“The Veil” and “Double Consciousness”
In The Souls of
Black Folk , arguably W.E.B. DuBois� most famous work, he introduces
and addresses two concepts that describe the quintessential Black experience
in America� the concepts of �the veil� and �double-consciousness.�
Though DuBois uses these terms separately, their meanings and usage in
his works are deeply intertwined. These two concepts gave a name
to what so many African-Americans felt but previously could not express
due to a lack of words to accurately describe their pain. The implication
and connotation of these words were far-reaching because not only did it
succinctly describe the plight of being Black and American then, it rings
true to the core and essence of what it means to still be Black and American
For DuBois, the veil
concept primarily refers to three things. First, the veil suggests
to the literal darker skin of Blacks, which is a physical demarcation of
difference from whiteness. Secondly, the veil suggests white people�s
lack of clarity to see Blacks as �true� Americans. And lastly, the
veil refers to Blacks� lack of clarity to see themselves outside of what
white America describes and prescribes for them.
Any socially-aware, present-day
African-American has had at least two life-altering experiences in life�
the moment he/she realized he/she was Black, and the moment when he/she
realized that was a problem. Like DuBois, many African-Americans
can pinpoint the exact instance at which both of these life altering encounters
took place, and they too came to this realization at a young age.
For DuBois, these realizations came during a youthful ball, at which his
card was �peremptorily� refused by a Southern, white girl simply (or rather,
not so simply) because he was Black. Of this encounter he writes
Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddeness that
I was different from the others; or like [them perhaps] in heart and
life and longing, but shut out from their world
by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil,
through; I held all beyond it in common contempt,
and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows.
In this passage, DuBois�
initial reaction upon realizing that being Black was a �problem� in American
society is interesting because this same sentiment is commonly felt by
African-Americans today. In addition, DuBois� reactionary feeling
of contempt for all white people on the other side of the veil reveals
a larger point about the veil concept. Because many people only understand
DuBois� veil concept to mean that white people�s view of Black people is
obstructed by this not-so-invisible veil that hangs between the races,
many forget to see that this lack of vision is two-fold; that is, just
as the white girl looking through the veil could not properly see DuBois
for who he was beyond his skin, he in turn could not clearly see the whole
white race because of his one negative encounter with her as well, which
he then projected onto the entire white race.
Although there is a veil
that shades the view of both Blacks and Whites, the reason why Blacks traditionally
have a better understanding of whites than the reverse is because of this
�two-ness� lived and felt by Black Americans. In other words, upon
coming to the realization of being Black and what that has historically
meant in America (or arguably presently means in America), Black people
have long known how to operate in two Americas� one that is white and one
that is Black. DuBois describes this phenomena as �double-consciousness�,
which is the awareness of the �two-ness� of being �an American and a[n
African-American]�, and the largely unconscious, almost instinctive movement
between the these two identities, as needed.
DuBois describes African-Americans
as �a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight
in this American world� a world which yields him no true self-consciousness,
but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.�
Further, of the actual concept of �double-consciousness�, DuBois goes on
to say the following:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness,
this sense of always looking at one�s self through the eyes of others,
measuring one�s soul by the tape of a world that
looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness�
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.
This passage is perhaps the
most powerfully written, (and amazingly accurate for some) of the sheer
burden of being Black and American in this society. Although written
over a century ago, for many modern-day African-Americans this passage
is a reflection of how very little has changed in America�s conceptualization
of what is �Black� and of what is �American�. But more importantly,
for African-Americans it is an illustration and reminder of how far they
still have to go.
The Souls of Black Folk
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Title page of second edition
|Author||W. E. B. Du Bois|
|Subject||Race and ethnicity in the United States|
|Publisher||A. C. McClurg & Co. , Chicago|
The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of American literature by W. E. B. Du Bois . It is a seminal work in the history of sociology , and a cornerstone of African-American literary history .
The book, published in 1903, contains several essays on race, some of which the magazine Atlantic Monthly had previously published. To develop this work, Du Bois drew from his own experiences as an African American in the American society. Outside of its notable relevance in African-American history , The Souls of Black Folk also holds an important place in social science as one of the early works in the field of sociology.
In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois used the term “double consciousness”, perhaps taken from Emerson (“The Transcendentalist” and “Fate”), applying it to the idea that black people must have two fields of vision at all times. They must be conscious of how they view themselves, as well as being conscious of how the world views them.
- 1 Chapters
- 1.1 “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”
- 1.2 “Of the Dawn of Freedom”
- 1.3 “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others”
- 1.4 “Of the Meaning of Progress”
- 1.5 “Of the Wings of Atalanta”
- 1.6 “Of the Training of Black Men”
- 1.7 “Of the Black Belt”
- 1.8 “Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece”
- 1.9 “Of the Sons of Master and Man”
- 1.10 “Of the Faith of the Fathers”
- 1.11 “Of the Passing of the First-Born”
- 1.12 “Of Alexander Crummell”
- 1.13 “Of the Coming of John”
- 1.14 “The Sorrow Songs”
- 2 Critical reception
- 2.1 Literary reception
- 2.2 Cultural and religious criticism
- 3 Textual changes
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
Chapters[ edit ]
Each chapter in The Souls of Black Folk begins with a pair of epigraphs: text from a poem, usually by a European poet, and the musical score of a spiritual , which Du Bois describes in his foreword as “some echo of haunting melody from the only American music which welled up from black souls in the dark past”.  Columbia University English and comparative literature professor Brent Hayes Edwards writes:
It is crucial to recognize that Du Bois … chooses not to include the lyrics to the spirituals, which often serve to underline the arguments of the chapters: Booker T. Washington’s idealism is echoed in the otherworldly salvation hoped for in “A Great Camp-Meeting in the Promised Land”, for example; likewise the determined call for education in “Of the Training of Black Men” is matched by the strident words of “March On”. 
Edwards adds that Du Bois may have withheld the lyrics to mark a barrier for the reader, to suggest that black culture—life “within the veil”—remains inaccessible to white people. 
In his The Forethought, Du Bois states, “Leaving, then, the world of the white man, I have stepped within the Veil, raising it that you may view faintly its deeper recesses, – the meaning of its religion, the passion of its human sorrow, and the struggle of its greater souls.” He concludes with, “need I add that I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil?” 
“Of Our Spiritual Strivings”[ edit ]
Chapter I, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”, lays out an overview of Du Bois’s thesis for the book. It says that the blacks of the South need the right to vote, the right to a good education, and to be treated with equality and justice. Here, he also coined ” double-consciousness “, which he defined as a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” 
“One ever feels his 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. The History of the American Negro is the history of this strive-this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”  :5
The first chapter also introduces Du Bois’s famous metaphor of the veil. According to Du Bois, this veil is worn by all African-Americans because their view of the world and its potential economic, political, and social opportunities are so vastly different from those of white people. The veil is a visual manifestation of the color line, a problem Du Bois worked his whole life to remedy. Du Bois sublimates the function of the veil when he refers to it as a gift of second sight for African-Americans, thus simultaneously characterizing the veil as both a blessing and a curse. 
“In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,-darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission.”  :9
“Of the Dawn of Freedom”[ edit ]
The second chapter, “Of the Dawn of Freedom”, covers the period of history from 1861 to 1872 and the Freedmen’s Bureau . Du Bois also introduces the problem of the color-line.
“The Problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,-the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.  :13
Du Bois calls the Freedmen’s Burueau, “one of the most singular and interesting of the attempts made by a great nation to grapple with vast problems of race and social condition.” Du Bois goes on to quote the bureau as “one of the great landmarks of political and social progress.” After a year’s work, Du Bois states, “it relieved a vast amount of physical suffering; it transported seven thousand fugitives from congested centres back to the farm; and, best of all, it inaugurated the crusade of the New England school-ma’am.”  :14,21–22
“The greatest success of the Freedmen’s Bureau lay in the planting of the free school among Negroes, and the idea of free elementary education among all classes in the South.”  :28
Du Bois goes on to credit the creation of Fisk University , Clark Atlanta University , Howard University , and Hampton University and acknowledged the “apostles of human culture” Edmund Asa Ware , Samuel C. Armstrong , and Erastus Cravath . Yet the demise of the Freedman’s Savings Bank he attributes to the loss of “all the faith in savings.”  :28–29,32
Finally, Du Bois argued that, “if we cannot peacefully reconstruct the South with white votes, we certainly can with black votes.”  :33
“…the granting of the ballot to the black man was a necessity, the very least a guilty nation could grant a wronged race, and the only method of compelling the South to accept the results of the war. Thus Negro suffrage ended a civil war by beginning a race feud.”  :33
“Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others”[ edit ]
Chapters III and VI deal with education and progress. It is here that Du Bois argues against Booker T. Washington ‘s idea of focusing solely on industrial education for black men.  He also advocates the addition of a classical education to establish leaders and educators in the black community.
Du Bois refers to the Atlanta Compromise as the “most notable of Mr. Washington’s career,” and “the old attitude of adjustment and submission.” Du Bois claims Washington wants black people to give up three things, political power, insistence on civil rights, and higher education. That, if black people “concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South,” this will lead to 1) The disenfranchisement of the Negro, 2) The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro, and 3) The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.” By Washington focusing on “common-school and industrial training,” he “depreciates institutions of higher learning,” where “teachers, professional men, and leaders” are trained.  :37,43–46
“But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds, -so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this,- we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them.”  :50
“Of the Meaning of Progress”[ edit ]
In the fourth chapter, “Of the Meaning of Progress”, Du Bois dwells upon a time when he was teaching in Tennessee and then, after leaving, goes back 10 years later to a town that suffered many unpleasant changes.  Du Bois states, “My log schoolhouse was gone. In it place stood Progress; and Progress, I understand, is necessarily ugly.”  :59
“I was a Fisk student then, and all Fisk me thought that Tennessee-beyond the Veil- was theirs alone, and in vacation time they sallied forth in lusty bands to meet the county school-commissioners.”  :51
Yet, Du Bois states, after meeting with the commissioner, “but even then fell the awful shadow of the Veil, for they ate first, then I-alone.”  :53
“I have called my tiny community a world, and so its isolation made it; and yet there was among us but a half-awakened common consciousness, sprung from common joy and grief, at burial, birth, or wedding; from a common hardship in poverty, poor land, and low wages; and, above all, from the sight of the Veil that hung between us and Opportunity.”  :57
“Of the Wings of Atalanta”[ edit ]
The fifth chapter is a meditation on the necessity of widespread higher education in the South.
Du Bois compares Atlanta, the City of a Hundred Hills, to Atalanta , and warns against the “greed of gold,” or “interpreting the world in dollars.” The “Black World beyond the Veil”, should not succumb “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness,” to the ideal of wealth attainment in public schools.  :66-63
“…beyond the Veil are smaller but like problems of ideals, of leaders and the led, of serfdom, of poverty, of order and subordination, and, through all, the Veil of Race.”  :66–67
He admonishes us to “Teach workers to work, and Teach thinkers to think.” “The need of the South is knowledge and culture,” states Du Bois.  :71–72
“And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living,-not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold.”  :72
“Of the Training of Black Men”[ edit ]
Du Bois discusses how “to solve the problem of training men for life,” especially as it relates to the Negro, who “hang between them and a light a veil so thick, that they shall not even think of breaking through.” Du Bois cites the progress of Southern education, consisting of army schools, mission schools, and schools of the Freedman’s Bureau, from the end of the Civil War until 1876. Then complete school systems were established including Normal schools and colleges, followed by the industrial revolution in the South from 1885 to 1895, and its industrial schools. Yet, Du Bois asks, “Is Not life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”  :75–79
Du Bois asserts “education that encourages aspiration, that sets the loftiest of ideals and seeks as an end culture and character rather than bread-winning,” is the right of the black as well as the white. He goes on to state, “If the Negro was to learn, he must teach himself,” and cites the 30,000 black teachers created in one generation who “wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of the black people of the land, and they made Tuskegee possible.”
Additionally, 2500 Negroes had received a bachelor’s degree, of whom 53% became teachers or leaders of educational systems, 17% became clergymen, 17% mainly physicians, 6% merchants, farmers and artisans, and 4% in government service. From 1875 to 1880, there were 22 Negro graduates from Northern colleges and 143 from Southern Negro colleges. In From 1895 to 1900, Northern colleges graduated 100 Negros and over 500 from Southern Negro colleges. He concludes by stating that the “…inevitable problems of civilization the Negro must meet and solve largely for himself.”  :79–89
“The function of the Negro college, then, is clear: it must maintain the standards of popular education, it must seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of problems of race contact and co-operation. And finally, beyond all this, it must develop men.”  :89–90
“Of the Black Belt”[ edit ]
Du Bois calls Albany, Georgia , in Dougherty County , the “heart of the Black Belt.” He goes on to say “Here are the remnants of the vast plantations.”  :93–94,96
Du Bois states, “How curious a land is this,- how full of untold story, of tragedy and laughter, and the rich legacy of human life; shadowed with a tragic past, and big with future promise!”  :100
Yet, Du Bois states, it is not far from “where Sam Hose was crucified,” “to-day the centre of the Negro problem,-the centre of those nine million men who are America’s dark heritage from slavery and the slave-trade.” He goes on to state, “Careless ignorance and laziness here, fierce hate and vindictiveness there,-these are the extremes of the Negro problem which we met that day, and we scarce knew which we preferred.”  :92,106
“Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece”[ edit ]
Speaking of the cotton fields from “Carolina to Texas”, Du Bois claims an analogy between the “ancient and modern “Quest of the Golden Fleece in the Black Sea.” Continuing his discussion of Dougherty County, Du Bois explains of the 1500 Negro families around Albany in 1898, many families have 8-10 individuals in 1-2 room homes. These families are plagued with “easy marriage and easy separation,” a vestige of slavery, which the Negro church has done much to prevent “a broken household.” He claims most of the black population is “poor and ignorant,” over 80%, though “fairly honest and well meaning.” “Two-thirds of them cannot read or write,” and 80% of the men, women and children are farmers.  :111–118
Economically, the Negro has become a slave of debt, says Du Bois. He goes on to describe the economic classes consist of the “submerged tenth” of croppers , 40% are metayers or “tenant on shares” with a chattel mortgage , 39% are semi-metayers and wage-laborers, while 5% are money-renters, and 6% freeholders . Finally, du Bois states only 6% “have succeeded in emerging into peasant proprietorship,” leading to a “migration to town,” the “buying of small homesteads near town.”  :123,128,132
“Of the Sons of Master and Man”[ edit ]
In this chapter, Du Bois discusses “race-contact”, specifically as it relates to physical proximity, economic and political relations, intellectual contact, social contact, and religious enterprise. As for physical proximity,
Du Bois states there is an obvious “physical color-line” in Southern communities separating whites from Negroes, and a Black Belt in larger areas of the country. He goes on to state the need for “Negro leaders of character and intelligence” to help guide Negro communities along the path out of the current economic situation. The power of the ballot is necessary, Du Bois states, as “in every state the best arbiters of their own welfare are the persons directly affected.” Du Bois goes on to claim that “the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves,” and Negroes viewed its “courts as a means of reenslaving the blacks.” Regarding social contact, Du Bois states “there is almost no community of intellectual life or point of transference where the thoughts and feelings of one race can come into direct contact and sympathy with thoughts and feelings of the other.” Finally,
Du Bois states, “the future of the South depends on the ability of the representatives of these opposing views to see and appreciate and sympathize with each other’s position.”  :134–135,140–141,144–145,152
“Of the Faith of the Fathers”[ edit ]
In Chapter X, “Of the Faith of the Fathers”, Du Bois describes the rise of the black church and examines the history and contemporary state of religion and spiritualism among African-Americans.
Du Bois starts by recounting his first exposure to the Southern Negro revival , and notes three things characterize this religion, the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy. He states the Frenzy or Shouting is “when the Spirit of the Lord passed by, and, seizing the devotee, made him mad with supernatural joy.” He goes on to state the Negro church is the social center of Negro life. Predominately Methodists or Baptists after Emancipation, when Emancipation finally, came Du Bois states, it seemed to the freedman a literal Coming of the Lord.  :154–157,164
“Of the Passing of the First-Born”[ edit ]
The final chapters of the book are devoted to narratives of individuals. Chapter XI, “Of the Passing of the First-Born”, tells the story of Du Bois’s own son and his untimely death.
Du Bois comments, “Why was his hair tinted with gold? An evil omen was golden hair in my life.” He goes on to state, “I saw his breath beat quicker and quicker, pause, and then his little soul leapt like a star that travels in the night and left a world of darkness in its train.  :170,172
Du Bois ends with, “Sleep, then, child, – sleep till I sleep and waken to a baby voice and the ceaseless patter of little feet-above the Veil.”  :175
“Of Alexander Crummell”[ edit ]
In this chapter, the life of Alexander Crummell is a short biography of a black priest in the Episcopal Church.
Du Bois starts with “This is the history of a human heart,” and notes that Crummell faced three temptations, the temptation of Hate, the temptation of Despair, and the temptation of Doubt, while crossing two vales, the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  :176
Du Bois ends with, “And now that he is gone, I sweep the Veil away and cry, Lo! the soul to whose dear memory I bring this little tribute.”  :185
“Of the Coming of John”[ edit ]
The penultimate chapter, “Of the Coming of John”, is a work of fiction. It is the story of John from Altamaha, Georgia, sent off to a well-off school only to return to his place, where “[l]ittle had they understood of what he said, for he spoke an unknown tongue” (Du Bois 170). The first John’s return to the South has made him a foreigner in his own home. After attempting to teach a class for the local children that is deemed critical of Johns’s life is compared to that of a different John, the son of the wealthy Judge Henderson. John Henderson has become bored after his own return from college and begins to sexually assault the black John’s sister Jennie when he sees her outside his home. John kills the white John and then bids his mother goodbye. In the final part of the story, with the implication that he is about to be lynched by a gathering mob, he “softly hum[s] the ‘Song of the Bride‘” in German, (Du Bois 176).
“The Sorrow Songs”[ edit ]
Chapter XIV, “The Sorrow Songs”, is about Negro music and makes reference to the short musical passages at the beginning of each of the other chapters. Du Bois mentions that the music was so powerful and meaningful, regardless of the people’s appearance and teaching, “their hearts were human and their singing stirred men with a mighty power.”  :205 Du Bois concludes the chapter by bringing up inequality, race and discrimination. “Your country? How came it yours?..we were here”. 
Du Bois heralds the “melody of the slave songs”, or the negro spirituals, as the “articulate message of the slave to the world.” They are the music, he contends, not of the joyous black slave, as a good many whites had misread them, but “of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways.”  For Du Bois, the sorrow songs represented a black folk culture—with its origins in slavery—unadulterated by the civilizing impulses of a northern black church, increasingly obsessed with respectability and with Western aesthetic criteria.  Rather than vestiges of a backward time that should be purged from black repertoires and isolated from what Alain Locke called the “modernization of the negro” (coincident, for Locke, with urbanization), negro spirituals are—for Du Bois—where the souls of black folk past and present are found.
Du Bois passionately advocated for the preservation of the spiritual, along with Antonín Dvořák and contemporary black aestheticians, including Harry Burleigh , Robert Nathaniel Dett , Alain Locke and Zora Neale Hurston .  It is in the retrieval of black cultural folkways—particularly “The Sorrow Songs”—that one of the major complications of Du Bois’s project and, later, the Harlem Renaissance (where Hurston and Locke  debut their own retrievals) surfaces. For Du Bois’s contention that the sorrow songs contain a notative excess, and untranscribable element Yolanda Pierce identifies as the “soul” of the sorrow songs.  The mappings of sound and signs that make up the languages of the white Western culture would prove insufficient to many black literary critics of the 1920s and beyond, and the debates over the abilities to retrieve and preserve black folkways find their roots in Du Bois’s treatment of the sorrow songs and in his call for their rescue.
Critical reception[ edit ]
In Living Black History, Du Bois’s biographer Manning Marable observes:
Few books make history and fewer still become foundational texts for the movements and struggles of an entire people. The Souls of Black Folk occupies this rare position. It helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century. “Souls” justified the pursuit of higher education for Negroes and thus contributed to the rise of the black middle class . By describing a global color-line, Du Bois anticipated pan-Africanism and colonial revolutions in the Third World . Moreover, this stunning critique of how ‘race’ is lived through the normal aspects of daily life is central to what would become known as ‘ whiteness studies ‘ a century later. 
At the time of its publication, the Nashville Banner warned of The Souls of Black Folk, “This book is dangerous for the Negro to read, for it will only incite discontent and fill his imagination with things that do not exist, or things that should not bear upon his mind.”  The New York Times said, “A review of [the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau] from the negro point of view, even the Northern negro’s point of view, must have its value to any unprejudiced student—still more, perhaps, for the prejudiced who is yet willing to be a student.” 
In his introduction to the 1961 edition, writer Saunders Redding observed, “The boycott of the buses in Montgomery had many roots . . . but none more important than this little book of essays published more than half a century ago.” 
Literary reception[ edit ]
As Yale professor Hazel Carby points out, it was impossible for black writers before the abolition of slavery in 1865 “even to imagine the option of returning to the South once black humanity and freedom had been gained in the North” and it was rarely found in later literature as well.  While the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs move towards the North and freedom, Du Bois reverses “the direction of the archetypal journey of these original narratives” and focuses on the Black Belt of the South.  Although the text “consistently shifts between a predominantly white and a predominantly black world” in line with Du Bois’s concept of double consciousness, “its overall narrative impulse gradually moves the focus from a white terrain to an autonomous black one.” 
Carby traces the ways in which Du Bois gendered his narrative of black folk, but also how Du Bois’s conceptual framework is gendered as well. In The Souls of Black Folk, according to Carby, it seems that Du Bois is most concerned with how race and nation intersect, and how such an intersection is based on particular masculine notions of progress. According to Carby, Du Bois “exposes and exploits the tension that exists between the internal egalitarianism of the nation and the relations of domination and subordination embodied in a racially encoded social hierarchy.” So Du Bois makes a conceptual argument that racialization is actually compatible with the nation in so far as it creates unified races. However, this unified race is only possible through the gendered narrative that he constructs throughout Souls, which renders black male intellectuals (himself) as the (only possible) leader(s) of the unified race. Carby explains that “in order to retain his credentials for leadership, Du Bois had to situate himself as both an exceptional and a representative individual…. The terms and conditions of his exceptionalism, Du Bois argues, have their source in his formation as a gendered intellectual.” 
According to Carby, Du Bois was concerned with “the reproduction of Race Men”. In other words, “the figure of the intellectual and race leader is born of and engendered by other males.”  Such a reading of Du Bois calls attention to “queer meanings” that, according to Charles Nero, are inherent in Souls. Nero, who employs Anne Herrmann’s definition of queer, conceptualizes queerness as the “recognition on the part of others that one is not like others, a subject out of order, not in sequence, not working.” Foundational to Nero’s argument is the understanding that men have the authority to exchange women among one another in order to form a “homosocial contract”. Nero analyzes Du Bois’s discussion on the Teutonic and Submissive Man to conclude that such a contract would lead to a “round and full development” to produce a “great civilization”. However, Nero is concerned with violence and the “rigid policing of sexual identity categories at the turn of the century” which ultimately made such a homosocial, biracial contract impossible.
Nero marks “Of the Coming of John” as a central chapter that demonstrates his queer reading of Souls. Nero argues that John Jones’s absence of masculinity is a sign of his queerness and that the killing of his “double” represents Du Bois’s disillusionment that there can exist a biracial and homosocial society. 
Cultural and religious criticism[ edit ]
Given Du Bois’s transdisciplinary training and pivotal point of historicizing much of what we can say about black religion and culture, it is no surprise that many in black religious and cultural studies have used Du Bois’s concept of “double-consciousness” or other concepts from Souls in their interpretations of black culture and religion. Cheryl Sanders, a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University School of Divinity, in her scholarly work lists a who’s who of Du Bois progeny, including Paul Gilroy , C. Eric Lincoln , Lawrence Mamiya, Peter Paris, Emilie Townes and Cornel West , who take up themes or concepts found in Souls for their own work in religious and theological studies or cultural criticism.  Additionally, Victor Anderson, a philosophical theologian and cultural critic at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and the author of Beyond Ontological Blackness: An Essay on African American Religious and Cultural Criticism, links concepts from Souls to much of the work in black religious studies.
In Beyond Ontological Blackness, Anderson seeks to critique a trope of “black heroic genius” articulated within the logics of ontological blackness as a philosophy of racial consciousness.  At the center of this conception is Du Bois. “W. E. B. Du Bois’s double-consciousness depiction of black existence has come to epitomize the existential determinants of black self-consciousness. These alienated forms of black consciousness have been categorically defined in African-American cultural studies as: The Negro Problem, The Color Line, Black Experience, Black Power, The Veil of Blackness, Black Radicalism, and most recently, The Black Sacred Cosmos.”  Anderson’s critique of black heroic genius and a move towards black cultural fulfillment is an attempt to move beyond the categories deployed by Du Bois in Souls.
Likewise, Sanders, who in interpreting black black holiness-Pentecostalism specifically, also critiques Du Bois’s concept of double-consciousness. In Sanders’s work, Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture, Sanders deploys a dialectical understanding of exile, which she characterizes in black holiness-Pentecostal terms as “Being in the world, but not of it.”  At the same time, Sanders wishes to contrast this from the double-consciousness dialect of Du Bois, at least as she understands it. For Sanders, “exilic dialectics” is “hoped to represent a progressive step beyond the ‘double-consciousness’ described by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903, which persists as the dominant paradigm in African American religious and cultural thought.” 
Describing double-consciousness as “either-or” and exilic consciousness as between “both-and”, Sanders contrasts that those who live in exile “can find equilibrium and fulfillment between extremes, whereas adherents to the latter either demand resolution or suffer greatly in the tension, as is the case with Du Bois’s description of the agony of ‘double-consciousness,’ as ‘two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.'” 
Textual changes[ edit ]
In 1953, The Souls of Black Folk was published in a special “Fiftieth Anniversary Jubilee Edition”. In his introduction, Du Bois wrote that in the 50 years since its publication, he occasionally had the inclination to revise the book but ultimately decided to leave it as it was, “as a monument to what I thought and felt in 1903”. While he stuck by his decision, he wrote, in the new edition he had made “less than a half-dozen alterations in word or phrase and then not to change my thoughts as previously set down but to avoid any possible misunderstanding today of what I meant to say yesterday.”  In 1973, historian Herbert Aptheker identified seven changes. Historian and literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a team of readers performed a line-by-line comparison of the two editions during the 1980s and identified two more changes. All the changes are minor; the longest was to change “nephews and poor whites and the Jews” to “poor relations and foreign immigrants”. In six of the nine changes, Du Bois changed references to Jews to refer to immigrants or foreigners. Two of the other changes also involved references to Jews. 
Du Bois wrote to Aptheker in February 1953 about concerns he had with his references to Jews in the book:
I have had a chance to read [The Souls of Black Folk] in part for the first time in years. I find in chapters VII, VII and IX, five incidental references to Jews. I recall that years ago, Jacob Schiff wrote me criticising these references and that I denied any thought of race or religious prejudice and promised to go over the passages in future editions. These editions succeeded each other without any consultation with me, and evidently the matter slipped out of my mind.
As I re-read these words today, I see that harm might come if they were allowed to stand as they are. First of all, I am not at all sure that the foreign exploiters to whom I referred … were in fact Jews…. But even if they were, what I was condemning was the exploitation and not the race nor religion. And I did not, when writing, realize that by stressing the name of the group instead of what some members of the [group] may have done, I was unjustly maligning a people in exactly the same way my folk were then and are now falsely accused.
In view of this and because of the even greater danger of injustice now than then, I want in the event of re-publication [to] change those passages. 
In a March 1953 letter to Blue Heron Press, Du Bois asked that the following paragraph be added to the end of “Of the Black Belt”:
In the foregoing chapter, “Jews” have been mentioned five times, and the late Jacob Schiff once complained that this gave an impression of anti-Semitism. This at the time I stoutly denied; but as I read the passages again in the light of subsequent history, I see how I laid myself open to this possible misapprehension. What, of course, I meant to condemn was the exploitation of black labor and that it was in this country and at that time in part a matter of immigrant Jews, was incidental and not essential. My inner sympathy with the Jewish people was expressed better in the last paragraph of page 152. But this illustrates how easily one slips into unconscious condemnation of a whole group. 
The publisher did not add the paragraph, perhaps because Du Bois changed the text instead. 
Footnotes[ edit ]
- ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). “Introduction”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xx. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
- ^ a b Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). “Introduction”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxi. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah Du Bois, W.E.B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Penguin. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780140189988 .
- ^ Chap. I: Of Our Spiritual Strivings at Bartleby.com
- ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Classic. p. 197.
- ^ “Educational Theory of Booker T. Washington” .
- ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. pp. 49–57. ISBN 9780758331403 .
- ^ “XIV. The Sorrow Songs. Du Bois, W. E. B. 1903. The Souls of Black Folk” . www.bartleby.com. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
- ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Classic. pp. 116, 117.
- ^ Baldwin, Davarian L. (2007). Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 160.
- ^ Baldwin, Davarian L. (2007). Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 161.
- ^ Sundquist, Eric J. (1993). To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 468–470.
- ^ Pierce, Yolanda. “The Soul of Du Bois’s Black Folk” . The North Star. Princeton University. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
- ^ Manning Marable, Living Black History, p.96
- ^ a b “Books Noted”. Negro Digest: 52. June 1964.
- ^ “The Negro Question” . The New York Times. April 25, 1903. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
- ^ a b Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press, 1998. p. 16.
- ^ Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press, 1998. p. 17.
- ^ Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press, 1998. pp. 30–31.
- ^ Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press, 1998. pp. 25–26.
- ^ Charles Nero, “Queering the Souls of Black Folk,” Public Cultures 17, no. 2 (2005)
- ^ a b Sanders, Cheryl J. (1999). Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture. London: Oxford. p. 125. ISBN 978-0195131017 .
- ^ a b Anderson, Victor (1995). Beyond Ontological Blackness: An Essay on African American Religious and Cultural Criticism. New York: Continuum. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0826408655 .
- ^ Sanders, Cheryl J. (1999). Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture. London: Oxford. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-0195131017 .
- ^ Sanders, Cheryl J. (1999). Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture. London: Oxford. p. 124. ISBN 978-0195131017 .
- ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (2007) . “Fifty Years After”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
- ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). “Note on the Text”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxv. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
- ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (February 27, 1953). “The Souls of Black Folk” (Letter). Letter to Herbert Aptheker ., cited in Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). “Note on the Text”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
- ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (March 16, 1953). “The Souls of Black Folk” (Letter). Letter to Blue Heron Press., cited in Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). “Note on the Text”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
- ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). “Note on the Text”. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9 .
Further reading[ edit ]
- Aberjhani (ed.), The Wisdom of W. E. B. Du Bois. New York: Citadel Press/Kensington Books, 2013.
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Terri Hume Oliver (eds.), The Souls of Black Folk: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1999.
- Donald B. Gibson, “Introduction” to The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
- Randall Kenan, “Introduction” to The Souls of Black Folk. New York: New American Library/Signet, 1995.
- Stephanie J. Shaw, W. E. B. Du Bois and “The Souls of Black Folk.” Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
External links[ edit ]
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The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. Du Bois
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The Color Line
The Veil is the most frequently mentioned symbol in the book, and one of Du Bois’ most important ideas. In some ways, it is possible to think of the Veil as a psychological manifestation of the color line. The color line exists in the world, defining people’s access to opportunities and to institutions from universities to bathrooms to the justice system. The Veil, on the other hand, exists in people’s minds, and compels white people to structure society according to a racist logic—to build and police along the color line. Du Bois argues that the Veil prevents white people from seeing black people as Americans, and from treating them as fully human. At the same time, the Veil in turn prevents black people from seeing themselves as they really are, outside of the negative vision of blackness created by racism.
According to Du Bois, the Veil is a constant presence, but not one that is felt all the time. It takes time for young children to realize the Veil exists, and it is for this reason that Du Bois feels a perverse sense of joy that his son died before he was old enough to perceive the Veil. In some instances, this innocent ignorance can last beyond childhood, as in the case of John Jones. It isn’t until John leaves rural Georgia that he truly feels the presence of the Veil. Through this example, Du Bois suggests that the Veil is felt less severely by those growing up within a segregated black community, or perhaps in contexts where they feel that racial inequality is a fundamental and permanent aspect of life.
The Veil Quotes in The Souls of Black Folk
Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet Classics edition of The Souls of Black Folk published in 2012.
Why was his hair tinted with gold? An evil omen was golden hair in my life. Why had not the brown of his eyes crushed out and killed the blue? –For brown were his father’s eyes, and his father’s father’s. And thus in the Land of the Color-line I saw, as it fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil.
W.E.B. Du Bois (speaker), Burghardt Du Bois
The Color Line , The Veil
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Exclusion vs. Belonging
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The Veil Symbol Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk