What is the importance of The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. DuBois?
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W.E.B. DuBois introduced his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk with a passage that ended with a prescient remark. The "problem of the twentieth century," DuBois claimed, "is the problem of the color-line." With this in mind, The Souls of Black Folk is perhaps best understood as an attempt by the leading African-American intellectual of his time to articulate what it meant to be black in the United States. In different parts, the book is history, sociology, ethnography, and fiction. He discusses the psychological impact on African-Americans who live in a society that deems them unequal. He outlines the efforts to bring about black equality during Reconstruction (presaging his later historical work on the period.) He analyzes black religion and music, detecting within these institutions the expression of profound striving. He argues directly with the accomodationist approach to race relations advocated by Booker T. Washington. The second part of the book, equal parts personal narrative and parable, deals with DuBois's own time living in the South, offering a bitterly realistic view of the condition of black men and women who live on the opposite side of the "veil" that separates the races in America. In short, The Souls of Black Folk is significant both as an early work in multi-disciplinary social science, as well as a sophisticated and haunting attempt to convey the experience of being black in America at the turn of the century.
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