The Souls of Black Folk | Study Guide

W.E.B. Du Bois

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The Souls of Black Folk | Forethought | Summary


The essays that make up The Souls of Black Folk were published in magazines and journals prior to their publication in book form. For that reason there is some repetition across several of the essays. This study guide groups some of the related essays for the purpose of summary and analysis.


In the brief "Forethought" that opens The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois addresses a white audience at the turn of the 20th century, asking for their patience and willingness to learn about the experience of African Americans from Emancipation to their present time. He asserts, "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line," and then proceeds to outline the flow and groupings of the book's essays. He also introduces the metaphor of "the Veil," which he uses frequently throughout the book to depict racial segregation. In his final sentence, he makes it clear that he descends from those African Americans who live within the Veil.


Du Bois presents The Souls of Black Folk to his white audience as an exploration of both the public lives of African Americans in relation to the white population trying to control them, as well as of their spiritual, interior lives, usually hidden to white people. He takes his readers into his confidence, earnestly conveying his intention: to help them understand how the strained relationship between so many white and black people in the South came to pass. Du Bois then prepares the readers for an intimate glimpse of life within the Veil. This is a place of sorrow and of song, of old religion fused with Southern Christianity, and Du Bois wants the reader to know that he feels a kinship with this place. As a man who has straddled the black and white worlds more successfully than most in his day—attending Harvard University and studying in Berlin with white men—Du Bois makes a point of letting his audience know his own racial identity, associating himself clearly with those dwelling within the Veil.

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