The book’s publication in 1903 came at a pivotal moment. It was almost forty years since the end of the American Civil War, which had, with Constitutional Amendment XIV, given black men full citizenship and promised equal protection under the law, enshrined in the project of Reconstruction. But racism was still rife, and individual states varied greatly in their treatment of black Americans. Reactionary laws and statutes, often referred to as ‘Jim Crow’ laws (itself a racist slur), began to be implemented from the 1890s onwards to drastically reduce and limit the rights of black Americans. In such a dehumanising context, the forthright focus on the soul in Du Bois’s book is an act of vital resistance, and a landmark call for greater awareness of the growing divisiveness and damage that racism was causing.
Du Bois has also had tremendous creative influence on subsequent writers, such as Richard Wright, Harlem Renaissance writers, Lorraine Hansberry (who knew him personally through his frequent visits with her family), James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, to name just a few of countless others. Souls is something of a hybrid text, combining music and lyrics, sociological analysis, history, memoir, and even some fiction: even in these first few pages Du Bois interlinks the deeply personal with broad and deep historiography, nimbly shifting tone, style and perspective throughout. —Alexandra Paddock and Erica Lombard
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This library was created to add literature to the garments that have shifted the world and provided a voice for the voiceless. As a brand rooted in activism, we felt it necessary to unearth the literature of the Black Panthers that create the foundation for you to say it loud, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
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