Racial Issues in the Souls of Black Folk

December 27, 2020 by Essay Writer

The Souls of Black Folk is a book authored by W.E.B. Du Bois, a leading black intellectual and one of the movers and shakers during the Harlem Renaissance. The title, Souls of Black Folk refers to the spirituality of African Americans, their struggles, hopes as well as their identities and social experiences. Touching on Greek mythology, Christianity, and traditional African Voudoun, Du Bois manages to merge these references to spiritualize the Negro existence. This text is historically tied in to both the Harlem Renaissance (1912-1935) and the Civil Rights Movement (1958-1964) because of the emphasis on black identity, Negro consciousness, and the awareness and assertion of the Black American of his unique experience which fosters Negro pride, dignity, and a demand for equality and rights.

Without an independent personality, the Black folk are trapped as a projected image of societal impressions rather than who they really are. As far as Black identity is concerned Du Bois talks about “this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Du Bois). The mainstream American stereotype of Black folk embodies the ridiculous, the frivolous, the thoughtless, and ultimately the inferior. This concept wars against innate Blackness. In the attempt to gain recognition, the Black man is compelled to assimilate himself into a mold to be accepted by a reluctant public who is humored and repulsed by him. Black folk have to stand up to misrepresentation, misconceptions, and perversions of the self and it is in striving against these elements that Negro literary and musical expression generates the desire to see social change and progress. “In its emphasis on the symbolic weight of Black folk spirituality and spiritual singing, the Souls of Black Folk stands as a singing book…the New Negro (1925) purpose is to sound a comprehensive Afro-American voice, one capable of singing in the manner of spirituals…yet adept in the ways of southern education and vocation” (Baker 1987). The universality of music and its skill in the mouths and instruments of Black musicians gave way to a music-based movement, the Harlem Renaissance, which stressed the essence of identity, unifying the voices of Black people. It is not until a genre of uniformity is conceived that black activism could take place. The New Negro, a novel which preceded the Harlem Renaissance is forged by Alain Locke. This new Negro is the neo African-American who refused the values of submission and passivity. This sentiment echoes W.E.B. Du Bois’ aspirations for Black folk who embrace one clear consciousness, instead of a dual one and who proactively pursue their goals, waging against the social divide and disproportionate dealings.

The Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement bring into view the importance of black educated authors who write from their own experiences, focusing on the injustices, discrimination, and Afrocentricity. Education is usually the predecessor to revolution and so it is with the Harlem Renaissance. Both these eras are both civil rights movement since they usher in a forum in which to convey expressions of grief and grievances. As a result, America is forced to recognize the ‘color-line’ and the plight of blacks. The Harlem Renaissance was a reactionary movement against the Jim Crow laws of the South which excluded and segregated Blacks from participating in mainstream life. The collective repression forced Blacks from all over the world to unite under the aegis of the New Negro Movement. People of African descent from America, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean joined forces therefore a Pan-African association was born. Since the publishing of Souls of Black Folk in 1903, Du Bois already characterized Black folk summing up common backgrounds, nurturing a bond among Blacks. Both the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement are filled with Black activism and violence where Blacks rise up, defend themselves, protest against ills, and fight for rights. “Dr. Du Bois’ classic and most popular book emerged as an inspirational reference and resource for the modern Civil Rights Movement…(serving as) a protest statement in prose and song and as an example of the theory and praxis of protest strategies used by African Americans during the twentieth century” (Morgan). The popularity of protest poetry, song, and speech foments greater unity and hardens the will to oppose laws which perpetuated subjugation and tacit acceptance. It is no surprise either that Black spirituality also plays an active role in the Civil Rights era since it is Black spiritual leaders who spearhead the attack against racism, segregation, and inequality.

In sum, the Souls of Black Folk, The Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement have five common denominators: W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963), who succeeded in surviving the two periods, Afro-American musicality, unity, spirituality, and education. The Souls of Black Folk paved the way for these developments to unfold and encouraged the poor masses to merge music with protest.

Read more