As expressed in W. E. B. Du Bois's The Soul's of Black Folk, what role does Du Bois see for education? What were his own experiences as a teacher among emancipated Negroes? What role does he assign to leaders of Negro society?
In the opening chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois expresses that education is far more important for obtaining true freedom than even the right to vote. He states that, immediately following Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the African American saw the right to vote as a "visible sign of freedom" and as the "chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him" (Ch. I, para. 9). However, he also says that, as time progressed, the African American began to see that education, or "book-learning," was the true means of gaining freedom because education is the only true means of gaining equality with whites. He further argued that, though obtaining education is the longer and harder path, it is the only way to achieve new heights of equality, as he says in the following passage:
Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life. (Ch. I, para. 9)
Regardless, in Chapter IV, Du Bois also talks about just how hard it was for young African Americans to obtain "book-learning" due to social inequalities. After becoming educated as a teacher, he went on a long, arduous trek to find a school to teach in and finally found one; however, keeping the children in the school often proved to be just as hard of a task due to the students' poverty. The boys were frequently taken out of the school so that they could help harvest the crops on the family's crop share, and the girls were frequently taken out of the school because they were needed to help out at home. However, he also speaks of the students' dedication to learn, even when more and more hardships make it impossible for them to continue at the school. Regardless, even after Du Bois himself leaves the school, the school remains in existence, having been purchased by the county. Du Bois acknowledges that the county purchasing the school can be called "Progress," yet continues to see just how much his people's suffering and oppression makes it seem as if "Progress" is not really being achieved, as he says in his final paragraph:
How shall man measure Progress there where the dark-faced Josie lies? How many heartfuls of sorrow shall balance a bushel of wheat? How hard a thing is life to the lowly, and yet how human and real! And all this life and love and strife and failure,--is it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day? (Ch. IV, para. 24)