What is the central theme of Chapter 10 of The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois?

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Chapter 10, entitled "Of the Faith of the Fathers," is one of the most famous in The Souls of Black Folk. In it, DuBois describes black Christianity, which he characterizes as "the social centre of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African character." It is a source of community, education, employment, moral instruction, and political mobilization, in short, "all that great world from which the Negro is cut off by color-prejudice and social condition." He traces its origins to slave society, noting that nascent religious communities developed within slave populations, fulfilling many of the needs of black people. So in many ways, the modern (i.e. turn of the century) black church fulfills a role similar to that under slavery. He also analyzes the development of black theology, noting its loose associations with white evangelical denominations. Unlike later historians that would emphasize religion as a site of slave agency, Du Bois claims that African religion was more geared toward submission, or "an infinite capacity for dumb suffering" because of its emphasis on the afterlife. Religion became a force for liberation not on the plantations, but among the free black communities of the North, where it strongly informed abolitionism.

Du Bois detects the same split among contemporary blacks, some of whom tend toward radicalism, the other (like Booker T. Washington and other reformers based in the South) toward "hypocritical compromise." In the North, however, many who are not grounded in the church or other institutions turn to crime. In other words, in keeping with the argument of the whole book. Du Bois sees the church as instrumental in effecting black reform, but notes that its effects have been complex and often contradictory, largely due to exclusion from the opportunities available to white society.

 

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