-01 04:26

    This feels like an Ur-text, for sociology, for identity studies, for African American history. It's like what Euclid is to every Geometry book written since. It's clear-sighted, and it's also very sad, to realize how much momentum has been lost, and how little has changed since Du Bois wrote this book.

  • Chris brown
    2019-02-08 06:31

    an absolute must read.

  • Howard Franklin
    2019-01-31 04:44

    I am adding The Souls of Black Folk, by the great black intellectual and civil rights leader, W.E.B. DuBois. As the note introducing this masterful and eloquent volume states: “Part social documentary, part history, part autobiography, part anthropological field report, The Souls of Black Folk remains unparalleled in its scope.” And I would add, not only true at the time of its publication in 1903, but equally true today.When I began this work, I knew many things about W.E.B., facts like he was a great intellectual, of his differences with Booker T. Washington, on how best to uplift the black race after their emancipation, and that he was one of the prime founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And while I had read that he was a fine writer, I had never met him on the printed page in person, and was therefore unprepared for his masterful abilities with language.In his preface, W.E.B. introduces himself to his reader and instantly forms a personal relationship with him or her by humbly asking, “I pray you, then, receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me…seeking to find the grain of truth hidden there.” And when the reader accepts this kind and generous offer, he or she is very quickly rewarded with such an in-depth exploration of the struggles of the freed blacks to survive and slowly progress in the hostile world they faced after emancipation, a struggle so vividly portrayed by W.E.B., with a rare combination of pathos and dignity, that the reader will come as close to possible to stepping into the shoes of the oppressed people portrayed.In just 164 pages, W.E.B. takes the reader on a journey from the Reconstruction Era to 1900, educating him or her with first-hand accounts of what it was like for a black person seeking help from the Freedmen’s Bureau, then struggling to create a hardscrabble living from farming, and learning to read and write, all in the face of a hostile white society. Further along the path, when blacks began migrating north, W.E.B. then takes the reader further inside minds and hearts of those blacks seeking to find housing and acquire skills and having done so, being rewarded by facing virulent racial bias in the job market.Religion and music, and their important roles in the cultural lives of blacks, during slavery and onward along the slow and painful path that they traversed as freedmen is also treated by W.E.B. Once again, the first-hand accounts so vividly described in detail leap off the page to surround the reader to experience both the positive and negative effects of these great influences on a people seeking desperately to live.In the end, after years of effort that resulted in personal success, an exhausted W.E.B. formed the opinion that the white bias of inherent superiority was so deeply ingrained that blacks would never be treated as equal members of American society, and he emigrated to Ghana and lived out his life there. Today, despite the progress that has been made, despite the gains resulting from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and even despite the election of an African American President, race remains a major problem for America. In The Afterthought attached to his vitally important book, W.E.B. did offer what to me is a prayer for justice that is as fully applicable today as it was in 1903.“Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born unto the world-wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. (Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare.) Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and These crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed.”This book inspired me to try harder to do my share to make that prayer come true. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all who would seek a similar experience.

  • Ran
    2019-01-27 03:34

    "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line - the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea."Du Bois (Du Boyz - not Du Bwah, like my years of French demand) wrote so lyrically. This work centers on questions of race, racial domination, and racial exploitation through these essays and sketches. I've heard and read this aforementioned famous quote many a time before, but never got around to read the seminal work itself. Last year I read Coates's Between the World and Me and Michaeli's The Defender, in which Du Bois often figures if not heavily influences. His lyricism addresses the very same social issues that we are still navigating (not well) today, as a result of history, politics, and society. A black boy is shot for loud talking by a policeman. A black priest finds all doors shut in his face upon trying to find, teach, cultivate, and incorporate a black spiritual flock within a white-dominated sect. A black scholar, having studied in the North, finds no inclusive place for him in the entirety of the States. He decries a lack of education, access, and basic human kindness which begets an ignorant subclass that cannot better itself without aid. "[This] 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; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs." In a sense, this work isn't revelatory but just persistent in its simple truth: a rising tide lifts all boats. I find myself richer and humbler for the experience of having read it.

  • ❤Marie Gentilcore
    2019-02-08 04:51

    This was a beautifully written book containing a collection of essays on race and equality. The most powerful chapter for me was near the end and was called “Of the Coming of John.” It tells the tale of two Johns, one white and one black, and how they were friends as children but not as adults. They both took similar paths in life but had vastly different opportunities available to them. That essay spoke to me. I enjoyed most of the other essays but there were some that felt text book-like to me. Overall, I liked the book even thought it made me sad and at times a little angry at the injustices. This book was first published in 1903 and it is a shame that while some progress has been made, there are still things that have not changed. I don’t know what the answer is but I am glad to have read this book.

  • Daniel Wright
    2019-02-22 23:37

    A remarkable series of essays which is quite impossible to categorize simply. Du Bois gives nothing less than a complete cross-sectional view of the state of an entire ethnic group - African Americans - at its own historical moment. He does so with rhetorical flair, an eye for the catchy one-liner ('What is it like to be a problem?'), and a clear sight of the demands of justice.