1. In a book chronicling the “souls of black folk” that traces black history, why has DuBois included a short chapter about the birth and death of his son?
2. Who is Alexander Crummell, and why is DuBois impressed with him? What does Crummell’s story suggest about spirituality’s significance to DuBois?
3. How does John Jones come to symbolize the challenges and ultimate relevance of educating black students in the wake of the Civil War?
4. John Jones was asked if education made him unhappy, and he acknowledged that it had. How does this admission echo earlier comments DuBois made about the eye-opening quality of education for blacks?
5. Why is W. E. B. DuBois interested in the legacy of slaves’ Sorrow Songs?
1. DuBois has established the socio-economic and political climate into which slaves were freed, but he is also concerned with the individual spiritual development of the black man. The death and burial of his son serve as a reminder that the freed slave—the subject of his book—is not merely a subject of academic study but also a human with the same thoughts and feelings as any American.
2. Alexander Crummell was a black man who was trained as a pastor but encountered difficulty securing work because of his race. In Philadelphia, one deacon told him he could enter the church but not serve any professional role. Crummell refused and traveled overseas to further his studies. DuBois asserts that for every Crummell there are many other black men with talents to offer who are denied the right to express or share them.
3. At first, John Jones didn’t appreciate or apprehend how to learn in a school setting. Once disciplined, though, he became reflective and saw that the world was far larger than his hometown or than he had imagined. Upon returning home, he saw the evil in formerly innocuous whites and the visible attempts they made to suppress his and other blacks’ progress.
4. DuBois wrote in the first chapters of The Souls of Black Folk that when black men and women gain access to education, they gain access to a view of how their white masters have manipulated and carelessly handled the Negro race. The revelation that comes through education is jarring and disturbing, but it is honest—thus Jones answers that education has made him unhappy because of his newfound realizations about the situation of blacks, but that he is glad he has been educated.
5. DuBois indicates that the songs were passed down through generations and create an oral history of slaves brought to America. The music is beautiful and expresses a somber spirituality, happiness, and weariness all at one time. They reflect the depth of character required and instilled by the unfair practice of slavery as well as the spiritual fortitude required of blacks facing further trials in the uncertain post-Emancipation period.