James Daniel Steele
It seemeda curious choice. W. E. B. Du Bois selectedDougherty County, Georgia, to establish the context and explore the condition of African Americans in the South at the turn of the century. “Of the Black Belt” is one of the least heralded of the works included in The Souls of Black Folk.1 It does not introduce the reader to dazzling concepts (“double consciousness”), or literary invention (“the veil”). Arnold Rampersad, in The Art and Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois, offered only a passing reference to the chapter. Manning Marable, in W. E. B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat, discussed the importance of the chapter only as a contemporary description of the postslavery South. Marable chose however not to elaborate on the importance of the chapter to the social sciences or to its general importance as a work of propaganda for which Du Bois was also recognized.
Du Bois did not write “Of the Black Belt” to further construct his social vision. He wrote it not to create a world, but to see the present one clearly, and in some way to help white America see a world it either chose to ignore or refusedto see. More than an afterthought, “Of the Black Belt” was the product of an evolving effort by Du Bois to examine the rural South. In W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919, David Levering Lewis observedthat “Of the Black Belt” couldbe tracedto “The Negro as He Really Is, ” a 1901 article Du Bois wrote for the periodical World's Work. Lewis noted that with “Of the Black Belt, ” “Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece, ” and “Of the Meaning of Progress, ” Du Bois “succeededin reconstructing a culture andits institutions in the rural South.”2____________________