Of the Sons of Master and Man


Du Bois, W. E. B.




Although he wrote during the early twentieth century, the racial issues that NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois explores are, sadly, still pertinent to this day. In chapter 9 of his timeless book, The Souls of Black Folk, he examines at the relationships--personal, economic, political, and religious--both forged and ignored across racial borders. As he delves into the reasoning behind our past and current prejudices, Du Bois presents a plea to the black community for leadership and civic participation. He laments the poor state of American public education, and pinpoints a crucial problem in current race relations: that, "despite much... daily intermingling, there is almost no community of intellectual life or point of transference" between races. Du Bois suggests that we can only advance our one race of humanity "not [through] almsgiving, but rather [through] sympathy and cooperation among classes who would scorn charity."

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The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois (Penguin Classics, 1996).




Citizenship and DemocracyCrisis and ConflictDiversity and DifferenceJustice and EqualityRace, Ethnicity and Culture

Big Questions

What does it mean to be American?What is democracy? What does it look like in action?What makes a "good" citizen?How should we respond to crisis?What does anger accomplish? What are the limits of anger?How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?Is diversity important? Why?What assumptions do we make about others?Can there be justice without equality?Is justice for all possible? Or will injustice always exist?What are the causes of injustice and inequality?What is the world we dream of living in? Is it possible?How does my race, culture or ethnicity shape who I am?What is racism?Why do racial disparities exist and how do we change them?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What does the speaker say about civilizations? Do you agree?
  2. Do you agree with the line, “the strife of all honorable men of the twentieth century to see that in the future competition of races the survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the true”?
  3. What do you think of the line, “The centre of this spiritual turmoil has ever been the millions of black freedmen and their sons, whose destiny is so fatefully bound up with that of the nation”?
  4. What does the speaker suggest about the influence of history on his current society? Do you agree with his claims?
  5. Are there any issues the speaker addresses in this piece that are relevant today? What are they?
  6. How should we address injustice that is embedded in other social issues?
  7. What can we learn from history as we address contemporary justice issues?
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