The Good: Insightful, Articulate, socially relevant, perceptive and historically intriguing
The Bad: Some chapters dated
The Basics: Socially perceptive and intellectually aware, The Souls of Black Folk accurately captures the woes of the day and offers reasonable, articulate solutions to those problems.
W.E.B. DuBois is a name not heard by 99% of the world outside of a history class or the occasional trivia answer. The Souls of Black Folk, the most famous of his works is a work with surprising relevancy today.
The Souls of Black Folk, originally published in a socially negligent 1903, is a surprisingly evenhanded social treatise on the wrongs against the Negro (Black) people in the United States and the effect that racial prejudice has had on all of the nation's peoples. The only fault of the book is its occasional dated allusion, it's argument already irrelevant and we, the readers, ought to be thankful for that!
Opening with a cultural analysis of the Negro desire for freedom and coupled with the sociological understanding that a peoples must be prepared for that freedom, DuBois takes the reader on an historical and sociological exploration of the quest for equality. He expends a great deal of time and effort accurately portraying both dominant schools of thought on slave life in both the Northern and Southern contexts. He follows the historical pressures leading to Emancipation and then the horrible missteps of the Freedman's Bureau in the wake which led to most of the post-Reconstruction woes.
The genius of DuBois is in his approach. He's not a racist, he's not screaming epitaphs, he's not blaming white people for all of his ailments and he's not acquiescing either. DuBois succeeds where most modern debators fails; he acknowledges all of the views he can possibly know of and he takes them on each in their own way. His lasting merit is in his clear understanding that the way to true social progress is in education and controlling the means of production; his argument that the strength of black Americans is dependent upon that is key to the book. The Souls Of Black Folk acknowledges the failures of the government to provide for these upon the Emancipation of the slaves during Reconstruction, coupled with the certain knowledge that such an undertaking had never been accomplished or attempted and that largely the Freedmen were unable to accept the responsibilities of the endeavor.
DuBois' style is immediately engaging; he begins with essays and segues into anecdotes and stories heavy on both dialogue and thematic relevance.
Reading DuBois, it's no surprise that the most successful advocates in the Civil Rights Movement followed his teachings; he was smart and socially aware as well as perceptive to the psychology of individuals.
For other socially-relevant works, please check out my reviews of:
The Communist Manifesto
Shadow And Act - Ralph Ellison
Leaves Of Grass - Walt Whitman
For other book reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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