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Restless Classics presents The Souls of Black Folk: W. E. B. Du Bois’s seminal work of sociology, with searing insights into our complex, corrosive relationship with race and the African-American consciousness. Reconsidered for the era of Obama, Trump, and Black Lives Matter, the new edition includes an incisive introduction from rising cultural critic Vann R. Newkirk II and stunning illustrations by the artist Steve Prince.
“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” This infamous formulation is the central idea around which W. E. B. Du Bois crafted what would become the most influential work about race in America: The Souls of Black Folk. Since he penned these words in 1903, the fraught relationship between the races has dominated the country’s policies, economy, and social developments. Published forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Du Bois’s radioactive essays addressed an American nation that had still not yet found “peace from its sins.” Today, amid furor over voting rights, mass incarceration, police brutality and extrajudicial killing, the ghosts of white supremacy and ethnonationalism, and the apparent fragility of the equality and desegregation gains of the Civil Rights Movement, Du Bois’s work has proven prophetic, and more urgently necessary than ever.
Striking in their psychological precision and political foresight, the fourteen chapters of The Souls of Black Folk move between historical and sociological essays, song and poetry, personal recollection and fiction, laying out the foundational ideas of “double-consciousness”—an inner conflict created by the seemingly irreconcilable “black” and “American” identities—and “the veil,” through which African-Americans must see a spectrum of economic, social, and political opportunities entirely differently from their white counterparts. For anyone interested in understanding race in America, or in the literary lineage that Du Bois generated—from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, to Toni Morrison’s Sula, to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me—The Souls of Black Folk is essential reading.
William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (1868–1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil-rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor who co-founded the NAACP in 1909. The Souls of Black Folk was a seminal work in African-American literature. The United States' Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.
Vann R. Newkirk II is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering politics and policy, and a contributor to GQ, Gawker, Grantland, and Ebony. Vann is also the founder of Seven Scribes and a contributing editor.