The Color Line

The Color Line Summary

With the publication of The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois emerged as a leading black intellectual of the new twentieth century. The book was a collection of fourteen essays, provocative and often poetic in their prose, about the black experience in America and the quest for equality. The most celebrated essay in the book—which is the second of the selections that appear below—is Du Bois’s attack on Booker T. Washington’s approach to the improvement of American Negroes. Washington had won the leadership of blacks through his famous Atlanta Compromise, a bargain with the South in which he was willing to trade the Negro’s striving for civil and political rights—at least temporarily—in return for educational training and the economic advancement of his race. Du Bois’s criticism of this strategy was the most powerful objection to Washington’s leadership. Today the argument remains unsettled. The other three selections below concern the establishment and operation of the Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War, whose promise for black progress was not fulfilled; the relations between whites and blacks in the South, then and for the future; and the influence of black religion, especially the church as a social center. Each of these essays is filled with insights and trenchant observations about the black condition; together they form an enlightening perspective on American Negro life at the turn of the twentieth century. A hundred years later, the reader may gauge how much progress has been made in the struggle for black equality, and how much remains the same.

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