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The Souls of Black Folk

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  40,112 ratings  ·  1,988 reviews
This landmark book is a founding work in the literature of black protest. W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) played a key role in developing the strategy and program that dominated early 20th-century black protest in America. In this collection of essays, first published together in 1903, he eloquently affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those righ ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 26th 1996 by Penguin Classics (first published April 18th 1903)
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Matthew Willey I also found it challenging at first. Take it slow and get into the flow of it. It also helped me using some audio whilst following along. Some of the…moreI also found it challenging at first. Take it slow and get into the flow of it. It also helped me using some audio whilst following along. Some of the language is beautiful and worth preserving with. (less)
[Name Redacted] He's intensely critical of what he terms "sensualism" and sees it as a key vice of all classes and all races. Other than that? *shrug*…moreHe's intensely critical of what he terms "sensualism" and sees it as a key vice of all classes and all races. Other than that? *shrug*(less)

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Bill Kerwin
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-studies

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 punctuat
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-theory, race
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 ...more
B. P. Rinehart
"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 KJV

Bright 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, --
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 e
Roy Lotz
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
Started a little slow but ended up being a fascinating look back in time. Du Bois was intelligent, extremely thoughtful, and a powerful writer. This details the lives of Blacks at the turn of the century. There are definitely echoes of this era in the present regarding cultural and societal process of thinking and behaving etc. Looking back well over 100 years ago, there are definitely some view points that gave me pause, but I'm in awe of the intellect and frankly the fine writing of this man b ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Twenty-odd years ago, I read a few of these essays in other collected works and I remembered them very fondly.

Reading them again now, in full, is something of a treat. I had not forgotten the quality of the writing. Indeed, the writing is gorgeous, erudite, and emotional.

The sequence on education, the narrative of self-exploration, even of self-transcendence is a thing to behold.

Of course, it is also heartbreaking. This was published in 1903, almost forty years after the Civil War, after the E
The Artisan Geek
Reading this book at this time feels so incredibly necessary.

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Feb 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
In reading The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, I learned more about the period termed the Reconstruction. The following quote is a good example.

"Had political exigencies been less pressing, the opposition to government guardianship of Negroes less bitter, and the attachment to the slave system less strong, the social seer can well imagine a far better policy—a permanent Freedmen’s Bureau, with a national system of Negro schools; a carefully supervised employment and labor office; a syste
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 to
Donna Ho Shing
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dr. DuBois is nothing short of genius. His in-depth analysis of the Black experience here in America is brilliant. The Souls of Black Folk is not one to be read and then shoved in a corner but should be reread time and again. I certainly will. Published in 1903 but is still just as relevant and important today.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps your education was different, but I don't think it's a coincidence that when I look back at which prominent African Americans were taught in my elementary school history classes, Booker T. Washington featured prominently while W.E.B. Du Bois was never mentioned at all. Reading The Souls of Black Folk, it's easier to see why.

Washington was the advocate of conciliation, arguing that African Americans suffering in the ashes of failed Reconstruction should set aside their desire for equalit
Apr 06, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2016
A landmark text charting the arc of Black life in America from the time of slavery to the early 20th century. Having been released over a century ago, the collection’s obviously dated, but it’s hard not to admire the way in which Du Bois swiftly cycles between social, cultural, political, and personal history, weaving together many threads into a compelling narrative.
"This book is dangerous for the Negro to read, for it will only incite discontent and fill his imagination with things that do not exist, or things that should not bear upon his mind." ~The Nashville Banner, 1903
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of those older foundational books that I'd felt a little embarrassed for not having read, and now I'm happy to have finally approached it. I enjoyed both for the luxurious prose style as well as seeing this collection of writing for the first time.

Though many of these pieces were published separately at first, there are some common themes. It is easy to explore Du Bois' idea of "double consciousness", that series of competing thoughts and perspectives, or specifically "unreconciled
Christina Marie
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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. ...more
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the compliments people often give to old books, to argue for their continued relevance, is to say that they could easily have been written in the present day. It's impossible to say that about this book however because I can scarcely conceive something so dignified, generous, unhurried and universalistic being published today. Dubois was one of those people whose exceptional talents and mastery of the tools of a conquering civilization could put to shame the conquerors. This book is a col ...more
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
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Dubois is probably one of the best writers/thinkers of his generation. This book is not only relevant today, but the prose is timeless. It's also a great historical artifact explaining reconstruction america. ...more
Francesca Calarco
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Influential, ground-breaking, and timeless—W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk is an amazing social analysis/piece of literature that took the world by storm. I knew Du Bois was a force of nature, but I had no idea of just how truly influential he was (and is) until I read this work.

A century before Ta-Nehisi Coates penned Between the World and Me as a letter to his son on racial injustice in America, W. E. B. Du Bois asked of his fellow man, ”Between me and the other world there is ever a
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-american
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
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: race-in-america
"To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word."

I read several of these essays, each one a rhetorical tour de force, in 2018 or ‘19 — objectively speaking, a mere few years ago; subjectively speaking, which is perhaps the true measure or anti-measure of time, ancient history. Wanting to read Du Bois' Black Reconstruction in America, the Completist Demon hunched on my shoulder filled me with chagrin for not having read every one of these essays back then. So, as a
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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-America
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
Lark Benobi
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. ...more
Jan Priddy
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, 1867

There is discomforting harping on classes of black people, those who have pursued "advancement" and those who h
Paula Koneazny
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
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 someo
Jul 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
david shin
Mar 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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In 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced 'doo-boyz') 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) mad ...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.” 197 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 strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” 94 likes
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