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Souls of Black Folk, The


SOULS OF BLACK FOLK, THE. Published originally in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk is W. E. B. Du Bois's classic collection of thirteen essays and one short story. Assembled from pieces the young Du Bois wrote between 1897 and 1903 (age twenty-nine to thirty-five), the book as a whole is rich and multifaceted. It is a moving evocation of black American folk culture, a poetic rendering of African American history since emancipation, a critical response to the racism and economic subjugation afflicting black Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, and an analysis of political leadership (it contains Du Bois's famous critique of Booker T. Washington's doctrine of accommodation).

Souls can be conveniently divided into three parts: chapters 13 have a distinctively historical character; chapters 49 display a sociological perspective; and chapters 1014 demonstrate Du Bois's attempt to capture the spiritual meanings of African American culture. Insisting that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line," Du Bois wrote Souls to explore the "strange meaning of being black" in a society that viewed blacks with contempt. To that end, he detailed a sweeping tableau of African American life, emphasizing the struggle for civil rights, the economic and social legacies of slavery, and the contributions of blacks to America's identity as a nation. By expounding on key concepts, such as the notion of "double consciousness" (being black and American), Du Bois described African American efforts to cope with forms of neo-slavery. Most significantly, Souls is an original and tragic vision of American history, a gripping revelation of the triumphs, betrayals, and legacies that, in the wake of emancipation, shaped the "souls of black folk" two generations after freedom. The book remains in print in many editions and is widely taught in American colleges.


Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Reprint, edited by David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams. Boston: Bedford and St. Martin's Press, 1997.

David W. Blight

See also Literature: African American Literature .

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