Illustration of W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois

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Chapters 9–10 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on August 21, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1054

Chapter 9

Du Bois questions the prevailing idea that colonialism is a just and understandable system. He suggests that the colonial arrangement that exists globally is not actually a sensible organization of peoples.

While different races must, of course, come into contact, they must do so in different ways—and we must study racial interaction in order to make racial interaction happen more harmoniously. Du Bois suggests that racial interaction in the South should be studied for this reason: the "color-line" in the South is imaginary rather than literal, and poor white and poor Black people often live close to each other. This is one way in which things differ from the arrangements during the era of enslavement when poor white people were segregated from poor Black people.

Interactions between Southern Black and white people remain affected by the ways in which Black people were previously trained as enslaved people and overseen by poor whites. In order to progress, society must accept the truth of racism, and Black leaders must emerge among the workers' community to help advance their cause.

Du Bois believes that the vote is one of the main ways in which justice can be achieved for Black people. The fact that Black men were quickly excluded from suffrage has set back Black progress considerably. Du Bois notes that while police in the era of enslavement were mainly concerned with controlling enslaved people, these police continue to govern the justice system in the era of free Black people, such that not only are more Black people convicted than white people, but also, Black people do not believe in the system. This means that Black people also do not believe their vote could affect the system in a beneficial way.

Du Bois notes that those Black people who have achieved status, education, and wealth do not interact with rich white people. This means that there is still complete segregation between the races, which is unhelpful. If there was interaction between the races, perhaps the Christian Southern whites would recognize that their behavior toward Black people is unchristian. If they realized this, they would understand why racism causes significant and lasting harm within their community.

Chapter 10

This chapter opens with a description of a church service Du Bois once attended during his period living and working in Tennessee. He emphasizes the differences between this service—filled with excitement, screaming, jumping around, and singing—and the sort to which the white reader might be accustomed. For Black Americans, religious music is a fundamental part of their experience and is used to express both joy and pain. This can be understood as an outgrowth of African religion; Black enslaved people were taken from Africa and had to fall back upon their religious traditions in order to maintain a sense of community.

Black Americans revolve around church communities in a way that white people do not, with bishops, in particular, being incredibly powerful community leaders and almost every Black American belonging to a church. These Black churches have influenced Methodism and Baptist ministry in the United States to the extent that Black religion must be understood in order to understand religion in modern America as a whole.

African religion was based around the worship of nature and ancestry; obviously, when enslaved people were brought to the Americas, these familial relationships were destroyed, and much of the old religion was lost. However, figures such as the medicine man or priest gave rise to the Black preacher of Du Bois's day, who was to become a prominent figure in Black society. After Emancipation, Black people separated into...

(This entire section contains 1054 words.)

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their own churches, with these men as leaders.

Du Bois suggests that, although it was a religion thrust upon them, Christianity was actually extremely appropriate for Black enslaved people, as it enabled them to dream of a better life beyond the mortal plane of suffering upon which they existed. Early Black Christians dreamed of Emancipation, although for some, their Christianity prevented them from rebelling, as they believed they would find their reward eventually.

Returning to the idea of duality, Du Bois points out that racism causes Black religion to have two sides. Black people rely upon their religion as a place of solace, something to soothe their pain, but they also take strength from their religion and from the idea of Jesus's suffering.

Du Bois notes that all Black people in the South need to practice deception in order to live good lives—they must behave in a way that makes white people comfortable. Some Black people in the North become cynical and bitter, engaging in lives of thievery or, on the opposite end of the scale, becoming educated and then taking their place among a Black elite that disregards religion (and also other Black people). However, for most Black people, religion is where they turn in order to find security and solace on multiple levels.


In chapter 9, Du Bois's focus is on the ways in which segregation only serves to worsen the racial divide and thicken the "Veil" between the races, because the two groups simply do not understand each other. In chapter 10, then, he seeks to eradicate some of the distance between Black Americans and his white readers by approaching, with almost anthropological distance from his subjects, the question of Black religion and why it is so fundamental to an understanding of Black Americans. Du Bois recognizes the fact that, although many white Americans do view themselves as Christians, to them their religion does not have the same importance as religion does to Black people. In order to explain this fully, Du Bois explores the history of the Black church and underscores the fact that those who suffer from enslavement will always have a greater need to believe in a life to come, in which they will finally receive their reward. Black Christianity is informed by ancient African religions but also by the position of suffering into which Black people were placed by white people. It is also notable, of course, that many twentieth-century Black Americans rejected Christianity because they saw it as a sort of opiate that had been handed to enslaved people to keep them docile and prevent them from reacting against their pain in this life; this is the belief of the Muslim Brotherhood and similar organizations.


Chapters 7–8 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 11–12 Summary and Analysis