The Souls of Black Folk Chapter II Summary & Analysis | SparkNotes (2023)

II. Of the Dawn of Freedom


Du Bois reiterates that the “problem of the color line” is the problem of the 20th century. He says that this essay will be primarily concerned with the period of 1861 to 1872. Du Bois points out that the Civil War was primarily fought over slavery, despite Congress and the President at the time stating otherwise. Indeed, Du Bois identifies the different procedures for handling escaped slaves depending on the state or region where they were recaptured as a central issue during the war. He lists various dates and points throughout the war and describes Edward Pierce, of Boston, who was tasked with studying the conditions of slave refugees.

Shortly after Pierce started an experiment, to convert slaves to “free workingmen.” Still, more had to be done to find productive work for the growing number of refugee slaves in other locations like Washington, New Orleans, and Vicksburg. The next attempt was to enlist the able bodied into the military and find work for the others. Du Bois mentions several Freedman’s Aid societies (American Missionary Association, National Freedmen’s Relief Association, American Freedmen’s Union, Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission), “in all fifty or more active organizations, which sent clothes, money, school-books, and teachers southward.” Du Bois notes that their work was needed, as the conditions for freedmen were terrible and steadily growing worse.

(Video) An Introduction to W.E.B Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk- Macat Sociology Analysis

The creation of a labor force out of the freedmen suffered further difficulties, as many stood idle and for those that worked, pay was not always guaranteed. Du Bois talks about the eventual solution of opening confiscated estates and employing vast amounts of freedmen, determining payroll, and even building schools, all within large communities that he describes as, “strange little governments.” He also discusses Sherman’s raid through Georgia, which ended with tens of thousands of freedmen being granted land to work under “Field-order Number Fifteen.”

Du Bois then writes about the legislation that leased land to freedmen (under the Treasury Department) which was a relief to the military effort, but within the same year, the army was again given control. Several more attempts failed in Congress to establish a proper department, but in 1865, the “Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands” was formed. The Bureau was given the ability to issue rations and clothing, as well as the lease and sale of 40-acre parcels, to ex-slaves. Du Bois says, “[t]hus did the United States government definitely assume charge of the emancipated Negro as the ward of the nation.” The wellbeing of freedmen became a national concern, as opposed to an element of crisis during the war.

(Video) W.E.B. Du Bois - The Souls Of Black Folks

Once Oliver Howard was assigned as Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, he discovered that a large amount of corruption had appeared “under the guise of helping the freedmen, and all enshrined in the smoke and blood of the war and the cursing and silence of angry men.” The lack of oversight and opportunity of the war had created many terrible systems for the freedmen. Howard installed commissioners in each of the seceded states that were entirely in charge of the issuing of rations, ensuring that freedmen were able to choose their employers, and to establish schools, the institution of marriage, and record keeping. The Bureau encountered two major problems, the inability to establish confiscated lands in the South for freedmen, and the challenge in actually applying all of the systems established by the Bureau, as it was hard to find qualified individuals. Du Bois states, “thus, after a year’s work, vigorously as it was pushed, the problem looked even more difficult to grasp and solve than at the beginning.”

Du Bois discusses the next period in history, in 1866, where Congress voted to maintain and enlarge the Freedmen’s Bureau, but President AndrewJohnson vetoed it as unconstitutional. A modified form of the bill was passed on July 16, giving the Freedmen’s Bureau its final form. Du Bois goes on to discuss the extremely difficult task that the Freedmen’s Bureau had and the unsettled racism that perpetuated in the South. He argues that while the Bureau, which ultimately became a vast labor bureau, had great accomplishments, it was doomed from the start.

(Video) W.E.B. Du Bois-The Souls of Black Folk-chapter 2 Review

The Freedmen’s Bureau was unable to deliver on the promise of “40 acres and a mule.” The greatest success of the Freedmen’s Bureau was “in the planting of free school among Negroes, and the idea of free elementary education among all classes of the South.” The greatest failing of the Freedmen’s Bureau was in its judicial system, which was set up so that freedmen would not have to suffer the Southern court system(s). The separate judicial system of the Freedmen’s Bureau created more animosity and conflict between whites and freedmen. Du Bois contends that the Freedmen’s Bureau was as successful as it could be, considering the circumstances and obstacles, yet is blamed for every mistake and evil of the time.

Eventually, the government wanted to stop regarding the freedmen as a ward that they were responsible for and instead empower the freedmen with the right to vote. Du Bois points out, though, that “Negro suffrage ended the civil war by beginning a race feud.” The Freedmen’s Bureau ceased to be and the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving Black men the right to vote, was put in its place. Du Bois argues that even with the right to vote, many Blacks in the South were still not free, due to segregation, unfair judicial practices, economic instability, and restricted privileges.

(Video) Souls of Black Folk Chapter 1


In this chapter, Du Bois emphasizes the importance of looking at the plight of Black people through the lens of history. For more than two hundred years in America, Black people were property, and their worth was based solely upon the value they brought to society. White society struggles to adapt to the new realities of Black freedom, and the fact that white people do not know what to do about “[B]lack refugees” points to the confusion and disorganization of the time. The Freedmen’s Bureau was birthed amid this chaos, but it could not immediately cure the ills of the past two centuries. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the economic, social, and political landscape of the South with one stroke of the pen, but its supporters were unable to carry out Lincoln’s ambitious plans instantaneously. The parameters of the law did not account for the subsequent unrest and upheaval it sparked among white people who continued to hold deeply ingrained racist views about the work of Black people.

The freedom the liberated slaves experienced because of Emancipation contrasted with their continued suffering at the hands of ineffectual governmental programs and policies. The post-Civil War transition from slavery to freedom was a difficult one for many slaves, as their lack of finances and education led them to rely heavily on white people for assistance. The refusal of many former slave owners to give up their land to newly freed Black people is one example of the disdain that many whites in the South had for President Lincoln. Despite Lincoln’s government’s efforts, many Black people ended up with nothing. Politicians used bandage-like fixes to pacify those on both sides of the political spectrum without providing a long-term solution for former slaves.

(Video) The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois - Chapter 2: Of the Dawn of Freedom, Part 1

The enduring psychological consequences of slavery and the after-effects of racism hindered progress for Black people after Emancipation. White people no longer had literal ownership of Black people, but an emotional ownership remained, and the psychological effects of slavery and racism were extremely difficult for Black people to overcome. The tragedy and heartbreak of trying to reunite and re-establish families after slavery took a heavy toll on many people. Unsanitary conditions and insufficient food sources contributed to the deaths and sickness of many former slaves, placing further emotional burdens on their families.

Educational programs that African Americans facilitated and instituted themselves attempted to temper the psychological after-effects of oppression. The fact that whites did not directly participate in the education of Black people did not mean attempts were not made to undermine the process. This structure allowed the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide educational opportunities for Black people with less regard for the expectations of white people, allowing Black students to focus on learning, not on the painful memories of their lives as slaves. These government-sponsored programs helped former slaves attend school in the hopes it would help them become productive members of society in the years ahead.

(Video) The Souls of Black Folk by William Edward B Du Bois Book Summary Review AudioBook

While the Bureau was successful in its attempt to provide education for Black people, it was unsuccessful in its attempts to advocate for Black people in other areas because the changes were too numerous for one institution to implement. Outdated perspectives and opposing viewpoints still dominated among the white people whose support the Bureau needed to succeed. In the prevailing climate of the day, many whites did not agree with the idea that the Bureau would have such power over Black people’s everyday existence. This disagreement is ironic given that during slavery, white masters had complete control over every aspect of their slaves’ lives. The idea of Emancipation meant that all people would have control over their own lives, but how to make that happen was a difficult question to answer. When Du Bois compares the end of the Bureau to the death of a child, it foreshadows his own son’s death. Both the Bureau and his young son symbolize hope, freedom, and a better life, and both are cut short before they are able to realize their potential.


What are the main points of The Souls of Black Folk? ›

First and foremost, Du Bois emphasized the legacy of racism and its deleterious effects on the lives of Black people. Certain consequences of racism and discrimination were clear - separate spheres of life, physical abuse, paternalism, and economic disenfranchisement.

What is The Souls of Black Folk book about? ›

"The Souls of Black Folk is a series of essays (some of which had been previously published) in which William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced due bóyss), 1868-1963, presents his argument about a path toward progress for African Americans: enfranchisement, political power, and education.

How does The Souls of Black Folk end? ›

John's new knowledge, however, places him at odds with a southern community, and he is destroyed by racism. Finally, Du Bois concludes his book with an essay on African American spirituals.

How did Du Bois fight for equality? ›

In 1905, DuBois met with a group of 30 men at Niagara Falls, Canada. They drafted a series of demands essentially calling for an immediate end to all forms of discrimination. The Niagara Movement was denounced as radical by most whites at the time. Educated African Americans, however, supported the resolutions.

What is the meaning of the veil in Souls of black Folk? ›

W. E. B. Du Bois's The Soul of Black Folk begins and ends. with the symbol of the "Veil," Du Bois's apt metaphor for. " the color line " of racial oppression and injustice which, in. 1903, he prophetically announced to be " the problem of the. twentieth century." " I who speak here," he says in " The.

What is the meaning of black soul? ›

English to Hindi Meaning :: black soul. Black soul : काली आत्मा

What is the color line in Souls of Black Folk? ›

Du Bois goes on to describe the color line as “the question of how far differences of race . . . will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.” In The Souls of Black Folk, he says it is “the ...

When did Du Bois write The Souls of Black Folk? ›

The Souls of Black Folk, from which this week's ten-minute read is taken, is an important text written in the United States by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903. This influential book of essays is foundational to the writing and politics of the century(s) that followed.

Who is Josie in The Souls of Black Folk? ›

In contrast, the young woman Josie is made the most important character in the story. She is a precursor of the unsophisticated black women in the writings of Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes. She is described as "a thin, homely girl of twenty, with a dark brown face and thick, hard hair" (p. 61).

What did Booker T Washington believe in? ›

Booker T. Washington, educator, reformer and the most influentional black leader of his time (1856-1915) preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity and accomodation. He urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity.

What is the veil in sociology? ›

In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois ([1903] 1994) refers to the existence of a barrier prohibiting genuine understanding and equality between Black people and White people as the Veil. The Veil is conventionally understood to signify the color line.

Why was Dylan important to folk? ›

Bob Dylan was a folk singer was involved with the Civil Rights Movement and even performed with other prominent singers. His impact in the music world by being one of the first musicians to take an active role on moral issues. Dylan was essential, by getting uniting people through his music.

Is The Souls of Black Folk nonfiction? ›

The Souls of Black Folk: Centennial Edition (Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books): Du Bois, W.E.B., David Levering Lewis: 9780375509117: Books.

What is the main idea of Du Bois? ›

In an essay published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1897, "Strivings of the Negro People," Du Bois wrote that Black Americans should instead embrace their African heritage even as they worked and lived in the United States. Du Bois published his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk in 1903.

What was Du Bois main goal? ›

Two years later, Du Bois wrote, “We want to be Americans, full-fledged Americans, with all the rights of American citizens.” He envisioned the creation of an elite group of educated black leaders, “The Talented Tenth,” who would lead African Americans in securing equal rights and higher economic standards.

How did Du Bois impact society? ›

Considered ahead of his time, Du Bois was an early champion of using data to solve social issues for the Black community, and his writing—including his groundbreaking The Souls of Black Folk—became required reading in African American studies.

What does messages beyond the veil mean? ›

In Messages from Beyond the Veil, you will read recorded messages from spirits who lived on Earth. You will learn who and what God is, how He creates, why He created us, and that our souls are immortal.

What does Legend of the Veil give you? ›

What is the Legend of the Veil Voyage? The Legend of the Veil is a unique multi-chapter voyage exclusive to Pirate Legends. The voyage blends the infinite replayability of Trading Company voyages with the narrative-driven elements of Tall Tales into one grand, highly replayable, lore-infused experience!

What does it mean to live above the veil? ›

At your core, there is an absolute! This absolute core is beyond ANY illusion and external experience that has ever touched you mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually.

What does the soul represent? ›

soul, in religion and philosophy, the immaterial aspect or essence of a human being, that which confers individuality and humanity, often considered to be synonymous with the mind or the self.

What is the true meaning of a soul? ›

noun. ˈsōl. : the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life. : the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe.

What is the purpose of a soul? ›

Our soul purpose is firstly to remember the truth of who we are, and then share that with the world. It is a feeling, rather than a physical thing. It is why we do something, rather than what we do. It can be as simple as smiling at a passer-by in the street, or as grand as trying to save the world.

What is the importance of black Colour? ›

In color psychology, black's color meaning is symbolic of mystery, power, elegance, and sophistication. In contrast, the color meaning can also evoke emotions such as sadness and anger. Many fashion retailers have used black in their logos. Black is also a popular color for text as it's an easy color to read.

What is the problem of the color line? ›

In 1903 W. E. B. DuBois, cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,” a phrase used earlier by Frederick Douglass to refer to the widespread discrimination and exclusion of Black people throughout the ...

What does the color line represent? ›

The term color line was originally used as a reference to the racial segregation that existed in the United States after the abolition of slavery. An article by Frederick Douglass that was titled "The Color Line" was published in the North American Review in 1881.

What is Chapter 4 in The Souls of Black Folk about? ›

Chapter 4 Summary: “Of the Meaning of Progress

After attending a segregated teacher training program, Du Bois looked for a job and only found one in the countryside after Josie, the daughter of a poor, morally upright farming family, told him about a position.

What was Booker T Washington's famous quote? ›

Washington > Quotes. “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.

What is the significance of Booker T Washington in the story? ›

Washington (1856-1915) was born into slavery and rose to become a leading African American intellectual of the 19 century, founding Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (Now Tuskegee University) in 1881 and the National Negro Business League two decades later.

What does Booker T Washington mean by cast down your bucket where you are? ›

2. “Cast Down Your Bucket”: Dr. Washington's belief that people should make the most of any situation they find themselves in. He felt that economic opportunity for African Americans was in the south instead of moving to the north.

What is the discourse of the veil? ›

Examines dominant discourses about the veil and about Muslim women in order to trace the making, trajectory and effects of the so-called “problem” of the veil.

Why does the veil have such a powerful effect? ›

Besides fear, why does the veil have such a powerful effect on the people? They are forced to comtemplate the mystery of the veil. What is the significance of the fact that even nature (wind) respects Hooper's veil? Nature respects what the veil is hiding.

Who coined the term sociology? ›

The word sociology derives from the French word, sociologie, a hybrid coined in 1830 by French philosopher Isidore Auguste Comte (1798-1857), from the Latin: socius, meaning "companion"; and the suffix -ology, meaning "the study of", from the Greek λόγος, lógos, "knowledge".

What is the central concept in Du Bois's of our spiritual strivings in The Souls of Black Folk? ›

Chapter I, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings", lays out an overview of Du Bois's thesis. He says that the blacks of the South need the right to vote, the right to a good education, and to be treated with equality and justice.

What is the color line in Souls of black Folk? ›

Du Bois goes on to describe the color line as “the question of how far differences of race . . . will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.” In The Souls of Black Folk, he says it is “the ...

How does Du Bois use figurative language? ›

Du Bois uses figurative language like personification and similes frequently in his novel in order to show the setting and create vivid images in ones mind about how the 20th century looked and felt.

What are the three elements of double consciousness? ›

In this short but significant paragraph Du Bois poses three elements to the theory of Double Consciousness: the veil, twoness, and second sight.


1. The Souls of Black Folk by William Edward B Du Bois Book Summary Review AudioBook
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2. Of Our Spiritual Strivings by W E B Dubois Summary and Analysis
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