The Souls of Black Folk

  • by W. E. B. Du Bois
  • Narrated by Mirron Willis
  • 8 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” writes Du Bois, in one of the most prophetic works in all of American literature. First published in 1903, this collection of 15 essays dared to describe the racism that prevailed at that time in America—and to demand an end to it. Du Bois’ writing draws on his early experiences, from teaching in the hills of Tennessee, to the death of his infant son, to his historic break with the conciliatory position of Booker T. Washington.
Du Bois received a doctorate from Harvard in 1895 and became a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University. His dynamic leadership in the cause of social reform on behalf of his fellow blacks anticipated and inspired much of the black activism of the 1960s.
The Souls of Black Folk is a classic in the literature of civil rights.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868–1963) was one of the greatest African American intellectuals - a sociologist, historian, novelist, and activist whose astounding career spanned the nation’s history from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. Born in Massachusetts and educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, his masterpiece remains his most studied and popular work. Its insights into black life at still ring true today.

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What the Critics Say

“Thanks to W. E. B. Du Bois’ commitment and foresight - and the intellectual excellence expressed in this timeless literary gem - black Americans can today look in the mirror and rejoice in their beautiful black, brown, and beige reflections.” (Amazon.com review)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Sadly, still true.

Have you listened to any of Mirron Willis’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I liked the narrator of this book.


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This was an Audible impulse buy, but I'm glad I got it. DuBois, an African-American university professor in the early 1900s, wrote this book as a response to Booker T. Washington's plan for the post-slavery black community, and as a documentation of the kind of demoralization, fragmentation, and hopelessness of black America post-Civil War.

Washington's approach was pragmatic. African-Americans should stop lobbying for political rights. (Perhaps he felt it would incite too much backlash?) They should not dream of going to college, but of attending technical schools and going into the trades. Black America will succeed by putting their heads down and working hard for economic prosperity, with healthy doses of thrift and sacrifice.

DuBois' response was that a culture needs more than bread to live on. African-Americans needed to gain the ability to think about the world they live in, to articulate their experience and what they have to offer to our country. This could only come about through liberal education, not trade school alone. DuBois points out that the teachers at Washington's trade schools were not trained at trade schools, but at black colleges. These colleges also produced needed moral, spiritual, and intellectual leaders of the black community: professors, preachers, doctors, and other professionals.

Besides, Du Bois points out, Washington's ethic of "buckle down, work hard" doesn't even work. Du Bois documents the very real economic plight of the supposedly freed men and women. Though they are legally free, they are trapped in a cycle of indebted tenant farming. The few who, through ingenuity and the luck of a few good harvests, save up the money to buy their own land, are often cheated by whites who take their money and run. This and other structural inequalities, such as poor education funding and unstable families due to the heritage of slavery, expose Washington's philosophy for the canard it is - so says Du Bois. This book has made me curious to read Washington and hear his side of the story.

Formerly, said Du Bois, the 'best' blacks (the house slaves) and the 'best' whites were intimate, living together and having bonds of quasi-family ties; now they are segregated. How then can we understand one another? What's so sad is that most of this book can still apply today. In some ways, not much has changed for African-Americans living with the legacy of slavery and subsequent political and economic disenfranchisement. As a historical work, Du Bois' book is important to read 113 years later; his bristling literary style, full of high-brow literary allusions, only adds pleasure.

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- Jonathan Homrighausen "catholic majoring in classics and religious studies, student of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, world religions, psychology, philosophy."

Essays of 'life and love and strife and failure'

These are heartfelt essays about discrimination, injustice and denial. Du Bois analyzes the problem of 'color line' and the importance of 'dwelling above the veil' of prejudice in terms of sociology, history, religion, music and psychology.
From the start, the first chapter 'Of our spiritual strivings' moved me deeply. It focuses on the stereotype of an African American as "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."
The SoBF is a universally acknowledged literary masterpiece, a blend of poignant fiction, critique and autobiography. It creates powerful imagery that stays etched in your memory.
The book is made up of the following essays:
The Forethought
Of Our Spiritual Strivings
Of the Dawn of Freedom
Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others
Of the Meaning of Progress
Of the Wings of Atalanta
Of the Training of Black Men
Of the Black Belt
Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece
Of the Sons of Master and Man
Of the Faith of the Fathers
Of the Passing of the First-Born
Of Alexander Crummell
Of the Coming of John
The Sorrow Songs
The After-Thought
Each of the essays is introduced by a passage from poems and songs. The last section, which I found particularly insightful, interprets the message of African American folk songs.
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- ESK "There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times. ― Yevgeny Zamyatin"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-20-2010
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.