“Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor, — all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked, — who is good? not that men are ignorant, — what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.”
The Souls of Black Folk was published in 1903 as a collection of essays from W.E.B. Du Bois, an African-American sociologist who wrote frequently about his experiences as a Black man for magazines and other publications.
This book is comprised of 14 essays, with Du Bois’s overall message being that Black people were equally worthy of the rights of white people: to vote, to receive a good quality education, and to be treated justly. He explains that every Black person lives with a “double-consciousness,” always having to focus on how they seem themselves, but how the world around perceives them as well. The part of the African American consciousness devoted to outward perception is always living in tension with their own self-perception due to the negative perceptions by the world around them.
Du Bois’s priorities of education and justice for Black people is presented eloquently and logically throughout the entire essay collection. This book is held as a foundational piece of African American literature for its impact. It was referenced as being a critical piece of literature for the Civil Rights movement many decades later, because it inspired Black people to be discontent with anything less than true equality and justice.