W. E. B. Du Bois Essay - Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) (Vol. 2)

Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) (Vol. 2)

Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) 1868–1963

See also W. E. B. Du Bois Criticism (Volume 96).

A Black American intellectual, Dr. Du Bois was a novelist, essayist, and biographer, and for many years a primary influence on Black thinking in America.

DuBois' life work reminds one of the prodigious efforts of a Mill or Ruskin…. Something enormously powerful motivated this man. And while the historical significance of The Souls of Black Folk is undeniable—after all DuBois announced his departure from the leadership of Booker T. Washington with its publication—the continuing popular interest in this work reflects its autobiographical quality. The Souls of Black Folk is about DuBois' soul. The central question he attempts to answer over and over again is: are the souls of black folk his soul? The title of this book is more a question than a statement….

But in terms of the general importance of The Souls of Black Folk, I feel its power and significance reflects DuBois' sensitive, though particularized, treatment of the modern dilemma of the self as a whole, rather than just a black dilemma. Contradiction is the dynamic nature of the self; the self, per se, is a dialectical notion containing the nonself.

DuBois knew this about the self. He understood it as a recent development in Western culture.

Joseph Rhodes, Jr., "Reconsideration," in New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1972 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), February 26, 1972, pp. 29-32.

W. E. B. DuBois was a distinguished American black scholar, the editor of the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, from 1910 to 1934, and an active and outspoken writer on black questions during long years of political reaction in his country. Yet in spite of his obvious talents as a social critic, DuBois never commanded the influence to which he aspired and he died little known to the American public and neglected by scholars. Fortunately the story of his life is now being retold, with varying degrees of success, in a growing number of books and academic studies.

Considered in retrospect, this venerable old man did more than merely redefine for blacks their role in Western history. On the contrary, as blacks began to grapple seriously with DuBois's positions, and to comprehend the tenacity with which he held to the ideals that informed them, they recognized that he had bequeathed to them the right of intellectual independence. DuBois's true legacy to American blacks was his intellectual audacity….

[The Souls of Black Folk] became a passionate statement of the black condition in the Western world…. Nowhere else was DuBois's description of the Negro's experience in American society to be given more succinct expression. Published in 1903, Souls is probably his greatest achievement as a writer. Indeed, his reputation may largely rest on this remarkable document, which had a profound effect on the minds of black people…. [For] all of his occasional shortsightedness, DuBois's views have been current among black intellectuals for most of the century. The recent surge of interest in him has inspired the expected glorification….

[Whatever] one thinks of DuBois's rapturous views about the black sensibility, it is important to remember that he continued to plead for a truly pluralistic culture in a world where the superiority of whites is still an a priori assumption. In so far as he grasped the basic dilemma of Western blacks as being a people with "two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings," DuBois's attitudes have been vindicated. He was, as we can now see, one of those unique men whose ideas are destined to be reviled and then revived, and then, no doubt, reviled again, haunting the popular mind long after his death.

Harold W. Cruse and Carolyn Gipson, "W. E. B. DuBois and Black History," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1972 by NYREV, Inc.), November 30, 1972, pp. 22-6.