W.E.B. Du Bois was the foremost black intellectual of his time. The Souls of Black Folk (1903), his most influential work, is a collection of fourteen beautifully written essays, by turns lyrical, historical, and autobiographical. Here, Du Bois records the cruelties of racism, celebrates the strength and pride of black America, and explores the paradoxical "double-consciousness" of African-American life. "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line," he writes, prophesying the struggle for freedom that became his life's work. For the first time, the authoritative editions of works by major American novelists, poets, scholars, and essayists collected in the hardcover volumes of The Library of America are being published singly in a series of handsome and durable paperback books. A distinguished author has contributed an introduction for each volume, which also includes a detailed chronology of the author's life and career, an essay on the choice of the text, and notes. From the Trade Paperback edition.
This release is in honor of the centennial of the publication of Du Bois's classic collection of writings on the experiences of the newly freed slaves after the Civil War. As in the print version, the audiobook includes a small portion of one of the Negro sorrow songs, songs that express the sadness and the hopes of the slaves. Du Bois looks at the history of African Americans to 1903, discussing how the government had not lived up to its promises. He brings forward his ideas of the "talented tenth" and the importance of educating this group so that they can help improve the world for other African Americans. Du Bois also attacks the beliefs of Booker T. Washington, who suggested that African Americans educate themselves to be better farmers and laborers and not aspire to professional careers. The audio ends with a short story, documenting the lives of two men named John, one black and one white, who leave the plantation where they grew up to attend college and return to deal with the changes in themselves and the expectations of their communities, with tragic results. Warren Hazlett does a masterful job of reading this wonderful work. It should find a home in all libraries, especially those with African American history collections.-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 25, 2005
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Excerpt from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
OF OUR SPIRITUAL STRIVINGS
O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand,
All night long crying with a mournful cry,
As I lie and listen, and cannot understand
The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea,
O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I
All night long the water is crying to me.
Unresting water, there shall never be rest
Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail,
And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west;
And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea,
All life long crying without avail,
As the water all night long is crying to me.
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem I answer seldom a word.
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,--peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards--ten cents a package--and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,--refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the words I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,--some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.