Carolyn Shuttlesworth
Literature & Culture
Material Type:
Primary Source
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Creative Commons Attribution

20th Century:1903 & 1906


African American Literature 1619-1926

William Edward Burghardt DuBois (1868-1963)

                                                             The Souls of Black Folk

Chapter 1  Of Our Spiritual Strivings

...  After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is 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 thee revelation of thr other world.  It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of other of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his twoness,- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it fom being torn asunder.

     The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood,, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.  In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.  He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa.  He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.  He  simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.


Chapter XIV  The Sorrow Songs

   ...Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope- a faith in the ultimate justice of things.  The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence.  Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond.  But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins.  Is such a hope justified?  Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?...

       Your country? How came it yours?  Before the Pilgrims landed we were here.  Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song- soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit.  Around us the history of the land has centered for thrice a hundred years; out of the nation's heart we have called all that was best to throttle and subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacrifice , have billowed over this people, and they have found peace only in the altars of the God of Right.  Nor has our gift of the Spirit been merely passive.  Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,- we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a head-strong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse.  Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood.  Are not these gifts worth the giving?  Is not this work and striving?  Would America have been America without her Negro people?


                                                  Resolution at Harper's Ferry/ the Niagara Movement 

     The men of the Niagara Movement, coming from the year's hard work, and pausing a moment from the earning of their daily bread, turn toward the nation and again ask in the name of ten million the privilege of a heaing.  In the past year the work of the Negro hater has flourished in the land.  Step by step the defenders of the rights of American citizens have retreated.  The work of  stealing the black man's ballot has progressed and the fifty and more representatives of stolen votes still sit in the nation's capital.  Discrimination in travel and public accommodation has so spread that some of our weaker brethren ae actually afraid to thunder against color discrimination as such and are simply whispering for ordinary decencies.

     Against this the Niagara Movement eternally protests.  We will not be satisfied to take one jot or tittle less than our full manhood rights.  We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protet and assail the ears of America.  The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone, but for all true Americans.  It is a fight for ideals, lest this, our common fatherland, false to its founding, become in truth the land the Thief and the home of the Slave - a by-word and a hissing among the nations for its sounding pretensions and pitiful accomplishment...

    In detail our demands are clear and unequivocal.

     First.  We would vote; with the right to vote goes everything: freedom, manhood, the honor of your wives, the chastity of your daughters, the right to work, and the chance to rie; let no man listen to those whoo deny this.

     We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now, henceforth and forever.

     Second.  We want discrimination in public accomodation to cease.  Separation in railway and street cars, based simply on race and color, is un-American, undemocratic, and silly.  We protest against all such discrimination.

     Third.  We claim the right of fremen to walk, talk, and be with them that wish to be with us.  No man has a right to choose another man's friends, and to attempt to do so is an impudent interference with the ost fundamental huan privilege.

     Fourth.  We want the laws enforced against rich as well as poor; against Capitalist as well as Laborer; against white as well as black.  We are not more lawless than the white race, we are more often arrested, convicted and mobbed.  We want justice even for criminals and outlaws.  We want the Constitution of the country enforced.  We want Congress to take charge of Congressional elections.  We want the Fourteenth amendment carried out to the leltter and every State disfranchised in Congress which attempts to disfranchise its rightful voters.  We want the Fifteenth amendment enforced and No State allowed to base its franchise simply on color.

      Fifth.  We want our children educated.  The school system in the county districts of the South is a disgrace and in few towns and cities are the Negro schools what they ought to be.  We want the national government to step in and wipe out illiteracy in the South.  Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.

     And when we call for education we mean real education.  We believe in work.  We ourselves are workers, but work is not necessarily education.  Education is the development of power and ideal.  We want our children trained as intelligent human beings should be, and we will fight for all time against any proposal to educate black boys and girls simply as servants and underlings, or simply for the use of other people.  They have a right to know, to think, to aspire..

     These are some of the chief things which we want.  How shall we get them?  By voting where we may vote, by persistent, unceasing agitation; by hammering at the truth, by sacrfice and work.