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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Topic: FreedomTopic: IdentityTopic: InstitutionsTopic: PoliticsTopic: Forward
Topic: Freedom
Toolbox Overview: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Resource Menu: Freedom
Text 1. The Moment of Freedom
Text 2. Booker T. Washington
Text 3. W.E.B. Du Bois
» Reading Guide
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Text 4. Charles W. Chesnutt
Text 5. Citizens
Text 6. Reconstruction
Text 7. Migration
RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
3.  W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903, ch. 2: "Of the Dawn of Freedom"
    W.E.B. Du Bois

A seminar entitled "The Making of African American Identity, 1865-1917" cannot fail to pair the voices of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their opposing philosophies of black progress in white America define our understanding of the period. While this pairing isn’t inaccurate, it is incomplete if presented only as the controversy over Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address (see POLITICS). So here we present Du Bois’s "Of the Dawn of Freedom," chapter two of The Souls of Black Folk, to be read with Washington’s chapters on the early years of freedom in Up from Slavery.

Du Bois begins and ends the chapter with the same terse sentence: "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." He reviews the period from 1861 to 1872 as the "dawn of freedom," focusing on the Freedmen’s Bureau, its promise, achievements, and doom. Though he maintains an objective tone to a point, he confesses that it is "doubly difficult to write of this period calmly. so intense was the feeling . . . that swayed and blinded men." An important text to compare with Washington’s memories of this period and to provide a factual overview for this section of the seminar. 14 pages.

Note: Du Bois opens each chapter of Souls with a poetic verse and a fragment of a score of a spiritual (a "sorrow song"). In chapter two, the spiritual is "My Lord, What A Morning," and the verse is stanza eight of James Russell Lowell’s 1844 poem "The Present Crisis," for which the NAACP periodical The Crisis was named when founded in 1910.


Discussion questions
  1. Why does Du Bois focus on the Freedmen’s Bureau in reviewing the first years of freedom? (Washington does not mention the Bureau in Up from Slavery.)
  2. What does Du Bois define as the successes, failures, and legacy of the Freedmen’s Bureau?
  3. At what points does Du Bois move from objective historical prose to a lyrical and emotional style? What is conveyed by these transitions?
  4. What premonition of the future does Du Bois imply by beginning the chapter with stanza eight of Lowell’s poem? What is the "scaffold [that] sways the future"?
  5. How is Du Bois’s perspective affected by the fact that he was never enslaved, and Washington’s by the fact that he had experienced emancipation?
  6. Construct a dialogue between Du Bois and Washington on Du Bois’s assertion that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line."
  7. Why does Du Bois conclude that, in 1903, "the Negro is not free"?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  What challenges did the newly freed African Americans face immediately after the Civil War?
  •  What did freedom mean to the newly freed?
  •  What resources did recently emancipated African Americans possess as they assumed life as free men and women?
  •  How did African Americans define and exercise power in their first years of freedom?




Toolbox: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Freedom | Identity | Institutions | Politics | Forward


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