Quotes from The Souls of Black Folk

W.E.B. Du Bois ·  288 pages

Rating: (26.1K votes)


“Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor, — all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked, — who is good? not that men are ignorant, — what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“One ever feels his twoness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strenth alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“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 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 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 thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from 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.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched,- criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, - this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk



“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The equality in political, industrial and social life which modern men must have in order to live, is not to be confounded with sameness. On the contrary, in our case, it is rather insistence upon the right of diversity; - upon the right of a human being to be a man even if he does not wear the same cut of vest, the same curl of hair or the same color of skin. Human equality does not even entail, as it is sometimes said, absolute equality of opportunity; for certainly the natural inequalities of inherent genius and varying gift make this a dubious phrase. But there is more and more clearly recognized minimum of opportunity and maximum of freedom to be, to move and to think, which the modern world denies to no being which it recognizes as a real man.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, and adjustment which forms the secret of civilisation.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk



“In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“America is not another word for Opportunity to all her sons.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“John," she said, "does it make every one unhappy when they study and learn lots of things"
He paused and smiled. “I am afraid it does,” he said.

"And, John, are you glad you studied?"
"Yes," came the answer, slowly but positively.

She watched the flickering lights upon the sea, and said thoughtfully,
“I wish I was unhappy,—and—and,” putting both arms about
his neck, “I think I am, a little, John.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“Then, as the storm burst round him, he
rose slowly to his feet and turned his closed eyes toward the Sea.
And the world whistled in his ears.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk



“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color-line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of the evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius... and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The price of culture is a Lie.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“It is not enough for the Negroes to declare that color-prejudice is the sole cause of their social condition, nor for the white South to reply that their social condition is the main cause of prejudice. They both act as reciprocal cause and effect, and a change in neither alone will bring the desired effect. Both must change, or neither can improve to any great extent."(p.88)...."Only by a union of intelligence and sympathy across the color-line in this critical period of the Republic shall justice and right triumph,”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men?”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk



“Daily the Negro is coming more and more to look upon law and justice, not as protecting safeguards, but as sources of humiliation and oppression. The laws are made by men who have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have absolutely no motive for treating the black people with courtesy or consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would rather punish ten innocent Negroes than let one guilty one escape.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“We have no right to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children, black and white.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“Deception is the natural defence of the weak against the strong, and the South used it for many years against its conquerors; to-day it must be prepared to see its black proletariat turn that same two-edged weapon against itself. And how natural this is! The death of Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner proved long since to the Negro the present hopelessness of physical defence. Political defence is becoming less and less available, and economic defence is still only partially effective. But there is a patent defence at hand,—the defence of deception and flattery, of cajoling and lying. It is the same defence which peasants of the Middle Age used and which left its stamp on their character for centuries. To-day the young Negro of the South who would succeed cannot be frank and outspoken, honest and self-assertive, but rather he is daily tempted to be silent and wary, politic and sly; he must flatter and be pleasant, endure petty insults with a smile, shut his eyes to wrong; in too many cases he sees positive personal advantage in deception and lying. His real thoughts, his real aspirations, must be guarded in whispers; he must not criticise, he must not complain. Patience, humility, and adroitness must, in these growing black youth, replace impulse, manliness, and courage. With this sacrifice there is an economic opening, and perhaps peace and some prosperity. Without this there is riot, migration, or crime. Nor is this situation peculiar to the Southern United States, is it not rather the only method by which undeveloped races have gained the right to share modern culture? The price of culture is a Lie.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The nineteenth was the first century of human sympathy, -- the age when half wonderingly we began to descry in others that transfigured spark of divinity which we call Myself; when clodhoppers and peasants, and tramps and thieves, and millionaires and -- sometimes -- Negroes, became throbbing souls whose warm pulsing life touched us so nearly that we half gasped with surprise, crying, "Thou too! Hast Thou seen Sorrow and the dull waters of Hopelessness? Hast Thou known Life?”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk



“And herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor,—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked,—who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The degree of ignorance cannot easily be expressed. We may say, for instance, that nearly two-thirds of them cannot read or write. This but partially expresses the fact. They are ignorant of the world about them, of modern economic organization, of the function of government, of individual worth and possibilities,—of nearly all those things which slavery in self-defence had to keep them from learning. Much that the white boy imbibes from his earliest social atmosphere forms the puzzling problems of the black boy’s mature years. America is not another word for Opportunity to all her sons.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“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.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“The opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk


“You will not wonder at his weird pilgrimage,-who who in the swift whifl of living, amid its cold paradox and marvelous vision, have fronted life and aked its riddle face to face. And if you find that riddle hard to read, remember that yonder black boy finds it just a little harder; if it is difficult for you to find and face your duty, it is a shade more difficult for him; if your heart sickens in the blood and dust of battle, remember that to him the dust is thicker and the battle fiercer.”
― W.E.B. Du Bois, quote from The Souls of Black Folk



About the author

W.E.B. Du Bois
Born place: in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, The United States
Born date February 23, 1868
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