With a dash of the Victorian and Enlightenment influences that peppered his impassioned yet formal prose, the book's largely autobiographical chapters take the reader through the momentous and moody maze of Afro-American life after the Emancipation Proclamation: from poverty, the neoslavery of the sharecropper, illiteracy, miseducation, and lynching, to the heights of humanity reached by the spiritual "sorrow songs" that birthed gospel and the blues. The most memorable passages are contained in "On Booker T. Washington and Others," where Du Bois criticizes his famous contemporary's rejection of higher education and accommodationist stance toward white racism: "Mr. Washington's programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races," he writes, further complaining that Washington's thinking "withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens." The capstone of The Souls of Black Folk, though, is Du Bois' haunting, eloquent description of the concept of the black psyche's "double consciousness," which he described as "a peculiar sensation.... One ever feels this twoness--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Thanks to W.E.B. Du Bois' commitment and foresight--and the intellectual excellence expressed in this timeless literary gem--black Americans can today look in the mirror and rejoice in their beautiful black, brown, and beige reflections. --Eugene Holley Jr.
—Christina Coleman, Essence
“Dr. Du Bois was not only an intellectual giant exploring the frontiers of knowledge, he was in the first place a teacher. He would have wanted his life to teach us something about our tasks of emancipation. One idea he insistently taught was that black people have been kept in oppression and deprivation by a poisonous fog of lies that depicted them as inferior, born deficient and deservedly doomed to servitude to the grave . . . Dr. Du Bois recognized that the keystone in the arch of oppression was the myth of inferiority and he dedicated his brilliant talents to demolish it.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Du Bois . . . wrote knowing full well that what he said was neither palatable nor negotiable, that a large portion of the country would not be swayed, and that the truth, in and of itself, must be enough. It is often said that this space lacks for hope. Here is your bone for the day: In the academy, Du Bois was victorious. He did not live to see that victory, but it is his view on the centrality of white supremacy that now carries the day.”
“What Dr. Du Bois showed is that he had enormous courage. I would encourage young men and women, black and white and Asian and Spanish speaking and all, all to look at Dr. Du Bois and realize that courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving any of those without courage.”
"Du Bois's most important gift to the black literary tradition is, without question, the concept of the duality of the African-American, expressed metaphorically in his elated metaphors of ‘double-consciousness’ and the ‘veil.’”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“The impact of The Souls of Black Folk on black American writing, and on writing about black America, is all the clearer. The descent of the imaginative treatments of two-ness, invisibility, and the magic behind the veil, from Ellison to Baldwin to Morrison, has by now become a stock theme in accounts of modern American literature. But the book’s radicalism, its astonishing precocity, hardly ends there. It would take more than fifty years for mainstream American historical writing to catch up with Du Bois’ insight about the resilience and spiritual depth of the slaves’ culture, and about the benefits of Reconstruction and the ex-slaves’ role in achieving those benefits . . . And historians have only begun to comprehend and amplify Du Bois’ claim that American culture has been marked, indeed defined, by black people’s presence.”
“Du Bois is the brook of fire through which we all must pass in order to gain access to the intellectual and political weaponry needed to sustain the radical democratic tradition in our time.”
“I never emulated white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Du Bois and Mandela.”