Souls of Black Folks

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Our first free download is Souls of Black Folks, by W.E.B. Du Bois. Publish in 1903, Du Bois published many books, lectured, taught, and was one of the founders of the NAACP. Souls of Blacks Folks calls for the empowerment of the black people and the black community.


Excerpts from a review by the New York Times in 1903:

The Negro Question: by The New York Times

I t is generally conceded that Booker T. Washington represents the best hope of the negro in America, and it is certain that of all the leaders of his people he has done the most for his fellows with the least friction with the whites who are most nearly concerned, those of the South. Here is another negro “educator,” to use a current term, not brought up like Washington among the negroes of the South and to the manner of the Southern negro born, but one educated in New England- one who never saw a negro camp-meeting till he was grown to manhood and went among the people of his color as a teacher. Naturally he does not see everything as Booker Washington does; probably he does not understand his own people in their natural state as does the other; certainly he cannot understand the Southern white’s point of view as the principal of Tuskegee does. Yet it is equally certain that “The Souls of Black Folk” throws much light upon the complexities of the negro problem, for it shows that the key note of at least some negro aspiration is still the abolition of the social color-line. For it is the Jim Crow car, and the fact that he may not smoke a cigar and drink a cup of tea with the white man in the South, that most galls William E. Burghardt Du Bois of the Atlanta College for Negroes. That this social color line must in time vanish like the mists of the morning is the firm belief of the writer, as the opposite is the equally firm belief of the Southern white man; but in the meantime he admits the “hard fact” that the color line is, and for a long time must be.

These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Washington’s teachings, but his propaganda has, without a shadow of a doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment.

In this matter the writer, speaking, as he says, for many educated negroes, makes two chief objections- first, that Washington is the leader of his race not by the suffrage of that race, but rather by virtue of the support of the whites, and, second, that by yielding to the modern commercial spirit and confining the effort for uplifting the individual to practical education and the acquisition of property and decent ways, he is after all cutting off the negro from those higher aspirations which only, Du Bois says, make a people great. For instance, it is said that Booker Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things: first, political power; second, insistence on civil rights; third, higher education for negro youth, and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm branch what has been the return? In these years there have occurred: 1. The disenfranchisement of the negro. 2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the negro. 3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the negro.

The writer admits to the great value of Booker Washington’s work. However, he does not believe so much in the gospel of the lamb, and does think that a bolder attitude, one of standing firmly upon rights guaranteed by the war amendments, and alluded to in complementary fashion in the Declaration of Independence, is both more becoming to a race such as he conceives the negro race to be, and more likely to advance that race. “We feel in conscience bound,” he says, “to ask three things: 1, The right to vote; 2, Civic equality; 3, The education of youth according to ability” and he is especially insistent on the higher education of the negro- going into some statistics to show what the negro can do in that way. The value of these arguments and the force of the statistics can best be judged after the book is read.

Many passages of the book will be very interesting to the student of the negro character who regards the race ethnologically and not politically, not as a dark cloud threatening the future of the United States, but as a peculiar people, and one, after all, but little understood by the best of its friends or the worst of its enemies outside of what the author of “The Souls of Black Folk” is fond of calling the “Awful Veil.” Throughout it should be recalled that it is the thought of a negro of Northern education who has lived long among his brethren of the South yet who cannot fully feel the meaning of some things which these brethren know by instinct- and which the Southern-bred knows by a similar instinct; certain things which are- by both accepted as facts- not theories- fundamental attitudes of race to race which are the product of conditions extending over centuries, as are the somewhat parallel attitudes of the gentry to the peasantry in other countries.











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