"The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. Du Bois

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Given its theme and aims, The Souls of Black Folk has the potential to polarize its readership. There are those who would pooh pooh its weight and relevancy, but for me Du Bois propounds his theses with honesty and just the right level of plaintiveness to convey his message quite effectively. It is just these virtues that have made this important book part of the academic and social canon of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

And this is no dry academic tome. Du Bois mixes personal anecdote with his social scientist’s discerning eye to produce a very informative history of Negroes in America, slave and free, and a heartfelt polemic for equality. Du Bois’s language has a formal stateliness to it which never flags. He remains uniformly honest about the sometimes self-inflicted problems of blacks in America, but is convincing about the source of the problems, and the ways in which blunders and maliciousness in the wake of Emancipation have exacerbated them.

This book surprised me with its highly personal combination of careful research and homespun look at social trends. The personal also encompasses Du Bois’s own life: we encounter him as a young teacher and parent, as a highly respected educator, and as an early appreciator of that singular contribution of African Americans - their music. As literary output, this piece deserves its eminent status in American social letters. It deals directly and honestly with racial prejudice, serves as a central and important source on the history of race relations in America, and exhorts its audience to consider the state of relations and how it can be cured. It’s necessary reading for any person interested in the subject in America.

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