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The Souls of Black Folk
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150 of 156 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2000
The Souls of Black Folks, as other reviewers have pointed out, is a masterpiece of African-American thought. But it is even more than that when we consider the context and time in which the book was written. Most of what DuBois discusses is still relevant today, and this is a tribute to the man, not only as a scholar, but as someone who was continually adapting his views in the best image and interests of black people.
Some reviewers refer to DuBois as "the Black Emerson" and, as a university instructor, I heard similar references made: 'the Black Dewey" or "the Black Park," referring to the Chicago School scholars. Du Bois was brilliant; indeed, these white men should be being called "the white Du Bois"! Du Bois literally created the scientific method of observation and qualitative research. With the junk being put out today in the name of "dissertations," simply re-read Du Bois' work on the Suppression of the African Slave Trade and his work on the Philadelphia Negro and it is clear that he needs not be compared to any white man of his time or any other: he was a renaissance man who cared about his people and, unlike too many of the scholars of day, he didn't just talk the talk or write the trite; he walked the walk and organized the unorganizable.
White racism suffered because Du Bois raised the consciousness of the black masses. But he did more than that; by renouncing his American citizenship and moving to Ghana, he proved that Pan Africanism is not just something to preach or write about (ala Molefi Asante, Tony Martin, Jeffries and other Africanists); it is a way of life, both a means and an end. Du Bois organized the first ever Pan African Congress and, in doing so, set the stage for Afrocentricity, Black Studies and the Bandung Conference which would be held in 1954 in Bandung, Indonesia. Du Bois not only affected people in this country, he was a true internationalist.
Souls of Black Folk is an important narrative that predates critical race theory. It is an important reading, which predates formal Black Studies. The book calls for elevation of black people by empowering black communities -- today's leadership is so starved for acceptance that I believe that Karenga was correct when he says that these kind of people "often doubt their own humanity."
The book should be read by all.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2000
"Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of beling black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century." -W.E.B. DuBois, in the Forethought
This book contains essays written by W.E.B. DuBois. Some of them are very historical and recount the African American events and progess, and some of them are very personal, in which DuBois tells about his own life. I learned a lot from reading this book. For instance, I had always thought of what an awful thing slavery was- a horrible part of America's history- and that is was such a good thing that it was finally stopped. However, I never thought about the implications of life for the ex-slave after it was ended. Here were many African Americans, free, yes, but with what? Nothing. How would they get anywhere without money, education, jobs, etc.? And after freeing them leaders imposed unfair segragation and Jim Crow laws upon African Americans, so they were not really free at all.
Another thing that interested me about this book was the evolution of the slave's religion. It is very interesting to me how DuBois discusses their original religion of magic/ancestor and earth worship,etc and their gradual progression to the Christian religion of their masters, and then back to the beginning in an almost cyclical pattern. I don't think the African-American culture would be the same at all today if it were not for this mix of religious belief, although some would argue about how good it was for a religion to be forced about them and I would tend to agree.
W.E.B. DuBois was a pioneer of African American literature and thought. This book of essays will make you rethink the progress and status of African Americans throughout America's history, and will help you understand and sympathesize much more. I do agree with a previous review's critique that this book has some disturbing anti-semitic passages in it; in fact, a friend of mine wrote her paper for our 20th Century American Literature Class on that subject, so that did point that problem out to me. I find it strange that DuBois can so effectively and reasonably argue for the equality of African-Americans while so irrationably spout such anti-semitic comments. Except for this problem (which should not be overlooked), the book is very important and powerful, and it did and continues to do a lot for the advancement of African-Americans in the US.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 1999
I can remeber reading this book in my liberal high school for our American lit class and thinking that they just stuck it in for diversity's sake--that black history and American history are separate entities. But as I began to study more history in college I began to realize that American history could not exist without black history and experience--that Dubois' insights into double identity and how racism affects both the reciever and promulgator of racism in insidious ways are crucial to understanding of how America continues to wrestle with the implications of hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow and now, more subtle racism.
I haven't read the book in 8 years, but Dubois description of the moment when a black child realizes achieves enough self awarenesss to undersstand that he is "black" and what that means to one's sense of self (at least in the 1910's south) is absolutely heartbreaking.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2008
These essays, actually sketches and ruminations of DuBois', remain an enduring backdrop for the picture in which race in America is framed. At the end of each decade, they seem to continue emitting new pregnant meanings:

During the decade of the 60s, when I first read the book, it seemed to be an open message to white America about the Negro: an appeal, as it were, that "the Negro was on the march," and that his main instrument of entering the American mainstream (his only secure dream) was his spiritual cadence and his deep and abiding faith in religion, and equally deep faith in the meaning of the American revolution, and in the American dream and its misapplied ideals. A warning was issued in the "parable of the Coming of John": a reckoning of this fractured meaning and it's implied promises inevitably had to occur.

When I read it during the 70s, it seemed more like an interior dialogue between "Blacks," about "being constantly on the struggle against racism." It was especially a dialogue between the "uneducated and unsophisticated" on the one hand, and "the educated and sophisticated" (the "so-called "talented tenth"), on the other. But also it was a dialogue between the conservative forces of "compromise" that wanted to win by "turning the other cheek," and the more progressive and revolutionary forces who wanted to do so "by any means necessary." Yes, Martin and Malcolm were summoned up through DuBois' words in the same debate that had occurred two generations before between DuBois and Booker T. Washington. The words, but not the structure of the arguments, had changed. They were issued with the same degree of passion, and with the same unfortunate results: more promises, but powerful little "real progress," and then the murders of both Martin and Malcolm.

Then when I read it in the 80s the meaning took on an entirely different character for me. I had watched DuBois' struggle at close range, as I had that of other black intellectuals and heroes, like Paul Roberson, Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, etc. They all followed a pattern: the black heroes were either forced out of the country, or left voluntarily as DuBois, Cleaver and Stokely eventually did, or were jailed, deemed to be social outcasts, or killed. Those remaining were co-opted and otherwise neutered: It became clearer and clearer that the "Souls of Black Folk" were not about black people after all, but, in relief, was just a mirror of the "dark troubled souls of white people."

DuBois' little book now began to make sense: His references to Freud, to Marx, his most famous line "the problem of the color line," and of course his parable: "The Coming of John" all seemed to snap into perfect alignment: The Souls of Black Folks was no longer about blacks, but in relief, in its subtext, was about the tenacity and persistence of "white hatred, white fear, and white resistance", about the fear in the white heart: The problem of race, the problem of the color line was not about blacks at all, but was about white fear and resistance to the very thing they claim to cherish most: "freedom and equality."

In the 90s this frightening new meaning of the "Souls of Black Folk" as a metaphor for white fear and resistance was being "filled-in" and confirmed: For instance, even though the language of race and racism had begun to change, (it now had a positive patina grafted on to it) but as was the case eight decades before, little else had changed. The resisters had circled their psychological wagons. Morally they had been forced into a defensive crouch if not back into the closet altogether, but they were far from going away: Through a new vocabulary of coded language, and the false civility of "political correctness," and "tokenism," a misappropriation of Dr. King's life and death, a feint back to rightwing religious ideology, by exaggerating non-existent racial progress, and through a whole repertoire of other reactionary stratagems, they were scrambling to make a determined comeback, a final desperate attempt to retain the old meanings.

Now at the turn of the new millennium, even as it appears that our first Black (half white) President" might replace our most incompetent (all white) president, "The Souls of Black People," are again just a reflection of what is hidden in the white heart. Now it is hidden under the elusive and empty notion of "multiculturalism." In today's racial narrative, DuBois' black souls are: the "troubled inner city," with its statistics of horror, with its "at risk low-achieving children," its "high crime rates," "the troubled public schools," the "welfare mothers," and the "social meltdown" more generally.

The souls of Black Folk have been fragmented and shredded down to nothing. In the mean while, its reflection, its doppelganger: the America's reactionary white forces, with their hatred and fear normalized in plain sight, are again on the march, winning as usual by fiat: They have succeeded in changing the scenery on "front street" so that there, America looks very much like racial progress would look if America ever decided to have any, but everything else in the background, on the back streets -- the context, the pretext, and the subtext of American racism -- remains exactly the same as it did in 1903.

Five Stars
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
If you are unaquainted with this book or with this author, you should remedy the situation immediately. In terms of eloquence, clear and ringing prose, descriptive power and any other quality that seperates great writers from mediocre ones, Dubois stands in the first rank. If Afro-Americans had had access to this book on a mass scale, there would have been a third real revolution in this country (I include the Civil War, obviously). This is the voice of suffering, but also of great ideas and ironclad arguement. It is also an incitement and very much an indictment, against racial boundaries that have plagued this nation since its inception. Dubois was and is one of the most powerful voices this country has ever produced. My jaw dropped on numerous occasions when first reading this text. He conveyed better than any other author, and there have been many great ones (Baldwin, Morrison, Wright, etc.) what it means to be "seperate, but equal." He is never an apologist. He at all moments maintains the dignity of his race. I really prefer in all aspects his demaeanor to Marcus Garvey's, even though that author was a more prominent "player." For modern revisionists (like Jane Smiley)who think that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was "great literature," I would recommend that they read this text and then decide. One voice is authentic, the other sorely disingenuous, and even, historically, counter-productive.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2013
This story, told in brilliant prose - shows so much of how our nation has come to be as it is, the racism, the fear, the economic enslavement of the masses that can't control their world. Timeless, yet timely, worth reading again and again to discover new nuggets of wisdom.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2013
Amazingly written and entertaining entertaining for historical non-fiction, a truly American masterpiece! From the immaculate depiction of the Reconstruction Era, beyond the vantage of the American Negro, to the climactic story of the two John's. This book is a perfect blend of philosophy, poetry, and historic accounts. A must read for African-American historians and philosophers.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2002
If you read only one edition of this work, this is the edition you should choose. The preface is outstanding, and the "Contexts" and "Criticsm" sections (which comprise half of this volume) are extraordinarily helpful to the nonspecialist reader. Please note, however, that there is a serious error in at least one of the footnotes. On the last page of "The Niagara Movement" essay DuBois refers to Robert Gould Shaw, whom the editors describe (in footnote #4) as an African American Union Army Civil War hero. Not so! Shaw was white; there were no African American officers during the Civil War. (I contacted Henry Lewis Gates Jr. about this, and he confirmed that this was an error in editing.)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2012
It was a great book. A book that should be required reading in schools, from elementary, to high school. Like all good books I had to read it twice to make sure I did not miss one single thing.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2013
Sometimes we in this century forget about all that has happened in this passed century since DuBois was living and which now we take for granted. But we still should realize how much our black neighbors endured, not only under slavery, but under the"master's thumb"even today. I, as a northenor, brought up to believe
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