On the eve of the one-hundredth anniversary of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), it is appropriate that the students of W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) pause and assess the influence of the Old Testament of twentieth-century African American letters. This centennial is the occasion for this collection of essays that treats various aspects of a book that has been a keystone in twentieth-century thought. The Souls of Black Folk is a book for all seasons. Both its title andlanguage suggest the idea of a revelation that is only partial; Du Bois, Picasso-like, is only able to “sketch in, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand thousand Americans live and strive” (5). Du Bois, thus, in the forethought to The Souls of Black Folk, hints of a deeper interpretation.
Like all classics, The Souls of Black Folk must be reinterpretedby each generation; the reinterpretation renews our appreciation of a work that has redrawn the boundaries of a cultural universe. The fact that The Souls of Black Folk still stirs our imagination raises the question, however, of how and why this collection of fourteen essays published at the dawn of the twentieth century continues to resonate at the dawn of the twenty-first. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Du Bois predicted the debate on multiculturalism that surfacedat the endof the century. He saw ethnic mixing, blending, as a strength and not a weakness.
Knowledge of The Souls of Black Folk helps one understand the historical backgroundandcharacter of American society. Despite Reconstruction, the New Negro, the New Deal, the Great Society, the War on Poverty, andCompassionate Conservatism, blacks in the United States still remain largely “faces at the bottom of the well, ” as Derrick Bell reminds us. The Souls of Black Folk strikes the ears with the welcome soundof a familiar song wafted