Web Dubois The Souls Of Black Folk Essay

Du Bois' classic 1903 work, The Souls of Black Folk, explores the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of black people's souls, as well as those "soul" feelings that intimately bind black people together.Of course, his analysis of the black church tradition is much more nuanced than those brief expressions.

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Challenging the role of the American church during slavery, Du Bois writes that it was "religious propaganda" which aided slave masters, who sought to emphasize those characteristics of the African "which made him a valuable chattel" (144).

It was in 1845 that Frederick Douglass denounced "slave-holding Christianity" as the "sanctifier of the most hateful frauds," an institution under which the "darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds" of slavery had found protection.

And here, Du Bois' own life serves as a primary example.

Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts during the Gilded Age, and raised in a town with fewer than fifty African Americans, Du Bois had little preparation for community life among rural all-black communities, in the North or the South.

Maybe it was the soul food that he ate there, in abundance.

Despite the utter poverty, Du Bois writes that there was always "plenty of good country fare" (53).When Du Bois secures permission to teach there, and is shown the dilapidated schoolhouse, with its rough plank benches and small blackboard, he is haunted by a "New England vision of neat little desks and chairs," like the ones in his own childhood schoolhouse (51).And while Du Bois was initially a wary stranger to this place, and this setting, there was something about the soul of this community, peopled by "plain and simple" black folks, which reached out and touched his soul. The Souls of Black Folk weaves the sacred and the secular, thus providing its reader with a "soulful" literary model in which to express and reconcile the warring ideals of the African American "soul."Du Bois is commonly cited for his descriptors of the traditional African American church: "the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy," and for his depiction of the Southern Negro revival: "a sort of suppressed terror…a pythian madness, a demoniac possession" (138). Du Bois takes us on two complementary journeys: first, an examination of the roots of African American religious thought, and secondly, an assessment of community in African American culture.These spirituals, like the people who created them, are "African… Afro-American… Negro… Negro and Caucasian" (184).The "sorrow songs," as Du Bois describes them, are a microcosm of the achievements of African descendants in America; songs, which, like their composers, have been refined by the fires of American slavery, injustice, and oppression.He was encouraged to "take out and help myself to fried chicken and wheat biscuit, meat, and corn-pone, string-beans and berries" (53).Maybe it was the religious soul of the community which connected with Du Bois' own sensibilities.In one slim volume, Du Bois highlights three hundred years of African and American religious heritage.First, he asserts that African descendants came from a clearly defined social and religious environment; underscoring the point that prior to any contact with American religion, black people had a religious "soul." Concerning traditional African religion, Du Bois writes: "under the headship of the chief and the potent influence of the priest, his religion was nature-worship, with profound belief in invisible surrounding influences, good and bad, and his worship was through incantation and sacrifice" (140).


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