Let's start with the matter of emancipation. In chapter 2 of The Souls of Black Folk , called "Of the Dawn of Freedom," DuBois writes about the immediate problems of getting black people, particularly men, employed after they were emancipated, as well as about what to do with all of...
Let's start with the matter of emancipation. In chapter 2 of The Souls of Black Folk, called "Of the Dawn of Freedom," DuBois writes about the immediate problems of getting black people, particularly men, employed after they were emancipated, as well as about what to do with all of the abandoned lands in the South. The Freedmen's Bureau was set up to provide former slaves with land, as well as medical care and education. According to DuBois, the provision of education was the most successful effort by the bureau. The bureau's promise of "forty acres and a mule" could not be fulfilled due to mismanagement, a lack of funding, and the refusal of many white Southerners to accept black people as landowners, particularly of lands that had once belonged to whites.
DuBois summarizes the failures and accomplishments of the bureau as follows:
Above all, nothing is more convenient than to heap on the Freedmen’s Bureau all the evils of that evil day, and damn it utterly for every mistake and blunder that was made. All this is easy, but it is neither sensible nor just. Some one had blundered, but that was long before Oliver Howard [a former Union officer who headed the bureau] was born; there was criminal aggression and heedless neglect, but without some system of control there would have been far more than there was. Had that control been from within, the Negro would have been re-enslaved, to all intents and purposes. Coming as the control did from without, perfect men and methods would have bettered all things; and even with imperfect agents and questionable methods, the work accomplished was not undeserving of commendation.
DuBois's point is that the bureau did the best it could and cannot be blamed for a systemic refusal to give former slaves the access to capital that they sorely needed to become full-fledged citizens.
This access to capital is necessary toward building "a better and truer self." DuBois uses this phrase in the first chapter of the book, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings." Here, DuBois introduces his idea of "double consciousness," or the feeling of duality within black people which causes them to see themselves both as they actually are and how others (i.e., white people) perceive them. The "better and truer" self emerges when black people are able to "merge this double self." DuBois writes that this does not mean that black people wish to "Africanize America" or "bleach [their] Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism." Black people (DuBois focuses on the black man) simply wish to be both black and American without being persecuted by whites or denied opportunities.
While Du Bois was speaking to people of color aspiring to realize a "better and truer self," today his words could be universalized. Many people are living lives oppressing their true selves.
That said, Du Bois understood that the lives people of color were living were not ones which allowed their true inner selves to shine. Because of the limitations placed upon people of color during the time, their abilities were shadowed, neglected, and ignored. Du Bois simply wanted people of color to be able to be who they were (artists, poets, novelists, citizens) without fear. By being able to be who they were in the world, people of color would be able to "let their true colors shine."
Doesn't he say that emancipation brought disappointment because it did not really make freed slaves and their descendants better off? They would have thought that things would really be tangibly better after they were free, but freedom did not do them much good at least in terms of economics.