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288 pages, Paperback
First published April 18, 1903
I remember one big red-eyed black whom we met by the roadside. Forty-five years he had labored on this farm, beginning with nothing, and still having nothing. To be sure, he had given four children a common-school training, and perhaps if the new fence-law had not allowed unfenced crops in West Dougherty he might have raised a little stock and kept ahead. As it is, he is hopelessly in debt, disappointed, and embittered. He stopped us to inquire after the black boy in Albany, whom it was said a policeman had shot and killed for loud talking on the sidewalk. And then he said slowly: "Let a white man touch me, and he dies; I don't boast this,—I don't say it around loud, or before the children,—but I mean it. I've seen them whip my father and my old mother in them cotton-rows till the blood ran; by—" and we passed on.The second is a question--relevant for all of us--about of the Negro Sprituals:
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?
"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.The above quote is from the first two paragraphs of the book. This excerpt is something that Black Americans consciously or unconsciously have to always confront. Of course this book, being part self-study, uses Du Bois own life in order to examine the Black experience.
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience, -- peculiar even for one who has never been anything else..."
"...the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves...For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination. For, as I have said, the police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re-enslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man's conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims. - from chapter 9.This has been confirmed, by now, as not just a Southern problem, but as a nation-wide issue now. Another issue is the lack of balanced employment. Du Bois was convinced that if greedy land-owners did not perpetually swindle Black people out of ownership, there would not be such a large movement of people from rural areas to the urban areas. He was, in-fact, witnessing the origins of The Great Migration.
Free! The most piteous thing amid all the black ruin of war-time, amid the broken fortunes of the masters, the blighted hopes of mothers and maidens, and the fall of an empire – the most piteous thing amid all this was the black freedman who threw down his hoe because the world called him free. What did such a mockery of freedom mean? Not a cent of money, not an inch of land, not a mouthful of victuals – not even ownership of the rags on his back. Free!
Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live – a Negro and a Negro's son. Holding in that little head – ah, bitterly! – the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand – ah, wearily! – to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty a lie. I saw the shadow of the Veil as it passed over my baby, I saw the cold city towering above the blood-red land. I held my face beside his little cheek, showed him the star-children and the twinkling lights as they began to flash, and stilled with an evensong the unvoiced terror of my life.
"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."
Much that the white boy imbibes from his earliest social atmosphere forms the puzzling problems of the black boy's mature years.On Feb 1st, 1903, a century ago and counting, W.E.B. Du Bois introduced this work with the statement that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." It is the Twenty-First century. I regularly teach students who have known no other century than this. All of them have aspirations to go to college. Very few of them are white, and as someone who's neither straight nor neurotypical, I'd imagine a fair amount of them are the same. There's no guarantee that pursuing higher education in California will protect them, or that limiting the search to "liberal" states will offer a buffer between them and those who follow in the footsteps of their forebears and enact their violence outside the realm of video games. All that these "liberal" states have are in preponderance are brown nosing equivocators who think social justice and property destruction are incompatible, as if the Boston Tea Party, the Bastille, Stonewall, the Berlin Wall, etc, etc, etc, meant nothing. The fact that I haven't seen a single black student or employee at my center makes sense in the state with what has been called "the biggest prison building project in the history of the world."
The silently growing assumption of this age is that the probation of races is past, and that the backward races of to-day are of proven inefficiency and not worth the saving. Such an assumption is the arrogance of peoples irreverent toward Time and ignorant of the deeds of men. A thousand years ago such an assumption, easily possible, would have made it difficult for the Teuton to prove his right to life. Two thousand years ago such dogmatism, readily welcome, would have scouted the idea of blond races ever leading civilization.