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The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois

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Summarize Chapter 6 of The Souls of Black Folk.

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In Chapter 6 of his enormously influential The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois presents his argument for the importance of higher education if African Americans are going to overcome the legacies of slavery, segregation, and poverty. As importantly, Du Bois argued that the future of the American South itself hinged greatly on the ability of African Americans to attain a college education. Note, with respect to this latter point, the following quotes from Chapter 6:

“No secure civilization can be built in the South with the Negro as an ignorant, turbulent proletariat.”

“The dangerously clear logic of the Negro's position will more and more loudly assert itself in that day when increasing wealth and more intricate social organization preclude the South from being, as it so largely is, simply an armed camp for intimidating black folk.”

Du Bois understood what many whites across America, especially in the South, did not: No country or region of a country could reach its full potential if it arbitrarily denied to a certain category of its populace equality of opportunity. Racism and segregation denied to the larger nation the contributions that could be made by all categories of people when structural and cultural obstacles to achievement were eliminated.

In advancing his argument for the importance of higher education for black people, Du Bois emphasized the achievements of those few among the African American community afforded such an opportunity. Noting the role played in facilitating the rise of an educated professional African American of black colleges like Howard, Fisk, and Atlanta, Du Bois further quantified the contributions to be made in the longer term of graduating black students into the professions. When he writes that “Fifty-three per cent of these graduates were teachers, —presidents of institutions, heads of normal schools, principals of city school-systems, and the like,” he is emphasizing the self-perpetuating system for the education of black people that the early efforts have entailed. By remaining in academia, these educated black citizens could contribute to the education of future generations of African American students.

Chapter 6 of The Souls of Black Folk is Du Bois’s argument for the importance of education. He knew that only through a college education could African Americans truly progress and that only with the benefits of an educated class of African Americans could the socially, culturally, and economically backwards South hope to progress.

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In Chapter 6, "Of the Training of Black Men," Du Bois discusses how to address the education of African-Americans in the south, where racial prejudice is still strong. He speaks of education not just as training to live life but also "training for the profitable living together of black men and white." In other words, education is critical to helping pave the way for racial harmony. He recognizes that industrial schools that have developed in the south to provide African-American people with vocational training were necessary but that they are not "the final and sufficient answer in the training of the Negro."

Instead, Du Bois identifies Black colleges such as Fisk and Spelman as the answer to the problem of education of African-Americans in the south. He also notes that several hundreds of African-Americans have graduated from universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Oberlin. He has surveyed these graduates and found them respectable members of the community, often teaching in African-American colleges. He believes that as the south develops, the need for African-American people with higher education will grow. He sees Black colleges as essential in helping African-American people work cooperatively with whites and grow. He also sees education as a way to help African-Americans face the racism they encounter. As he writes: "And to themselves in these the days that try their souls, the chance to soar in the dim blue air above the smoke is to their finer spirits boon and guerdon for what they lose on earth by being black." In other words, education helps the souls of African-Americans as they encounter the horrible racism of their day. 

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The chapter advocates the importance of higher education of African Americans not only for themselves but for American civilization as a whole. DuBois claims that African American college graduates have been "conservative, careful leaders". Their education has allowed them to understand the importance of cooperation between the races. Thus, they have not become mob agitators, but are performing much needed work to construct a fairer and more peaceful society. To DuBois, denying education to the nine million African Americans that live in America would lead them to brood "over the wrongs of the past and the difficulties of the present" preventing them to apply their talent to a constructive cooperation with the whites to the advantage of American civilization.

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