Frederick Douglass's Narrative and W. E. B.
Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk as Intertexts
of Richard Wright's 12 Million Black Voices
Virginia Whatley Smith
The rise of a nation, the pressing forwardof a social class, means a bitter struggle, a hard and soul-sickening battle with the world such as few of the more favoredclasses know or appreciate.
W. E. B. Du Bois's concluding remarks in chapter 8 of his 1903 text The Souls of Black Folk became the banner cry for RichardWright to stage a class war against Du Bois for Negro leadership in his 1941 photographic text 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States. Ironically, the struggle for Negro leadership over black culture and its subsequent trope of battle hadbeen introducedmuch earlier by Frederick Douglass in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself.1 The narrative delineates Douglass's dehumanizing experiences as a slave in the American South from his birth in 1818
A version of this paper first appeared as “Image, Text, and Voice: Oppositions of Meanings in the Wright-Rosskam Photographic Text, ” obsidian ii (fall/winter 1993): 1–27.