W.E.B. Du Bois (pronounced Due-Boyss) was a literary colossus: born in 1868, he was the first African American to earn a Ph.D at Harvard; one of the founders of the NAACP; a prolific author, essayist and editor; a visionary and architect of Pan-Africanism; and a model for authentic living. Reading and writing was illegal for African American slaves until 1865, causing many critics and cynics to question the legitimacy of slave narratives from giants like Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass. Published in 1903 amid Jim and Jane Crow laws, The Souls of Black Folk, itself barely a generation removed from slavery, enlightens the 20th century with a prophetic fire. On August 28, 1963, MLK and hundreds of thousands of brave souls – of all colours, creeds, casts, and stripes – had a dream together. Ominously, Du Bois passed away the day before the March on Washington at the mystical age of 95. His wisdom, though, reverberated within the crowd as they had a moment of silence for the Morpheus of their dream. It is thus easy for me to say that The Souls of Black Folk fuels my own dreams.
The Souls of Black Folk takes an unorthodox form: a collection of personal essays about Jim and Jane Crow Laws and their many insidious manifestations, expertly interwoven with slave sorrows and spirituals that preface each grand chapter. Du Bois begins Souls with a courageous proclamation that clairvoyantly frames the century at its embryonic stage: “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” In Race Matters, Cornel West reiterates that the problem of the twenty-first century remains the problem of the colour-line. One needs to only take a quick glance at the atrocities of the 20th century – and the failure of Western modernity – to prove Du Bois as an oracle of our epoch.
Furthermore, Souls continues to push our intellectual vision with another moving concept, double-consciousness: “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’s soul 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 souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” Double-consciousness poignantly provides us with an ability to conceptualize our split identities, where our culture, race, religion, sexuality and/or a myriad of other factors are placed in juxtaposition to the norm. Double-consciousness, especially in a globalized world (and library), is increasingly relevant for us.
The Souls of Black Folk is, unequivocally, my favourite non-fiction book, and I’m confident in my assertion that it will continue to be my favourite throughout my lifetime. I place it as my favourite non-fiction book, as opposed to my favourite book, because of its subject matter. By highlighting its realness – in its lived realities, authenticity, and in the Hip Hop sense – I hope to lend you, dear reader, the encouraging fire that ignites in my belly when I think about this art piece—an art piece that blossomed from the profane when Jim and Jane Crow’s tentacles had a tight-knit clasp on American consciousness.
In the history of the English written word, so rarely has a collection of thoughts produced such profundity that applies to us all.
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