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The Souls of Black Folk | Quotes


One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 1

Du Bois mentions frequently the double consciousness experienced by African Americans, always forced to see themselves through the eyes of a critical white majority that regards them with "amused contempt and pity."


The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 1

Despite the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, Du Bois observes that the current economic structure has denied a majority of black citizens their supposed rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The 13th amendment ended slavery; the 14th amendment established citizenship for those born in the United States; and the 15th amendment granted male citizens the right to vote.


To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 1

The wealth disparity between black and white people at a time when industry is booming adds insult to injury.


The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 2

This first line of the second essay cuts right to the core of what the white majority refers to as "the Negro Problem." Du Bois identifies the color line as the most divisive element in societies worldwide, and the creation of this split in the United States is the subject of this chapter.


There was scarcely a white man in the South who did not honestly regard Emancipation as a crime, and its practical nullification as a duty.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 2

Here lies what Du Bois sees as the motivation for the social and economic plight of black citizens after Emancipation. With the majority of Southern white society feeling threatened by emancipation, their response was to install Jim Crow laws and to use violence and intimidation to enforce them.


The hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is a dangerous thing.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 3

In his outspoken message opposing Booker T. Washington's "Atlanta Compromise," Du Bois reminds Americans of the importance of free speech, which he describes as "the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society."


It is wrong to encourage a man or a people in evildoing; it is wrong to aid and abet a national crime simply because it is unpopular not to do so.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 3

The "national crime" here is the institutionalized racism oppressing black citizens in America. Du Bois urges the white majority to renounce this "evil-doing" even if it seems to be accepted behavior by so many.


It is a hard thing to live haunted by the ghost of an untrue dream; to see the wide vision of empire fade into real ashes and dirt.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 5

Du Bois says this of the South. Its cotton empire has been destroyed by war, yet many Southerners still cling to the ideologies that led to their region's ruination. In this quote, he sympathizes with the plight of Southerners who have seen their dreams crushed, but he also asks that they do the same for the Negroes they continue to oppress.


In all our Nation's striving is not the Gospel of Work befouled by the Gospel of Pay?

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 5

As industry begins to boom in the United States, the preoccupation with amassing wealth corrupts the ethic of hard work. And in black society, hard work is not rewarded by equivalent pay.


The true college will ever have one goal,—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 5

Higher education rises above the end goal of earning money to enrich the souls of the students so that their lives can inspire the lives of others and be sources of progress in society's culture.


They whose lot is gravest must have the carefullest training to think aright.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 5

Du Bois points out how isolated African Americans have been in their struggle to gain footing as citizens because of segregation policies. It is the duty of the dominant culture to guide and inspire them toward a path of moral and productive living. And the culture can only do so by giving them access to the very best in education.


The final product of our training must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 5

This speaks to the importance of doing as much to create a sense of self-worth and dignity in a man as to teach him a trade. Here, Du Bois specifically argues against vocational training alone for black society and in defense of a liberal arts education.


For this is certain, no secure civilization can be built in the South with the Negro as an ignorant, turbulent proletariat.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 6

Trying to maintain a disenfranchised and ignorant class of society will only create rising resentment, anger, and violence.


The keynote of the Black Belt is debt; ... continued inability on the part of the mass of the population to make income cover expense.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 8

The South's rigged system of tenant farming has rendered black families unable to work their way out of debt and gives them very little more freedom than they had as slaves.


Well sped, my boy, before the world had dubbed your ambition insolence, had held your ideals unattainable, and taught you to cringe and bow.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Chapter 11

These are the words Du Bois uses to console himself over the death of his young son. Though consumed by grief, he is expressing to the boy his relief that he will never have to endure the pains of racial prejudice and discrimination.

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