'Souls of Black Folks' prompts FAHI discussion

October 16, 2005

Martinsville Bulletin

About 15 people took part in a discussion of "The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. DuBois on Thursday.
Simon C. Spencer, retired educator and local lecturer on African American history and culture, led the discussion of the book that has been called the  second most influential book written on the subject of Africans in America.  The first in influence was "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Spencer said.

DuBois' concepts have inspired writers and sociologists for several generations since the book was published in 1903, Spencer said in the  discussion held at the Fayette Area Historical Initiative office.
The book also put DuBois in conflict with many forces of the day, including the hostility of Southerners to the education of former slaves and the fears of white Southerners of the recently freed multitudes, Spencer wrote in a summary of Thursday's discussion.

There is a chapter in the book dealing with the relationship that developed between the sons of former slavemasters and the sons of former slaves. It was, Spencer wrote, a new order. The former slave developed behind a veil of poverty and ignorance and a forced separation imposed by society. DuBois called it the duality of souls.
That duality caused blacks to exist mostly behind the veil which allowed them to see themselves only through the eyes of other people, Spencer wrote. Knowledge of African ancestry and culture were gone and, Spencer said, the veil still exists to a large degree today.
Spencer urged those organizers of a future African American museum and the Fayette Street initiative to consider that as they develop their mission.
Descendants of those freedmen still have not developed a true consciousness of themselves and their ancestry, Spencer said. That was evident in the 1900 census that showed a lack of willingness by area residents to declare their ancestry in Africa.
The most intense discussion of the evening was around education theories espoused by DeBois and Washington. Washington advocated an industrial and agricultural education while DuBois proposed a classical education of a "talented tenth" of the population.

The consensus was that applying both concepts would best serve the community, Spencer wrote.


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