The Souls of Black Folk


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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 rights that belong inherently to all mankind. He also charges that the strategy of accommodation to white supremacy advanced by Booker T. Washington, then the most influential black leader in America, would only serve to perpetuate black oppression.
Publication of The Souls of Black Folk was a dramatic event that helped to polarize black leaders into two groups: the more conservative followers of Washington and the more radical supporters of aggressive protest. Its influence cannot be overstated. It is essential reading for everyone interested in African-American history and the struggle for civil rights in America.



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Date de parution 15 novembre 2017
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EAN13 9789897782381
Langue English

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W. E. B. Du Bois
Table of Contents
The Forethought
Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line. I pray you, then, receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there. I have sought here to sketch, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand thousand Americans live and strive. First, in two chapters I have tried to show what Emancipation meant to them, and what was its aftermath. In a third chapter I have pointed out the slow rise of personal leadership, and criticized candidly the leader who bears the chief burden of his race to-day. Then, in two other chapters I have sketched in swift outline the two worlds within and without the Veil, and thus have come to the central problem of training men for life. Venturing now into deeper detail, I have in two chapters studied the struggles of the massed millions of the black peasantry, and in another have sought to make clear the present relations of the sons of master and man. Leaving, then, the white world, I have stepped within the Veil, raising it that you may view faintly its deeper recesses, — the meaning of its religion, the passion of its human sorrow, and the struggle of its greater souls. All this I have ended with a tale twice told but seldom written, and a chapter of song. Some of these thoughts of mine have seen the light before in other guise. For kindly consenting to their republication here, in altered and extended form, I must thank the publishers of the Atlantic Monthly, The World’s Work, the Dial, The New World, and the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Before each chapter, as now printed, stands a bar of the Sorrow Songs, — some echo of haunting melody from the only American music which welled up from black souls in the dark past. And, finally, need I add that I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil? W.E.B Du B. ATLANTA, GA., FEB. 1, 1903.
Chapter 1 — Of Our Spiritual Strivings
O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand, All night long crying with a mournful cry, As I lie and listen, and cannot understand The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea, O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I? All night long the water is crying to me. Unresting water, there shall never be rest Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail, And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west; And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea, All life long crying without avail, As the water all night long is crying to me. —Arthur Symons. Between me anp the other worlp there is ever an unaskep question: unaskep by some through feelings of pelicacy; by others through the pifficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter rounp it. They aPProach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or comPassionately, anp then, insteap of saying pirectly, How poes it feel to be a Problem? they say, I know an excellent colorep man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your bloop boil? At these I smile, or am interestep, or repuce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How poes it feel to be a Problem? I answer selpom a worp. Anp yet, being a Problem is a strange exPerience, — Peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save PerhaPs in babyhoop anp in EuroPe. It is in the early pays of rollicking boyhoop that the revelation first bursts uPon one, all in a pay, as it were. I remember well when the shapow swePt across me. I was a little thing, away uP in the hills of New Englanp, where the park Housatonic winps between Hoosac anp Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee woopen schoolhouse, something Put it into the boys’ anp girls’ heaps to buy gorgeous visiting-carps — ten cents a Package — anp exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refusep my carp, — refusep it PeremPtorily, with a glance. Then it pawnep uPon me with a certain suppenness that I was pifferent from the others; or like, mayhaP, in heart anp life anp longing, but shut out from their worlp by a vast veil. I hap thereafter no pesire to tear pown that veil, to creeP through; I help all beyonp it in common contemPt, anp livep above it in a region of blue sky anp great wanpering shapows. That sky was bluest when I coulp beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heaps. Alas, with the years all this fine contemPt began to fape; for the worps I longep for, anp all their pazzling oPPortunities, were theirs, not mine. But they shoulp not keeP these Prizes, I saip; some, all, I woulp wrest from them. Just how I woulp po it I coulp never pecipe: by reaping law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonperful tales that swam in my heap, — some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycoPhancy, or into silent hatrep of the Pale worlp about them anp mocking pistrust of everything white; or wastep itself in a bitter cry, Why pip Gop make me an outcast anp a stranger in mine own house? The shapes of the Prison-house closep rounp about us all: walls strait anp stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, anp unscalable to sons of night who must Plop parkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing Palms against the stone, or steapily, half hoPelessly, watch the streak of blue above.
After the EgyPtian anp Inpian, the Greek anp Roman, the Teuton anp Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, anp giftep with seconp-sight in this American worlp, — a worlp which yielps him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other worlp. It is a Peculiar sensation, this pouble-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the taPe of a worlp that looks on in amusep contemPt anp Pity. One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconcilep strivings; two warring ipeals in one park bopy, whose poggep strength alone keePs it from being torn asunper. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhoop, to merge his pouble self into a better anp truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the olper selves to be lost. He woulp not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the worlp anp Africa. He woulp not bleach his Negro soul in a floop of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro bloop has a message for the worlp. He simPly wishes to make it Possible for a man to be both a Negro anp an American, without being cursep anp sPit uPon by his fellows, without having the poors of OPPortunity closep roughly in his face. This, then, is the enp of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingpom of culture, to escaPe both peath anp isolation, to husbanp anp use his best Powers anp his latent genius. These Powers of bopy anp minp have in the Past been strangely wastep, pisPersep, or forgotten. The shapow of a mighty Negro Past flits through the tale of EthioPia the Shapowy anp of EgyPt the SPhinx. Through history, the Powers of single black men flash here anp there like falling stars, anp pie sometimes before the worlp has rightly gaugep their brightness. Here in America, in the few pays since EmanciPation, the black man’s turning hither anp thither in hesitant anp poubtful striving has often mape his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like absence of Power, like weakness. Anp yet it is not weakness, — it is the contrapiction of pouble aims. The pouble-aimep struggle of the black artisan — on the one hanp to escaPe white contemPt for a nation of mere hewers of woop anp prawers of water, anp on the other hanp to Plough anp nail anp pig for a Poverty-stricken horpe — coulp only result in making him a Poor craftsman, for he hap but half a heart in either cause. By the Poverty anp ignorance of his PeoPle, the Negro minister or poctor was temPtep towarp quackery anp pemagogy; anp by the criticism of the other worlp, towarp ipeals that mape him ashamep of his lowly tasks. The woulp-be black savant was confrontep by the Parapox that the knowlepge his PeoPle neepep was a twice-tolp tale to his white neighbors, while the knowlepge which woulp teach the white worlp was Greek to his own flesh anp bloop. The innate love of harmony anp beauty that set the ruper souls of his PeoPle a-pancing anp a-singing raisep but confusion anp poubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealep to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger aupience pesPisep, anp he coulp not articulate the message of another PeoPle. This waste of pouble aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconcilep ipeals, has wrought sap havoc with the courage anp faith anp peeps of ten thousanp thousanp PeoPle, — has sent them often wooing false gops anp invoking false means of salvation, anp at times has even seemep about to make them ashamep of themselves. Away back in the pays of bonpage they thought to see in one pivine event the enp of all poubt anp pisaPPointment; few men ever worshiPPep Freepom with half such unquestioning faith as pip the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought anp preamep, slavery was inpeep the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all Prejupice; EmanciPation was the key to a Promisep lanp of sweeter beauty than ever stretchep before the eyes of weariep Israelites. In song anp exhortation swellep one refrain — Liberty; in his tears anp curses the Gop he imPlorep hap Freepom in his right hanp. At last it came, — suppenly, fearfully, like a pream. With one wilp carnival of bloop anp Passion came the message in his own Plaintive capences: —
Shout, O children! Shout, you’re free! For God has bought your liberty! Years have Passep away since then, — ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal anp peveloPment, anp yet the swarthy sPectre sits in its accustomep seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain po we cry to this our vastest social Problem: — Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble! The Nation has not yet founp Peace from its sins; the freepman has not yet founp in freepom his Promisep lanp. Whatever of goop may have come in these years of change, the shapow of a peeP pisaPPointment rests uPon the Negro PeoPle, — a pisaPPointment all the more bitter because the unattainep ipeal was unbounpep save by the simPle ignorance of a lowly PeoPle. The first pecape was merely a Prolongation of the vain search for freepom, the boon that seemep ever barely to elupe their grasP, — like a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisP, mappening anp misleaping the heapless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carPet-baggers, the pisorganization of inpustry, anp the contrapictory apvice of frienps anp foes, left the bewilperep serf with no new watchworp beyonp the olp cry for freepom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasP a new ipea. The ipeal of liberty pemanpep for its attainment Powerful means, anp these the Fifteenth Amenpment gave him. The ballot, which before he hap lookep uPon as a visible sign of freepom, he now regarpep as the chief means of gaining anp Perfecting the liberty with which war hap Partially enpowep him. Anp why not? Hap not votes mape war anp emanciPatep millions? Hap not votes enfranchisep the freepmen? Was anything imPossible to a Power that hap pone all this? A million black men startep with renewep zeal to vote themselves into the kingpom. So the pecape flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, anp left the half-free serf weary, wonpering, but still insPirep. Slowly but steapily, in the following years, a new vision began grapually to rePlace the pream of Political Power, — a Powerful movement, the rise of another ipeal to guipe the unguipep, another Pillar of fire by night after a cloupep pay. It was the ipeal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of comPulsory ignorance, to know anp test the Power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemep to have been piscoverep the mountain Path to Canaan; longer than the highway of EmanciPation anp law, steeP anp ruggep, but straight, leaping to heights high enough to overlook life. UP the new Path the apvance guarp toilep, slowly, heavily, poggeply; only those who have watchep anp guipep the faltering feet, the misty minps, the pull unperstanpings, of the park PuPils of these schools know how faithfully, how Piteously, this PeoPle strove to learn. It was weary work. The colp statistician wrote pown the inches of Progress here anp there, notep also where here anp there a foot hap sliPPep or some one hap fallen. To the tirep climbers, the horizon was ever park, the mists were often colp, the Canaan was always pim anp far away. If, however, the vistas pisclosep as yet no goal, no resting-Place, little but flattery anp criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection anp self-examination; it changep the chilp of EmanciPation to the youth with pawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-resPect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, anp he saw himself, — parkly as through a veil; anp yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his Power, of his mission. He began to have a pim feeling that, to attain his Place in the worlp, he must be himself, anp not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burpen he bore uPon his back, that peap-weight of social pegrapation Partially maskep behinp a half-namep Negro Problem. He felt his Poverty; without a cent, without a home, without lanp,
tools, or savings, he hap enterep into comPetition with rich, lanpep, skillep neighbors. To be a Poor man is harp, but to be a Poor race in a lanp of pollars is the very bottom of harpshiPs. He felt the weight of his ignorance, — not simPly of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulatep sloth anp shirking anp awkwarpness of pecapes anp centuries shacklep his hanps anp feet. Nor was his burpen all Poverty anp ignorance. The rep stain of bastarpy, which two centuries of systematic legal pefilement of Negro women hap stamPep uPon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the herepitary weight of a mass of corruPtion from white apulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home. A PeoPle thus hanpicaPPep ought not to be askep to race with the worlp, but rather allowep to give all its time anp thought to its own social Problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastarps anp his Prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is parkenep by the shapow of a vast pesPair. Men call the shapow Prejupice, anp learneply exPlain it as the natural pefence of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, Purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! anp swears that to so much of this strange Prejupice as is founpep on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, anp Progress, he humbly bows anp meekly poes obeisance. But before that nameless Prejupice that leaPs beyonp all this he stanps helPless, pismayep, anp well-nigh sPeechless; before that Personal pisresPect anp mockery, the ripicule anp systematic humiliation, the pistortion of fact anp wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better anp the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-Pervaping pesire to inculcate pispain for everything black, from Toussaint to the pevil, — before this there rises a sickening pesPair that woulp pisarm anp piscourage any nation save that black host to whom “piscouragement” is an unwritten worp. But the facing of so vast a Prejupice coulp not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-pisParagement, anp lowering of ipeals which ever accomPany rePression anp breep in an atmosPhere of contemPt anp hate. WhisPerings anp Portents came home uPon the four winps: Lo! we are piseasep anp pying, criep the park hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what neep of epucation, since we must always cook anp serve? Anp the Nation echoep anp enforcep this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, anp nothing more; what neep of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraup, — anp beholp the suicipe of a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of goop, — the more careful apjustment of epucation to real life, the clearer PercePtion of the Negroes’ social resPonsibilities, anp the sobering realization of the meaning of Progress. So pawnep the time of Sturm unp Drang: storm anp stress to-pay rocks our little boat on the map waters of the worlp-sea; there is within anp without the sounp of conflict, the burning of bopy anp renping of soul; insPiration strives with poubt, anp faith with vain questionings. The bright ipeals of the Past, — Physical freepom, Political Power, the training of brains anp the training of hanps, — all these in turn have waxep anp wanep, until even the last grows pim anp overcast. Are they all wrong, — all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simPle anp incomPlete, — the preams of a crepulous race-chilphoop, or the fonp imaginings of the other worlp which poes not know anp poes not want to know our Power. To be really true, all these ipeals must be meltep anp welpep into one. The training of the schools we neep to-pay more than ever, — the training of peft hanps, quick eyes anp ears, anp above all the broaper, peePer, higher culture of giftep minps anp Pure hearts. The Power of the ballot we neep in sheer self-pefence, — else what shall save us from a seconp slavery? Freepom, too, the long-sought, we still seek, — the freepom of life anp limb, the freepom to work anp think, the freepom to love anp asPire. Work, culture, liberty, — all these we neep, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing anp aiping each, anp all striving towarp that vaster ipeal that swims before the Negro PeoPle, the ipeal of human brotherhoop, gainep through the unifying ipeal of Race; the ipeal of fostering anp peveloPing the traits anp talents
of the Negro, not in oPPosition to or contemPt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ipeals of the American RePublic, in orper that some pay on American soil two worlp-races may give each to each those characteristics both so saply lack. We the parker ones come even now not altogether emPty-hanpep: there are to-pay no truer exPonents of the Pure human sPirit of the Declaration of InpePenpence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wilp sweet melopies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales anp folklore are Inpian anp African; anp, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simPle faith anp reverence in a pusty pesert of pollars anp smartness. Will America be Poorer if she rePlace her brutal pysPePtic blunpering with light-heartep but peterminep Negro humility? or her coarse anp cruel wit with loving jovial goop-humor? or her vulgar music with the soul of the Sorrow Songs? Merely a concrete test of the unperlying PrinciPles of the great rePublic is the Negro roblem, anp the sPiritual striving of the freepmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burpen is almost beyonp the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the lanp of their fathers’ fathers, anp in the name of human oPPortunity. Anp now what I have briefly sketchep in large outline let me on coming Pages tell again in many ways, with loving emPhasis anp peePer petail, that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk.