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20100211-11 DuBois and Dunbar (Group 3)

Page history last edited by katherine rich 11 years, 5 months ago


     This class was spent discussing the Reconstruction. This day also marked the beginning of the section of the Harlem Renaissance. We discussed the various panaceas that the "Freedmen" considered to obtain freedom.  The initial solution to African Amerian oppression was thought to be the emancipation of slaves, yet with the creation of Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws, voting became the new goal for blacks. However, as W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk illustrates, education is the actual cure-all for African American suffering. He also conveys that black suffering is a condition of "double-consciousness." He expresses how African minorities are forced to see themselves through another's eyes, and are externally severed between their state as both a black person and an American. This personal confliction is what Du Bois defines as the real "race problem" and also raises the question of what defines an American.  In effect, this question challenged many people in the United States as the country became more diverse.  European immigrants and blacks alike found themselves torn between the ideas of retaining their own culture and simultaneously embracing the new American one.


The fact that Du Bois also uses an epigraphs by famous white writer as well as "sorrow songs" to begin his chapters also shows how Du Bois himself is undergoing this "double-consciousness" by being both a high educated man who also feels the pain that the "sorrow songs" exude.  This state of internal conflict is also apparent in Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask." In a way, this poem ironically takes the "mask" off the experience of being African American and explicates this condition. However Dunbar's work "When Malindy Sings" appears to do the opposite. Dunbar uses a "trickster" to hide the underlying commentary about the real conditions of slavery.


Word Count: 300



"A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom.  So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired.  Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually in replace the dream of political power, - a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day.  It was the ideal of 'book-learning'; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know.  Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life."  W.E.B. Du Bois

-In this passage Du Bois references the 1877 Compromise which announced that Reconstruction was over and that it failed. This also the point in the work when the ideal form of freedom transfers from being the right to vote into the notion that education should be the ultimate panacea. This idea of higher education for African American leads into Booker T. Washington's thoughts on academic learning.


"The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing."  Booker T. Washington

- Washington is trying to communicate that equality for African Americans will not artificially force social equality; the African American race must progressively and slowly move towards equality by proving their importance.


"In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."  Booker T. Washington

-Washington advocates that ultimate social equality will not come immediately, and for the mean time suggests the idea of "separate but equal." Washington states that African Americans must become educated in trade skills. Becoming knowledgeable in these fields will prove their value in society and create a slow progression towards the desired freedom.


Key Terms

Reconstruction: The North's attempt to erase all traces of the Confederacy following the Civil War.


Panacea: a cure-all; frequently used in medicine "Something used to reslove all problems; a practice or course of action addopted in every case of difficulty; a universal cure" (Oxford English Dictionary).


Talented Tenth: a term used to describe the best and brightest of African Americans that would then be chosen to lead the black community and eventually help whites view African Americans as equal.


Freedmen: former slaves which we now considered "free".


Black Codes: worked to make African Americans second class citizens in different states by restricting certain rights. (the right to vote, the right to serve or juries, and the right to own a gun.)


Jim Crow Laws: very similar to black codes; the purpose of the jim crow laws was to reduce African Americans' ability to vote. e.g. poll taxes, literacy tests.




Comments (3)

katherine rich said

at 4:55 pm on Feb 15, 2010

i did the word count and we have 366 words. It's suppose to be 200-300 words correct? I'm going to try to trim it down a bit.

Brian Croxall said

at 10:13 pm on Feb 16, 2010

Your notes start with a very strong summary. You don't get too bogged down in the history that I threw at you. You glean the most important information and cut to the heart of the matter--such as what it means to be an American. You handled the description of the opening of DuBois's chapters adroitly as well as touching very briefly on Dunbar's poems. You give a very good sense of the class as it happened. The one thing that I would want to correct for posterity's sake is the fact that while DuBois and Washington believed that education would be the answer, I think it might be a tad premature in absolutely declaring that it WAS the solution.

I'm a bit surprised by your passages since two of them come from reading that I didn't even assign for class. I would have expected to see more of DuBois and at least SOMETHING from Dunbar, especially since your explanations of Washington don't go much beyond what is said in the speech itself. An excerpt from the opening of DuBois's chapter might have been useful. And I'll admit that I didn't have as much time to spend on Dunbar's poetry as I would have liked, but I had hoped that the analysis that you provide in your summary would have continued below.

Your definitions are great although defining double-consciousness here would have allowed you to make more plain that it is simultaneously the problem of seeing oneself through another's eyes and the related problem of trying to figure out how to be simultaneously black and American.

Sean Rollins said

at 12:34 am on Feb 17, 2010

About the passages, those were what we went over in class. I was under the impression that when we looked at passages in class, whether they were assigned or not, they were important enough to post on the wiki.

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