Illustration of W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois

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  • Topic #1

    Throughout Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois refers to the “veil” behind which many blacks spend their lives. The veil can be compared to “rose-colored glasses” that provide optimism for blacks who choose not to see their oppression. Yet at the same time, it harms them by encouraging blacks to ignore the circumstances in which they live. Trace the ways in which W. E. B. DuBois defines life “behind” and “beyond” the veil and his ideas about how black Americans can learn where society has placed them.

    Outline I. Thesis Statement: During the years following emancipation, blacks could choose to live “behind the veil,” viewing their newfound freedom as a blessing, or they could live “beyond the veil,” seeing their real place in American society and their newfound freedom as an incomplete or near-mockery of true democracy.

    II. Life “within” the veil A. DuBois realizes he is sheltered during a teaching experience in Tennessee. B. Booker T. Washington’s politics ask blacks to live behind the veil. 1. Washington’s capacity to galvanize national support is positive. 2. The “Atlanta Compromise” urges black support of their inferior status. C. Commerce and the material world of Atlanta may convince blacks they’re free. 1. Atlanta is a commercial center that offers new opportunities. 2. Blacks’ capacity to rise economically in Atlanta is a distraction for the fact that they remain economically disadvantaged.

    III. Methods for emerging from the veil A. The Freedmen’s Bureau attempts to right social wrongs done to blacks. 1. It succeeds at establishing a school system, medical care, etc. 2. It fails to secure true equal legal rights or financial support. B. Education has the potential capacity to “lift the veil.” 1. A true education teaches blacks to see how they have been positioned in society and how they might change society for the better. 2. Alexander Crummell’s plan to become a minister reveals the veil. 3. John Jones’s plan to become a teacher reveals the veil. C. Spirituality leads to life “beyond the veil.” 1. DuBois sees the death of his son as a spiritual experience, a link to humanity. 2. DuBois believes the Sorrow Songs that remember the legacy of slavery display the true emotion and soul of black oppression.

    IV. Conclusion: Lifting the veil is painful but necessary for black growth in a democratic society. Simple acceptance of the new status quo of living behind the veil is not good enough because the new status quo is still fraught with inequalities.

  • Topic #2

    A critical theme in The Souls of Black Folk is that although the Emancipation Proclamation freed blacks from slavery, the United States as a government and a society did not end racial inequality for blacks. Trace the ways in which the years following the Emancipation Proclamation led to positive changes for America’s black population and ways in which conditions remained unfavorable. Note new opportunities for social, economic, professional, and educational growth according to DuBois.

    Outline I. Thesis statement: The Emancipation Proclamation and the resulting "freedoms" ended the facts of slavery, but blacks were not entirely free from social or economic oppression.

    II. The positive results of emancipation A. Emancipation abolishes slavery. Blacks are free. B. The Freedmen’s Bureau is created to assist former slaves with their affairs. 1. Blacks are granted medical care and treatment. 2. Former slaves can now own property. 3. An elementary and college school system is established. 4. Blacks are given new police and judicial representation.

    III. Continued negative conditions for blacks during the post-Civil War period A. Economic conditions of blacks at the time of...

(This entire section contains 762 words.)

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  • emancipation. 1. Slaves began life as freed men with no assets, putting them in debt. 2. Many freed slaves falsely equated business opportunity with freedom. B. Booker T. Washington introduced a politics of subservience. 1. The Atlanta Compromise indicated that blacks would accept second-class social status. 2. The Atlanta Compromise indicated blacks took responsibility for their second-class socioeconomic role, absolving America of responsibility. C. The Industrial Revolution created a demand for new work skills. 1. Blacks, already disadvantaged educationally, faced more challenges than whites in learning skills for the new workplace. 2. Black educational institutions, still forming their basic curriculum, had to recast their mission, leading to the question of vocational versus intellectual training for blacks. D. Despite new opportunities on paper, blacks continued to face white racism.

    IV. Conclusion: Blacks were oppressed during the years following emancipation due to a combination of racism, a lack of practical and intellectual education, and the failure of the government to provide them with the opportunities to start life anew as freed men with assets, such as land or fair-paying jobs.


Du Bois and the Minstrels