The Souls of Black Folk
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The Souls of Black Folk

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  13,527 ratings  ·  444 reviews

In this founding work in the literature of black protest, Du Bois eloquently affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those rights that belong inherently to all mankind. He also charges that the strategy of accommodation to white supremacy would only serve to perpetuate black oppression.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 19th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1903)
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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 fam...more
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 stu...more
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 th...more
I appreciate DuBois’s classic study of race as an historical document, and at times even as a piece of literature.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...more
Amanda Nelson
Am just dumbstruck that I was never required to read this in college, ESPECIALLY as a history major from Richmond, Virginia. Anyway, an eye-opening and revelatory read for anyone interested in race relations in this country and/or Reconstruction from the POV of someone who isn't white. Amazing how many passages I underlined as being completely relevant to modern race relations, still, shockingly.

(Side note: I listened to the last half of the book on audio from Librivox, which is free and where e...more
Aug 05, 2007 Andrew rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in blackness in America
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...more
Clint Priest
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.
david shin
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 s...more
Speaks The Truth To Power

In 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 Neg...more
Dubois is one of the preeminent African-American intellectuals of the 20th century--read the first few chapters to discover his creative concept of "double consciousness" for African Americans and the root of his quarrel with the assimilationism of good ol' Booker T.
Janelle Heirendt
Aug 07, 2009 Janelle Heirendt rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in social history and present issues
Recommended to Janelle by: Norton
I read an excerpt from my Norton Anthology. (III. Of Mr. Booker T Washington and Others).

One of his central criticisms of Booker T. is his over-emphasis of the individual responsibility of the "Negroes" to lift themselves out of "degradation" at the expense of ignoring the necessity of societal and systemic change. DuBois takes a more integrated view of responsibility--both individual exertion to raise themselves from poverty and ignorance, and working toward change in general public opinion (t

This is a reread for me. One of the deepest and most important books I have ever read.
awed and stricken by this book.
There's lots of good (great? amazing?) here in different forms, the book a mix of sociology, argument, and beautifully crafted lyrical prose.
Writing-wise, for their lyrical strength and, indeed, beauty, as well as for the power they add to the information and arguments presented throughout, I felt the strongest chapters/essays were "Of the Passing of the First-Born" (painful in its mourning and in its joy, and yet achingly beautiful), "Of Alexander Crummell" (a man...more
This book shows Dubois as a smart man. Although this book is informative to what life was like for Black people post-Emancipation, his writing style is really disjointed. He swings from describing the black soul in metaphors to a more textbook sociological way of writing. It makes sense that the book is actually more of independent essays rather than one coherent work of nonfiction.

Having said that, I do enjoy his metaphor of the veil that separates Black men from society and the constant striv...more
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 sy...more
John Otto
Another unexplainable gap in my education was never having read anything actually by Du Bois, although I had read plenty about him. Finally, I got around to reading this book and I was blown away. Although written more than 100 years ago, Du Bois's analysis of the race problem is spot on. Here are the opening sentences:

"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: masked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of framing it. All, nevertheless,...more
This was a good book to read along with Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery. I think both authors and their books are important to understanding the struggle of the black people after the Civil War. I have a new appreciation for Washington's life and more importantly his attitude after reading Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk.

Du Bois was an eloquent writer able to paint a clear picture of the times for the readers, yet I found in his writing an underlying tone of anger, resentment, and turmoil...more
What to say about a book that tries to describe the way a black person thinks, acts, and is? While the book was written with a lot of energetic meanderings, the tone of the essays left me feeling bereft of feelings. There was so much rhetoric that at times I thought I was reading a dissertation on the problems the slaves faced after the Civil War. The matter of fact style bothered me. I felt that Du Bois was not writing for the masses, but rattling on about how awful things were and providing an...more
Kevin Kennedy-Spaien
An amazing read. A view of how the rapture of freedom went sour in a mere thirty-odd years, written by a man who was there to see it.

A challenging read if you aren't taking a course on African-American history. I say challenging because a hundred years later, we can't easily see the subtext that a contemporary reader would have had. It can certainly be jarring to a 21st century progressive to read the passages which strike an understanding and forbearant stance toward the oppressors in the anteb...more
Not only do I find Du Bois a good commentator on society, but his writing alone reduces me to a pile of mush. And it's frankly creepy how much his depictions of America after the civil war struck a chord with me--a lot of what he observes still applies to American society today.
The following is a passage that turned into a paper for one of my classes: "I held him in my arms, after we had sped far away from our Southern home,--held him, and glanced at the hot red soil of Georgia and the breathle...more
For the past three years I've taken classes with Dr. Emilie Townes and in each of the classes she mentions concepts introduced by W.E.B. DuBois in this classic book. Since I've been learning and studying his work for for the past three years I finally had a chance to read the original work and it did not disappoint. DuBpis' understanding and insight of the racial issues of his time were insightful, and the development of "the veil" and "double consciousness" are still very much a part of African...more
A necessary American classic. Du Bois addresses issues of race at the turn of the 20th century with the principles (I think) should be hallmarks of any social justice movement. He is analytical, pragmatic, uncompromising and deeply egalitarian. With much of Dr. King's legacy watered down (unfairly!) into a kind of peaceful, color-blinded Dream--too afraid to rock the boat--it might not be a bad idea to revive Du Bois.

If the convictions weren't reason enough to read this, there's also the peerles...more
An interesting time capsule that requires patience for the language and the turn-of-the-century social assumptions. DuBose is famous for opposing Booker T. Washington's insistence that black people prove themselves worthy of equality with the notion that their civil rights are inalienable as citizens of the republic. I'd be interested to know if similar ideological debates have taken place so openly within human rights movements, since they certainly survive covertly into the present day.
Jun 16, 2007 Mattgro rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in cultures.
From the very first essay, DuBois will astound the reader with a palpable passion for his people. With a probing technique that seeks Messianic responses to difficult questions, DuBois concurrently shows the baseness and the pinnacle of the human condition. The in-between transformative stage becomes his focus, as he seeks to explain how freed slaves became a people struggling to survive in a world that wanted no part of their heritage, intellect, or identity.
If you are not an African American, you need to read this book. If you are an African American, this book is so inspiring. It strikes me that if Du Bois were alive today, he would not think we had come very far in race relations. That is, until just yesterday, when the African American president is now riding higher in popularity than he has ever been since 2009. To me, this rise is a tempering of prejudicial feelings.
Shannon Wyss
A beautifully written work, "The Souls of Black Folk" is a pleasure to read. While Du Bois's writing style is dense and i occasionally wanted to say, "Dude, get to the point already," it is not matched by much non-fiction writing today.

My biggest take-away from his book is how dire the situation of former slaves was in the decades immediately after the Civil War. I knew a little of the history of Reconstruction and the Freedmen's Bureau and the like. But the details offered in Du Bois's book are...more
Reading this book has peeled back the veil of knowledge I have had over the impact of slavery and the failure of our nation to fully pursue finishing the work of justly and generously providing freedom to a people who had been devastated by captivity for generations. The effects still linger 110 years after this book was written and 150 years after emancipation.

I was constantly amazed at the breadth of learning and brilliance as a story teller that DuBois. This is a brilliant man. His constant u...more
Classic collection of essays published by DuBois in 1903 using a variety of voices -- lyrical autobiography, strident social commentary, and almost transcendent myth ("Of the Coming of John"). Interesting to read about the failure of reconstruction in the South and the reasons DuBois gives for this, also to read his critique of Booker T. Washington and DuBois's insistence that full and complete education, along with black suffrage, was the way for his race to rise. DuBois was certainly not out t...more
I wish I’d had a class in high school focusing on slavery/Civil War/reconstruction/Jim Crow etc. Not just the standard day or two of glossing that I got…if that. I honestly can’t remember what we actually covered. Maybe I would have found it all maddeningly boring…maybe it’s only the maturity that age (usually) brings that tempers my interests here.

Chapter 4 got me on the bus one morning. Hooks that is. So did most of the others as well, but for some reason that one stands out. The limits of pot...more
Is the veil still there? If not, will the youth living on South Side agree to that?
Double consciousness with respect to other races...more contemporary ideas and crises of identity of second-generation immigrants.
Can this double consciousness be empowering?
Does education actually lead to more homogenous social classes, or does it just somehow feed into the already skewed system (corollary, what have we been doing wrong that there are still youth in the South Side who don't even drea...more
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Burke 3: HW Post #1: Favorite SoBF Quote 69 68 Dec 12, 2013 09:44AM  
  • The Mis-Education of the Negro
  • Up from Slavery
  • Black Skin, White Masks
  • How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: Problems in Race, Political Economy, and Society (Updated Edition)
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919
  • Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Race Matters
  • The Fire Next Time
  • My Bondage and My Freedom
  • The Possessive Investment In Whiteness
  • Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment
  • The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class
  • Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America
  • From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans
  • Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, And The Black Working Class
  • Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements
  • Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition
In 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois (né William Edward Burghardt Du Bois) was born in Massachusetts. He attended Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his BA in 1890 and his MS in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) made hi...more
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“Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor, — all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked, — who is good? not that men are ignorant, — what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.” 56 likes
“One ever feels his twoness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strenth alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” 28 likes
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