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The Problem of the Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: The Essential Early Essays

The Problem of the Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: The Essential Early Essays

Edited by Nahum Dimitri Chandler
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University
Pages: 400
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    The Problem of the Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: The Essential Early Essays
    Book Description:

    This volume assembles essential essays some published only posthumously, others obscure, another only recently translated by W. E. B. Du Bois from 1894 to early 1906. They show the first formulations of some of his most famous ideas, namely, "the veil," "double-consciousness," and the "problem of the color line." Moreover, the deep historical sense of the formation of the modern world that informs Du Bois's thought and gave rise to his understanding of "the problem of the color line" is on display here. Indeed, the essays constitute an essential companion to Du Bois's masterpiece published in 1903 as The Souls of Black Folk. The collection is based on two editorial principles: presenting the essays in their entirety and in strict chronological order. Copious annotation affords both student and mature scholar an unprecedented grasp of the range and depth of Du Boiss everyday intellectual and scholarly reference. These essays commence at the moment of Du Bois's return to the United States from two years of graduate-level study in Europe at the University of Berlin. At their center is the moment of Du Boi's first full, self-reflexive formulation of a sense of vocation: as a student and scholar in the pursuit of the human sciences (in their still-nascent disciplinary organization that is, the institutionalization of a generalized "sociology" or general "ethnology"), as they could be brought to bear on the study of the situation of the so-called Negro question in the United States in all of its multiply refracting dimensions. They close with Du Bois's realization that the commitments orienting his work and intellectual practice demanded that he move beyond the institutional frames for the practice of the human sciences. The ideas developed in these early essays remained the fundamental matrix for the ongoing development of Du Boiss thought. The essays gathered here will therefore serve as the essential reference for those seeking to understand the most profound registers of this major American thinker.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5458-3
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  3. INTRODUCTION. TOWARD A NEW HISTORY OF THE CENTURIES: On The Early Writings of W. E. B. Du Bois (pp. 1-32)
    Nahum Dimitri Chandler

    It is perhaps appropriate that within the movement of intellectual generations, the time is ripe to reopen and address anew the terms of our reception of the early work of W. E. B. Du Bois—that giant of the long distance itinerary. In that regard, the central purpose of this collection of essays is quite simple: to make available to contemporary readers in the most lucid manner possible texts that are of essential reference for anyone who seeks a fundamental understanding of the first stage of the intellectual maturation of Du Bois: thinker, writer, scholar, activist, and leader.

    To do...

  4. THE AFRO-AMERICAN (ca. 1894) (pp. 33-50)

    In a third class continental railway carriage, my neighbors at first stare at me—sometimes a bit impudently, sometimes with an inquisitive smile. I have grown so used to this that I can sit quietly for an hour or so with from three to six pairs of eyes focused on my brown face, my closely curled hair, my hat, my clothes, my hands and the visible part of my soul, without betraying any considerable impatience. After satisfying their eyes and becoming more or less assured that I am neither wild nor a member of a passing circus, one of the...

  5. THE CONSERVATION OF RACES (1897) (pp. 51-66)

    The American Negro has always felt an intense personal interest in discussions as to the origins and destinies of races: primarily because back of most discussions of race with which he is familiar, have lurked certain assumptions as to his natural abilities, as to his political, intellectual and moral status, which he felt were wrong. He has, consequently, been led to deprecate and minimize race distinctions, to believe intensely that out of one blood God created all nations, and to speak of human brotherhood as though it were the possibility of an already dawning to-morrow.

    Nevertheless, in our calmer moments...

  6. STRIVINGS OF THE NEGRO PEOPLE (1897) (pp. 67-76)

    Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a...

  7. THE STUDY OF THE NEGRO PROBLEMS (1897) (pp. 77-110)

    The present period in the development of sociological study is a trying one; it is the period of observation, research and comparison—work always wearisome, often aimless, without well-settled principles and guiding lines, and subject ever to the pertinent criticism: What, after all, has been accomplished? To this the one positive answer which years of research and speculation have been able to return is that the phenomena of society are worth the most careful and systematic study, and whether or not this study may eventually lead to a systematic body of knowledge deserving the name of science, it cannot in...


    In bringing to you and your friends the official greetings of the American Negro Academy at this their third annual meeting, it is my purpose to consider with you the problem of the color line not simply as a national and personal question but rather in its larger world aspect in time and space.¹ I freely acknowledge that in the red heat of a burning social problem like this, when each one of us feels the bitter sting of proscription, it is a difficult thing to place one’s self at that larger point of view and ask with the cold...

  9. THE SPIRIT OF MODERN EUROPE (ca. 1900) (pp. 139-166)

    I propose to discuss with you to night the trend and meaning of modern European civilization. I shall endeavor first to define for the purposes of the evening the meaning of the somewhat shadowy term, Civilization. I shall then endeavor to sketch for you in broad outline the concrete signs of culture in the aptly-called Culture-States, and to discover behind this picture the elements that combine to me the Spirit of Europe. I shall try to show how that spirit does and ought to affect the American Negro and the Negroes of this city.

    The 19th century has wrought a...

  10. THE FREEDMEN’S BUREAU (1901) (pp. 167-188)

    The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line; the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. It was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War; and however much they who marched south and north in 1861 may have fixed on the technical points of union and local autonomy as a shibboleth, all nevertheless knew, as we know, that the question of Negro slavery was the deeper cause of the conflict. Curious it was, too, how this deeper...


    In the discussion of great social problems it is extremely difficult for those who are themselves actors in the drama to avoid the attitude of partisans and advocates. And yet I take it that the examination of the most serious of the race problems of America is not in the nature of a debate but rather a joint endeavor to seek the truth beneath a mass of assertion and opinion, of passion and distress. And I trust that what ever disagreement may arise between those who view the situation from opposite sides of the color line will be rather in...

  12. THE TALENTED TENTH (1903) (pp. 209-242)

    The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we...

  13. THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PEOPLE (1904) (pp. 243-270)

    In the realm of physical health the teachings of Nature, with its stern mercy and merciful punishment, are showing men gradually to avoid the mistake of unhealthful homes, and to clear fever and malaria away from parts of earth otherwise so beautiful. Death that arises from foul sewage, bad plumbing or vitiated air we no longer attribute to “Acts of God,” but to “Misdeeds of Man,” and so work to correct this loss. But if we have escaped Medievalism to some extent in the care of physical health, we certainly have not in the higher realm of the economic and...

  14. SOCIOLOGY HESITANT (ca. 1905) (pp. 271-284)

    The Congress of Arts and Sciences at St. Louis last summer served to emphasize painfully the present plight of Sociology; for the devotee of the cult made the strange discovery that the further following of his bent threatened violent personal dismemberment.¹ His objects of interest were distributed quite impartially under some six of the seven grand divisions of Science: economics, here; ethnology, there; a thing called “Sociology” hidden under Mental Science, and the things really sociological ranged in a rag-bag and labeled “Social Regulation.” And so on.

    A part of this confusion of field was inevitable to any attempt at...


    The great economic opportunities that opened up in the new North American republic at the beginning of the nineteenth century, combined with the homogeneity of its population and its institutions, let it appear not impossible that there—on the other side of the ocean—a nation would arise free of the crippling chains of the caste mentality, a nation in which social differences would be determined only by the different abilities and education of individuals. The Americans themselves did not at all doubt this development: they firmly believed that all people are created free and equal and are provided by...

  16. Bibliography (pp. 339-368)
  17. Index (pp. 369-370)
  18. Back Matter (pp. 371-372)