Chapters 1-6: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. W. E. B. DuBois writes of the “double identity” and “double aims” of the Negro during the years following the Civil War. What does he mean by this?

2. The Freedmen’s Bureau, created in 1866 to govern and assist freed slaves, had a mixed record of success. In what arenas was the Bureau successful and unsuccessful?

3. Booker T. Washington was a skilled diplomat who bridged Negro and white agendas at a sensitive moment in history, yet DuBois argues that his “Atlanta Compromise” slowed rather than helped blacks’ progress. Define this compromise and why it hurt blacks, according to DuBois.

4. DuBois writes of the “little world” in Tennessee, where he was a schoolteacher, and of the “veil” separating the black community there from the rest of the nation. Why was he living in a “little world” and what does he mean by the “veil” of separation?

5. DuBois makes a link between the myth of Atalanta and the temptations of life in Atlanta, the Georgia city seen as the cultural capital of the South. Why does he make this comparison? What does it say about the city in general and blacks in particular?

1. W. E. B. DuBois uses these terms to point out the hypocrisy of the black man’s status as an American. How can a freed slave take on the identity of a Negro (here synonymous with slavery and lack of civil rights) and also be an American (by definition, one entitled to the freedoms upon which America was founded)? He calls the quest for the Negro to define his black identity and his American identity a “double” one, for the two definitions have in the past been at odds with one another and continue to be so, even following emancipation.

2. The Freedmen’s Bureau provided basic medical care and set up a fledgling economy in which Negroes could work in a “free market,” choosing among...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

Chapters 7-10: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. DuBois asserts that historical events and blacks’ progress in developing elementary and college-level curriculum for blacks didn’t always dovetail conveniently. Where did black educational institutions stand at the time of the Industrial Revolution? How did they have to adjust to respond to the demands of the period?

2. DuBois describes the geography and climate of the “Black Belt” region of Georgia as stark and oppressive. How did plantation owners, overseers, emancipated slaves, and others fare on the land based on DuBois’ tour?

3. Black farmers DuBois visits in Dougherty County were perpetually in debt at the turn of the century. What are at least three reasons why this happened?

4. Aside from living in debt, in what other ways did the black residents of Dougherty County continue to live in conditions that mimicked slavery?

5. How have blacks and whites consciously and unconsciously separated themselves along “the color-line”?

1. The rise of an educational system that could train black children and college students coincided with racist laws passed in the late nineteenth century and an Industrial Revolution that demanded schools of all kinds prepare students for new forms of labor. This coincidence made it easy for blacks and whites alike to see the Negro student as a laborer first and student second, but DuBois asserts that educational institutions needed to train blacks both as intellectuals and workers.

2. DuBois describes the land and climate as difficult, dry, and sprawling. He visited abandoned plantations and learned that many of their original owners moved and left the land in the care of racist overseers. He also met numerous black farmers who, though property owners or operators of their own farms, struggled with debt from loans for the land or equipment for farming. Many complained of...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

Chapters 11-15: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
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.