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Free «Summary of “The Souls of Black Folk” by W. E. Du Bois» Essay Sample

The Souls of Black Folk stands out as a perfect corner-stone for African-American literature and a classic work of American literature. In the book, W. E. Du Bois, muses that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of color-line.” His perception of life regarding race has been the touchstone for the mode of thoughts about race among Americans. In addition of the concept, Du Bois has provided a standard for assessing progress in race, the encumbrances to the progress, and the possibilities of progress in the future. The paper seeks to provide a summary for seven chapters within the book. It would be mindful to be sequential and summarize the chapters subsequently. Furthermore, it would help the reader realize the coherence in the chapters. Therefore, the paper summarizes the first seven chapters in the book.

Chapter One: Of Our Spiritual Strivings

In the beginning, Du Bois observes the instances where he had to be questioned how it really felt to be black. He remembers how often people who questioned his colored nature could confront him. According to Du Bois, they would confront him half-hesitantly, and then, they would comment on how they have come to know a successful colored man in their own town. Du Bois feels they should ask, “How it feels to be a problem.” He observes that being colored then would be peculiar. The perception was inflicted to them long in their childhood. Du Bois traces back to his own childhood days in the hills of New England. He narrates of how he came to the realization that he was different from the others. He chooses to confine within his colored identity. However, the contempt started to fade away as the years went by. He became compelled to identify himself with the successes beyond his confines. Although, he could not establish how he could compete for prizes. Unlike Du Bois, other black boys sought to confine within silent resentment and hatred towards the whites. At times, they would lament to God as to why He had chosen to create them strangers even in their own homes.

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He observes how the blacks are deprived opportunities in the American society. He also notes that the blacks have strived for recognition even after political liberation. They were always engrossed in the struggle to provide for the poverty-stricken population. In fact, he points out that even the Negro ministers are inclined towards demagogy rule out of ignorance and poverty of their people. At times, they become ashamed of their own people. He notes how the years have progressed since liberation. Sadly, the progression has not evoked a proportionate progress in improving the lives of the blacks. However, within him, Du Bois progressed a great deal. He began to grasp a new perception of the contempt. The demand for liberty among the blacks, called for powerful means. This strength was entailed in the Fifteenth Amendment. In essence, the black votes proved a fundamental tool towards their liberty. With renewed zeal, millions of black population started casting their votes for black leaders. As years went by, the black society began to embrace an ideal that guided them. This new path brought their grievances to light. This spirit could be echoed in the sweet music sang by the black Negroes.

As the chapter comes to conclusion, Du Bois observes the Negroes as the ideal human society. In fact, he identifies the blacks to have fostered conformity to the great ideals of the American Republic. However, within the ideals of such a great republic, there is a Negro Problem. He seeks to explore how people would “listen to the striving of the souls of black folk” in the subsequent chapters of the book (1903).

Chapter Two: Of the Dawn of Freedom

In the beginning of the second chapter, Du Bois identifies the problem of color line as the problem of the twentieth century. He believes that the problem spurred the Civil War between the South and North in 1861. He proceeds to study the historical period between 1861 and 1872 as it closely relates to the American Negroes. As such, Du Bois traces back to the history of Freedmen’s Bureau. He unwinds how the then president legally freed the slaves of rebels on the New Year in 1863. The number of slaves began to increase daily. Almost at the same time, the Congress called for the Negro soldiers enlisted by the act in 1862. The situation worsened each day that at some point, Pierce of Boston was compelled to examine the conditions following the devolvement of the slaves and abandoned lands to the Treasury officials. Then again, daily the matter progressed from a temporary relief to a national crisis. The military governor in Washington offered for the fugitives confiscated estates to cultivate. Most states sought to assess the grievances faced by its people and redressed them. Du Bois mentions Louisiana, which had up to ninety thousand black subjects. The state assessed the tribulations of its people, registered the freedmen, and issued more than four thousand pay rolls.

In almost the entire chapter, Du Bois takes a preferential approach to unwind the history of the Freedmen’s Bureau. No wonder, he points out the administration and organization of the Freedmen’s Bureau as the greatest landmark of both social and political progress. The organization takes responsibility for enhancing elementary education in the South. Du Bois treads further to explore the relations of the Freedmen’ Bank and its associated contributions. At the end of the chapter, the extent of optimism is evident, as Du Bois perceives “a land right merry with the sun.”

Chapter Three: Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others

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In the beginning, Du Bois marvels at the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington. In fact, he identifies the event as “the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876.” He takes a considerable part of the chapter to evaluate Mr. Washington’s ascendancy. Du Bois endeavors in outlining Mr. Washington’s achievements in the North and his contribution towards the black liberation. In the way Du Bois writes, one could tell that Mr. Washington was undoubtedly an admirable character in the history of black Americans. He recognizes the importance of the roles played by various African-American rulers. According to him, these leaders matched the great form of Fredrick Douglas. Du Bois mentions Negro American leaders, and he is appeased by their self-assertion with regard to political lines. Such leaders included Elliot, Bruce, and Langston.

In the same chapter, Du Bois traces back to the Revolution of 1876, which is observed as  the suppression of the Negro votes. At the realm of the Revolution, Du Bois explains how Douglas boldly stood for his early manhood ideals. Douglas opposed the assimilation of the blacks through self-assertion. After some time, Du Bois observes the rise of a new Negro American leader, Price. Price seemed to be destined towards realizing the interests of the black society. Price also seemed undeterred in reestablishing the ideals that had been inflicted to the black society by the whites.

In conclusion, Du Bois identifies Mr. Washington’s recommendations for the blacks to realize liberation. He recommends that the blacks should abandon political power and halt insisting on civil rights. Thirdly, he recommended the blacks to embrace industrial education for their youths, as opposed to higher education. However, Du Bois criticizes the propositions of Mr. Washington. In fact, he believes that Mr. Washington’s doctrines are modeled to inflict the Negro problem on their own shoulders. In the last line of the chapter, Du Bois points out the equality of man and the inalienable rights endowed in each being.

Chapter Four: Of the Meaning of Progress

At the beginning of the chapter, Du Bois notes that when he used to teach at school in the hills of Tennessee, and when he was a Fisk student. He tells of a Teachers’ Institute, where distinguished guests taught the teachers arithmetic, spelling, and other mysteries. The white teachers were taught in the mornings while the Negroes had their lessons in the nights. Then again, it was difficult for these black teachers to find jobs. Du Bois narrates his own search for a job and the way he ends up in a dull framed cottage in the hills. In a bid to secure the school, Du Bois accompanies a white man who was interested in establishing the white school. When they arrive to the commissioner’s office, they are offered dinner as they awaited the Certificate. However, Du Bois had to eat after the two white men had completed their meal.

In a creative way, Du Bois describes the school, which had once been Colonel Wheeler’s shelter for corns. He describes the poor structures and the dilapidated state of his new class in a way that creates a vivid picture of the class. In his descriptions, Du Bois attaches humor to the otherwise solemn situation, stirring an interesting feeling. In this setting, Du Bois confines a significant part of the chapter towards accounting for his experiences in a new school. In the writing, Du Bois narrates his endeavors with the elderly white class. However, after ten years, he reverted to the walls of Fisk University. As the chapter ends, Du Bois questions the measure of the progress he had made in that little old school.

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Chapter Five: of the Wings of Atlanta

Du Bois begins the chapter in a poetic description of Atlanta.   Here he ponders on the realization of his long time dream. In the chapter, Du Bois employs myriad descriptions to identify Atlanta. He observes its dominance and the subsequent forces that have stirred its calmness. However, he observes that Atlanta is neither the first nor the last to embrace such changes. In his description, he muses, “Atlanta is not the first or the last maiden whom greed of gold has led to defile the temple of love.” He identifies men to have a significant contribution towards inflicting such changes to society. Du Bois goes further to describe the tale of the winged maiden of Boeotia.

Du Bois feels that Atlanta should not drift the South towards embracing material prosperity. Then again, he observes the problems associated with such a move. Such a life, according to Du Bois, is a life of pretence. He criticizes the relevance attached to wealth. Moreover, he questions whether wealth has addressed their grievances in fighting slave feudalism or providing law and order. He cautions on the implications of the trend. He observes that the behavior is not confined in Atlanta alone; most states beyond Atlanta have been tempted to value wealth, as opposed to the immediate grievances they experience.

He observes that in the black world, it would be indispensable for both teachers and preachers to preserve the ideals of the black society. In the chapter, he identifies Atlanta yet again. He observes that despite having the industries in most parts of the state, the western part of the state comprises of old buildings owned by Negroes. He identifies the beauty of such a group of people to lay in their unity. In as such, mingle freely in the streets and live coherently. Du Bois identifies changes in Atlanta in his last statement off the chapter. In a poetic way, he identifies the changes inflicted on the state associated with the liberation of the African Americans.

Chapter Six: Of the Training of Black Men

Du Bois notes the increasing numbers of slaves that are often tempted with material commodities such as beads. In a way, Du Bois appears to retrace the history of slavery. In this chapter, he presumes that the Whites believed that the Negroes were created to serve them. According to Du Bois, the old thought of the South was that somewhere God created a Negro as a simple and “clownish” creature to serve the whites. Du Bois perceives the thought as absurd. No wonder, he remains quite certain that behind the thought, lurks an afterthought. 

Du Bois insists on the need for the black society to remain united despite the slavery and supposed inferiority. He maintains that the racial prejudice propelled by the whites remains a heavy fact. He believes such perception of the black society exists and recommends a sober approach to the matter. In as much way, he believes training can be imparted to the people without racial discrimination. He believes such training would have a fundamental role in enhancing reconciliation. However, he observes that it would be difficult for the Blacks to be provided with adequate trainings. Most Negro Colleges had been constructed hurriedly and barely had the relevant facilities to offer adequate training. However, Du Bois shifts a profound concern towards the need of imparting civilization as opposed to higher education.

The chapter treads the challenges experienced by the Negroes in providing adequate facilities for their training. He also explores the inadequate population of qualified teachers to offer the relevant training. In his conclusion, he finds it imperative for the Negro college to maintain the standards of popular education. He believes that institutions should enhance social regeneration among students to foster identity.

Chapter Seven: Of the Black Belt

Similar to most other chapters in the book, Du Bois begins with a flashback. He traces back to his experience in Georgia. He identifies Georgia as the geographical home of the Negro population. He also points the state as the centre of the Negro problems. He vividly retraces the events that saw the inhabitants of the state who occupy the land. He then draws attention to Darien, where a Delegal riot occurred some years ago. The scotch highlanders used to offer strong protests against slavery. Du Bois traces how the Negro populations drained into Georgia in 1790 and 1810.

In an account of a journey, Du Bois retraces the Black Belt; a region that is located two hundred miles west of the Atlantic ocean, and has a population of ten thousand Negroes, and only two thousand whites. The land is believed to have been owned by the Indians. However, the Indians were removed from the region following a revolution. As the Indians went back to their native territories, most settlers reoccupied the land. The land was fertile with forests full of poplar, oak and other trees. Du Bois remembers his forty-five years stay in Dougherty alongside his old wife.

The chapter seeks to explore Du Bois’ journey within the Black Belt. He remembers the days when the black slaves were brought to the land. Feet chained, marching along Virginia and Carolina to Georgia. Du Bois observes the presence of immigrants in the region. However, when he observes the progress of the black, he feels jovial that his people are rising.

At the end of the chapter, Du Bois passes along Munson place where an eleven acre Sennet Plantation is located. It is then that the character of lands begins to take a different shape. The Jews own most of the lands, but Du Bois marvels at the increased black land ownership.


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