Illustration of W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois

Start Free Trial

Chapters 11–12 Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated August 21, 2023.

Chapter 11

This extremely personal chapter relates Du Bois's own memory of being told a child had been born to him. He remembers going to see his wife and newborn child and being charmed by the beauty of his son but also wondering why his hair was "tinted with gold" and why the brown eyes of Du Bois himself had not overtaken the blue in the baby's eyes. The baby's "white" features were a representation of the "color-line" in human form. They reminded Du Bois that the child was living on the Black side of the Veil.

The child grew up and was much adored, influencing everything Du Bois and his wife thought and longed for, until one night the child caught a fever and wasted away for ten days. Eventually, the doctor was sent for, but nothing could be done. The child died, and Du Bois felt that his already difficult life had been made even more difficult.

However, Du Bois takes comfort from the fact that his child lived what was actually a "perfect" life. He knew nothing but love from the people who met him, he loved his white matron and his Black nurse, and he never grew old enough to understand the color line and its importance in his life.

On the day they were to bury their son, Du Bois and his wife had to endure cries of racial slurs from white people who observed the funeral procession. Afraid to bury their child in Georgia, the Du Bois parents chose to bury their child in the North.

Terribly, Du Bois wonders whether it was not a blessing to his child to have died before he had to understand the difficulty of being a Black person in the United States. However, he also hopes that if the child had lived, he would have borne his burden well and lived into an age when the color of a person's skin would no longer make a difference. 

Du Bois bids his child a safe and quiet period of rest until Du Bois can join him in a place where there is no Veil.

Chapter 12

Du Bois describes his acquaintanceship with a Black man called Alexander Crummell, whom he met at a Wilberforce commencement season, where Crummell told Du Bois the story of his life and how the temptations of hate, despair, and doubt plagued him throughout his life.

Crummell had been born during the time of enslavement, but was not enslaved himself. However, his mother was always afraid that her son would be taken from her and sold into enslavement, which led him to hate the whole world until he met Beriah Green, an abolitionist. Beriah took Alexander away to be educated, and the school he attended was filled with like-minded people who helped him to hate the world less and to see, instead, ways of helping others so that they would not suffer the fear he had suffered. He determined that the best route was to become a priest and abolitionist.

However, despair entered Alexander's life when his attempts to enter the Episcopal Theological Seminary were refused simply because he was Black. Eventually, though, Alexander was able to find another route to studying for the priesthood, in Boston. He dreamed that he would start his own Black congregation to help improve Black lives and inspire people. For a time, Alexander managed to do as he had planned, but his congregation began to shrink after a time, which filled the young priest with doubt. He now could not feel sure that what he had defined as his own purpose in life was an accurate one. This feeling of doubting himself was far worse than it had felt to hate the world outside.

Alexander went for help to his bishop, who dispatched him to Philadelphia, where Bishop Onderdonk said that he would take Alexander in as a priest—but would not allow him to sit in, or be represented at, his church convention, because he was Black. Offended by this, Alexander turned the offer down. First, he worked briefly in New York, earning very little, and then went to England to go to university. After this, he left for Liberia, in Africa, a sort of promised land for Black Americans where he sought to make a better life.

Du Bois underscores that he has told this story in order to show that, while we all suffer from hatred, fear, and doubt, Black people suffer far more, and yet many, like Alexander, manage to maintain their principles and overcome their trials and tribulations. Du Bois notes that Alexander Crummell is very little known.

Analysis

Chapters 11 and 12 mark a slight shift in Du Bois's approach to his subject. Chapter 11, in particular, offers a deeply personal insight into the struggles that have blighted Du Bois's own life; here, he is not viewing Black Americans dispassionately, but offering a painful window into how it feels to lose a child while at the same time wondering whether that loss was a mercy. He also details issues in this chapter to do with having a "white-passing" child and explains why this can sometimes cause even greater struggles and confusion for  Black Americans. Du Bois knows that his child, despite having blond hair and blue eyes, would nevertheless have been treated as a Black man and gives some indication of how confusing this might have become for him.

Chapter 12 describes the deep personal struggles of another Black American, Alexander Crummell. Du Bois never states outright that he believes Crummell is so little known because he rejected compromise measures with white people, but this is implied through his emphasis on Crummell's principles and the significance of Crummell’s gesture not to accept Bishop Onderdonk's offer of a segregated position. Here, a comparison is drawn between the actions of Crummell and the actions of Booker T. Washington, who is much beloved by white America but whose acceptance of segregation Du Bois has strongly criticized.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Chapters 9–10 Summary and Analysis

Next

Chapters 13–Afterthought Summary and Analysis