The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Twenty-odd years ago, I read a few of these essays in other collected works and I remembered them very fondly.
Reading them again now, in full, is something of a treat. I had not forgotten the quality of the writing. Indeed, the writing is gorgeous, erudite, and emotional.
The sequence on education, the narrative of self-exploration, even of self-transcendence is a thing to behold.
Of course, it is also heartbreaking. This was published in 1903, almost forty years after the Civil War, after the Emancipation Proclamation, and after the full roll-back of most of the rights that blacks SHOULD have had following their "freedom". Forty years after, poverty and the Jim Crow laws still hold sway. The systematic pushdown of an entire race is in full swing. Blacks got one-quarter of the funding for education as whites. If blacks wanted teachers, they had to teach themselves. The same thing went for making their own communities.
High-interest rates and debt and company towns were the norm for any kind of share-cropping. It was slavery without the whippings. Economic chains instead of real ones. Massive movements arose to kick all blacks out of politics.
Ignorance was the means to keep blacks down.
What I LOVE most about W. E. B. Du Bois is his sequence on education. And it is the same for today as it was back then. It's not enough to endure. You must know. It's not enough to survive, to thrive you must understand the whole web of your life.
Interestingly enough, when I read this in the nineties, it just felt RIGHT. It was about the same amount of time AFTER the 60's Civil Rights Movements.
The feeling of ennui. The desire for change. The ability to make a stand slipping out of our hands.
-- The understanding that all that hard work, all the HOPE was disappearing beneath a tide of false promises, empty platitudes, and (let's face it) ignorance. --
But it's not impossible. Nothing is impossible.
It's hard. All of it is hard. But the fight is worth it. We can't let hate win.
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