W. E. B. Du Bois: Souls of Black Folk


W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963), was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and became the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He then became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois fought for fullcivil rights for African-Americans and thought this could be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. In 1964, a year after he passed, the U.S. Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms he had fought for all his life, was finally passed. This collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, from which this excerpt comes, is not only a classic of American literature, but it’s a pioneering work in the history of sociology, and of course a linchpin in African-American history. The quote below comes from its first chapter. Du Bois begins what might be called theintellectual manisfesto of the black American with a bang: the curse and gift of every black American is to feel marginalized on the one hand, but through the bigotry, hatred, slavery, and suffering he or she experiences, earns a strength of character no average white American can know.


After the Egyptian and the Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world–a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, 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 two-ness,—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.