The Souls of Black Folk by Du Bois: Summary, Analysis & Themes

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  • 0:01 Who Was W.E.B. Du Bois?
  • 0:33 The Souls of Black Folk
  • 1:33 Content
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chevette Alston

Dr. Alston has taught intro psychology, child psychology, and developmental psychology at 2-year and 4-year schools.

This lesson gives a summary of 'The Souls of Black Folk,' which is a book that was written by W.E.B. Du Bois. A brief history of Du Bois is given, as well as an analysis of the content and theme of the book.

Who Was W.E.B. Du Bois?

W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois was born February 23, 1868, and lived until his death on August 27, 1963. He was born and raised by his mother in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois was a successful student and graduated with a bachelor's degree from Fisk University in Tennessee. He became the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from Harvard University.

The Souls of Black Folk

Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. His book offers an assessment of the progress of the African-American race, the obstacles to progress, and the possibilities for future progress as the nation entered the 20th century. It is considered a groundbreaking work in African-American literature. Some consider it to be an American classic.

In his book, Du Bois proposes that the problem with the 20th century was the 'color-line.' The phrase 'color line' was a reference to the racial segregation that existed in the United States after the abolition of slavery. Some consider Du Bois's concepts of life behind the cover of race and 'double-consciousness' to be the norm for African Americans in America. Double consciousness is considered a person caught between the self-conception of being 'American' as well as a person of African descent, making it difficult to have a unified identity.


The content of this book also discusses Du Bois's experiences as a schoolteacher in rural Tennessee. He argues there should be a balance between the training and culture in order for African-American colleges to train the Talented Tenth, which were those who could contribute to lower education and also act as liaisons to improve race relations.

Du Bois thought this would be difficult because the legal system and tenant farming at the time were not far removed from the previous slavery era. He goes on to examine the impact of slavery on morality and how religion for the African-American culture was a vital part of this culture's history. In the last chapters of the book, Du Bois focused on the impact of racial prejudice. His book ends with African-American spirituals. These were the songs that expressed the cultural difficulties that characterized the African-American experience.

Overall, the content of this book examines the years that followed the Civil War, especially the Freedmen's Bureau's role in Reconstruction. Reconstruction was the period following the Civil War of rebuilding the United States, and the Freedmen's Bureau was a U.S. federal government agency that aided freed slaves. Unfortunately, it was not very effective during the Reconstruction Era of the United States. The Bureau's failures were due not only to courts that were biased but also mismanagement and Southern opposition. The Bureau's most important contribution to progress was the founding of African-American schools.

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