I read this book, which was on my reading list, more than a month ago. I am now posting about it.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Dubois was written in 1903. It was a landmark piece of literature, which presented a counter narrative to the stereotypes of African Americans, at that time. At the turn of the Century, many African-Americans faced prejudices and atrocities, such as dehumanization in minstrel shows, denial of education, voter suppression, peonage, Jim Crow, systemic rape, police brutality and lynching. In addition, many African-Americans, who had never been adequately restituted for slavery, lived in poverty throughout the South.
However, DuBois writes, not only of the destitute position that many African-Americans were forced to live in during this time, but writes of the resilience and tenacity that many African-Americans displayed, in the face of great obstacle and adversity. He writes of how in a single generation, from the time of legal slavery to the turn of the century, many African-Americans had become teachers, doctors, artisans and merchants. He writes of the beauty of African-American spirituals, a unique facet of culture, which was born in the “foster land,” of America, but comes from the sorrows and hopes of African-descended peoples. He tells the story of Alexander Crummell and other notable African-Americans of that time.
My Favorite Quotes:
” The police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all the Negroes, not simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re-enslaving the blacks” (Souls of Black Folk, p. 108)
“The chief problem in any community cursed with crime is not the punishment of the criminals, but the preventing of the young from being trained in crime. And here again, the peculiar conditions of the South have prevented proper precautions. I have seen twelve year old boys working in chains on the public streets of Atlanta, directly in front of the schools, in company with old and hardened criminals” (Souls of Black Folk, 108)
“We must not forget that most Americans answer all queries regarding the Negro a priori and that the least that human courtesy can do is to listen to evidence” (Souls of Black Folk, p.61)
” This was the gift of New England to the freed Negro: not alms, but a friend; not cash, but character. It was not and is not money these seething millions want, but love and sympathy, the pulse of hearts beating with red blood” (Souls of Black Folk, p. 62).
“Even so is the hope that sang in the songs of my fathers well sung. If somewhere in this whirl and chaos of things there dwells Eternal Good, pitiful yet masterful, then anon in His good time America shall rend the Veil and the prisoned shall go free” (Souls of Black Folk, p. 163).
Reading this book, which is over 100 years old, has showed me that in a lot of ways, not much has changed with America. The same stereotypes persists, the same fears, the same systems of injustice, but by another name.I also took away that, throughout history, there have always been people, both white and black, who have stood against prejudice, like those at the Freedmen’s Bureau, who did try to right the wrongs of slavery, but failed, due to policy and Congressional oversight. This book gave me both a mixture of sadness and hope, but at this point I realize that racism is not going anywhere in America.