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The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of American literature by W. E. B. Du Bois. It is a seminal work in the history of sociology, and a cornerstone of African-American literary history.
The book, published in 1903, contains several essays on race, some of which had been previously published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. To develop this groundbreaking work, Du Bois drew from his own experiences as an African-American in the American society. Outside of its notable relevance in African-American history, The Souls of Black Folk also holds an important place in social science as one of the early works in the field of sociology.
In Living Black History, Du Bois biographer Manning Marable observes:
Few books make history and fewer still become foundational texts for the movements and struggles of an entire people. The Souls of Black Folk occupies this rare position. It helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century. "Souls" justified the pursuit of higher education for Negroes and thus contributed to the rise of the black middle class. By describing a global color-line, Du Bois anticipated pan-Africanism and colonial revolutions in the Third World. Moreover, this stunning critique of how 'race' is lived through the normal aspects of daily life is central to what would become known as 'whiteness studies' a century later.
Each chapter in The Souls of Black Folk begins with a lyric epigraph, complete with a musical score of the melody. Along with traditional spirituals and African-American poetry, white European and American poets such as Schiller, Fitzgerald, Whittier and Byron are also represented. These lyrics deal with sorrow, suffering, hope, and liberation.
Du Bois says of these slave songs:
"I know that these songs are the articulate message of the slave to the world.