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20090218 DuBois and Dunbar

Page history last edited by bbrown8@... 11 years, 8 months ago

Summary of class


     After the abolition of slavery with the 13th Amendment in 1865, the idea that freedom and enfranchisement would definitively end discriminations and social inequalities between Blacks and Whites soon vanished. African American writers such as DuBois and Dunbar began to denounce and attempt to solve the "Negro Problem".


     For William E. B. DuBois (1868-1963), the key to the integration of Black people in the American society and to the success of their quest for civil equality was education. Against Booker Washington's apparent acceptance of segregation and defense of economic cooperation with the Whites, DuBois radically asked for equality between Blacks and Whites. In "The Forethought" from the Souls of Black Folk, written in 1903, he underlines the difficulty of conciliating two different identities: the African identity and the American identity. This observation of the "two-ness" of African Americans led DuBois to develop the concept of "double consciousness". It was defined as a double awareness of one' own self and of the way one is perceived by the rest of society. DuBois describes here the African American's quest to "merge his double self into a better and truer self" which would have the characteristics and knowledge of both cultures and allow his integration in the American nation.


      Like DuBois, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) develops the idea of Black people's "double consciousness"and wishes to truly repesent African American lives, experiences and ideals. In the poem "When Malindy sings", written in dialect, Dunbar uses humour and irony to denounce the idea of White's biological superiority. In the poem "We wear the Mask", the poet emphasizes Black people's suffering as they have to hide their true feelings under a smiling mask. This duality between what society expects and one's awareness of one's true self well illustrates the concept of double consciousness.


Wordcount: 298 words




"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." W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 896.

  • This quote illustrates the dual lives African Americans felt was required of them within a majority-white society. Du Bois describes the dichotomy between maintaining an awareness of your self and acting in accord with what he felt others should see or want to see. Also seen as an understanding of when to "act" "black" or "white."


"You ain't got de nachel o'gans

Fu to make de soun' come right


Easy 'nough fu' folks to hollah,

Lookin' at de lines an' dots

When dey ain't no one kin scense it,

An' de chune comes in, in spots" 

Paul Lawrence Dunbar "When Malindy Sings" (lines 9-10, 17-20)

  •  These lines of the poem "When Malindy Sings" illustrates Dunbar's artistic ability to crticize Miss Lucy, who is assumed to be a white woman, and the central character of this work. Dunbar expresses his genuine feelings of what he thinks about Miss Lucy's singing as well as her embodiment and demenor. His choice to use dialect in this poem does not hide the fact that this is an African American who also incorporates humor to describe this Caucasian woman. Because he chose to write this critique in poetic form Dunbar could reach a large audience and also publish words of judgement during a time period in which the black voice was considered subordinate.


"The cold statician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were of ten cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away." W.E.B. DuBois  The Souls of Black Folk (p. 899)

  • This passage is a reflection of frustration toward the effort of the African American people who found themselves suddenly becoming educated after 200 years of being prohibited from reading and writing. It expresses the urgency of becoming educated as well as the pitfalls of being judged by a system that perhaps felt threatened by blacks who were now striving and competing for jobs in both the capitalist and political dynamics of the United States. Later, DuBois describes the learning experience in which blacks became aware of themselves and began to create an identity as citizens. Most importantly this is a reflection of his advocacy towards education, that although "the struggle" is difficult, they must succeed in order to live in the free world.


Key Terms

  • Reconstruction: process of reshaping and establishing political, economical, and social order to the South after the Civil War.
  • Freedmen: slaves who had been freed and whose civil rights were guaranteed by federal laws during the reconstruction period.
  • Black Codes: series of laws passed by Southern states in order to limit Blacks' civil rights and civil liberties, also affected poor and illiterate white voters.
  • Jim Crow Laws: state and local laws passed between 1876 and 1965 which instituted segregation; segregation was justified by the principle "separate but equal" which was validated by the Supreme Court with the case Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896
  • Atlanta Compromise: speech given by the African American leader Booker Washington on September 18, 1895; it is considered as the final expression of the "accommodationist" strategy promoted by Washington against southern racial tensions. It asked whites to provide Blacks with opportunities so that both Whites and Blacks could advance in industry and agriculture. DuBois despised this gradualist approach.
  • Panacea: the solution to end all problems or struggles. For African Americans this solution came in many forms. The first in freedom and emancipation of slaves, then in the franchisement and sufferage of African Americans, and finally this solution came in the idea of education.
  • Double Consciousness: The simultaneity of being and African American and also an American. It is also the simultaneous awareness of one's self and the self that is seen through others eyes.
  • Talented Tenth: DuBois' theory that there should be a select goup of talented and college educated black men to act as a leadership in the community.



Other Materials

Comments (2)

awill27@emory.edu said

at 1:21 am on Feb 20, 2009

Hey! I see you've added a lot :) I was wondering if you're almost finished, because I would like to contribute also, not to cut you off or anything :)

Brian Croxall said

at 11:19 pm on Apr 16, 2009

Your notes on DuBois and Dunbar are outstanding. You’re provided a concise and articulate summary of what we covered in class. You picked three very good passages to examine (and in the third, I believe you’ve gone beyond what we even discussed in class btu have done so very well). Your definitions are accurate and to the point (much like an Imagist poem). If I were to ask you to change anything, it would probably be too include publication dates in the summary and to highlight them.

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