The Souls of Black Folk: On the Meaning of Being Black in America

January 29, 2009

At the dawn of the 20th century WEB DuBois set forth to explain to the world the meaning and significance of being black in a white world.  DuBois accomplished this in his masterpiece, “Souls of Black Folk.”  DuBois was clear on the focus and purpose of his masterpiece writing: “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.”  Souls is Du Bois’s biting dissent from racist and white nationalist ideologies, animating the public culture of post-Reconstruction America. Announcing that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of color-line”, DuBois explored the “strange meaning of being black” in a racially hierarchical where “white skin” was a top of the hierarchy and black the bottom and where because of this racially driven society blacks were routinely treated with indifference and contempt.  Souls details a sweeping narrative of African American social and political life, highlighting the economic legacy of slavery, the fight for political and civil rights, and the contributions of African Americans to the spiritual and material formation of America as nation. The publishing of Souls was an incisive event- a philosophical and daring initiative that affirms the humanity of black. As a classic, Souls of Black Folk has played a decisive role in the formation of African American literature. While Souls is historically rooted in the segregationist era of Jim Crow, it still has relevance and its compelling ideas and memorable themes continue to shape valuable discussion of black literature and racial politics in America today. Reference: WEB DuBois,  Soul of Black Folk.

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