The Soul is an American classic authored by W.E.B. Du Bois. It is an influential piece in the literature of African Americans published in 1903. Du Bois poises that the 20th-century problem is that of color-line. Apart from these enduring ideas, Du Bois provides an assessment of race progress, obstacles of that progress as well as the promises for future progress as America entered the 20th century (Du Bois, 1903). Du Bois starts his lamentation about the condition of the Negroes in the Black Belt of Dougherty County, Georgia. He talks of the Big House (obviously for the Whites) and compares it with the cabins used by the slaves which are crowded and lacking in ventilation. Du Bois provides the causes of such miserable homes as long history of slavery, the reluctance of Negroes to demand better, landlords’ failure to realize that a well-paid worker gives more value and lastly lack of hope in life by the Negroes.
Du Bois talks of the Negro family which has decreased since the war due to economic stress. He describes the broken Negro family, their postponement of marriage and sexual immorality. The black county as a whole according to Souls is a mixture of 10% rich together with the best of laborers whereas the majority is poor and ignorant. Du Bois attributes this to a lack of diversification of jobs by blacks, the majority of who are dependent on one industry-farming. Blacks lack leisure class, unlike the Whites who have time to make homes, learn the world as well as rest after strife. Du Bois aptly captures the new form of slavery for the Negroes through the cotton crop (the currency of Black Belt) and the rise of the prosperous white merchant. The system has thus conspired to keep the Negro in debt so as to make him work for the white man. Thus, “White man sit down whole year; Nigger work day and night and make crop; Nigger hardly gits bread and meat; white man sittin’ down gits all. It’s wrong.”(Du Bois, 1903).
The Negro is ignorant of the labor market which is further increased by the laws of most Southern States. This is further propagated by the unwritten law of small Southern towns and back districts which require the character of Negroes must be vouched for by a white man. Du Bois exposes white patronage in most of the southern states in the form of arbitrary arrests, illegal exactions, and lawless oppression. Du Bois gives the reason for the blacks not moving out of Dougherty County, Georgia in search of better wages and working conditions as huddling for protection. Blacks, therefore, stay together for security reasons since they outnumber whites 4 or 5 to 1.Blacks are therefore lacking in incentive beyond the simple pleasure of physical effort. The white man, on the other hand, makes no attempt to improve the livelihood of the blacks since, according to him; it would result in total failure. Thus both master and man have enough argument, each on their side making it difficult to understand one another. All this has led to a social struggle evidenced by economic as well as social classes amongst the Negroes.
Du Bois talks of the great mass of the black population who worked on the land on their own accord, paying rent as well as supported by the crop-mortgage system. Thus the metayer paid 20 to 30 cents of his crop in rent which resulted in abuse as well as neglect of soil and a host of other evils. Du Bois concludes by saying that were the black landowners whoever had land had kept or left it under fellow black men, Negroes would have double the land they have now. Du Bois claims that out of the stressful economic conditions of the Black Belt, it is only 6% that have succeeded in becoming peasant proprietors, something he attributes to mass migration to towns.
The Souls portrays both reflections as well as celebration. Thus mainstream together with academic arenas need to pause and ponder the implications of Du Bois’s essay on our comprehension of the burden as well as the extent of prejudice, together with Negros’s ignorance of the existing opportunities. This essay, thus, serves as a proof of Du Bois’s position as not only one of the leading scholars on race, in general, but also the Black experience as well. Thus in this essay, Du Bois offers keen insight into the pertinent social issues of the day. Du Boi’s text is significant since it has a wide application for comprehending the economic, political, cultural and social implications of a black and white society dangerously structured to gather and measure one group’s success at the other’s expense. Moreover, Du Bois’s findings, as well as observations, are timeless; several of the concerns he raises keep on plaguing society up to now. He thus presented a challenge-how a wealthy, White community could be so deep-rooted in racial prejudice, on one side, and how an extremely distressed Black community maneuvered such hostilities in the same environment.
Du Bois therefore eloquently informs his readers of a myriad and variety of challenges that Blacks face due to inequalities in almost every arena in society. The strength of this essay also lies in the unique ability of Du Bois to critically and systematically evaluate flaws in White society as well as the ensuing ignorance and restrictions in Black society. Whereas Du Bois clearly demonstrated the legacy of prejudice as the fundamental perpetrator that thwarted progress for the Black race, he was able in a sober manner to demonstrate ways in which a huge section of the Black populace rejected to avail themselves to the available resources needed to improve their lot. Thus the themes of economic emancipation and race are woven throughout this essay to demonstrate life after freedom not only for the rich white man, poor freed blacks but also for the Negro as well.
Du Bois, Burghardt. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co. Chicago, 1903.