Students in my new course, African American History since 1865, just finished reading and discussing excerpts from The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois's pathbreaking 1903 anthology, "part prose poem, part sociological tract, part memoir, part manifesto." I never tire of this work, and am constantly astonished at how fresh and incisive it remains more than a century after its first publication. Indeed, the title of this blog, Strivings, is an hommage to Du Bois and Souls, taken from the title of its first essay, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings."
Now I read that Yale University Press has just published a very inexpensive ($7.95, paper) reprint of the first edition with a new, 30-page introduction and critical assessment by Jonathan Scott Holloway, a fine scholar of African American intellectual and cultural history. You can find it here at the press's site. Kudos to Prof. Holloway, whose earlier work I was already impressed with, for this excellent addition to the scholarship on Du Bois and Souls. It has just completely ruined my morning plans for the office, but satisfied me in other more important ways. Holloway makes a powerful argument for the continued relevance of this seminal work:
Even while we must place Du Bois’s ideas in their proper historical context, we will find many as relevant today as at the time of their first publication. His insights into the nation’s psyche tell us as much about our present as they do about the past. His deft interpretation of how social fundamentals—education, labor, violence—“colored” his world needs little updating. Put another way, The Souls of Black Folk demonstrates that this country has yet to solve the racial riddles that are written into the nation’s founding documents, ideologies, and practices. W. E. B. Du Bois, the brilliant son of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the agitator of the nation’s conscience, the citizen of Ghana, still speaks to us, to our condition, and to our humanity. It is critical that we listen.
My new copy is on its way!