Josie appears in the chapter on Du Bois’ time teaching in Tennessee. Having graduated from the Teachers’ Institute, Du Bois searches in vain for a school in need of a teacher, and it’s only through Josie’s help that he is able to locate such a school. He then ends up staying in her community and growing close to her family. In many ways, Josie represents the tragic suffering and wasted potential of poor black people in the South. When Du Bois meets her, she is 20, charming, and ambitious, with talent and intelligence and dreams of making a better life for herself. Her family, while imperfect, are kind, generous, and honest people. However, when Du Bois returns to Josie’s community years after his teaching post ends, he finds that her family members have been in trouble and Josie herself is dead. The cause of her death is not specified, and neither is her last name; thus in both life and death, Josie remains somewhat anonymous, representative of the vast number of African-Americans whose struggle, suffering, and death was not acknowledged or recorded in history. By including her story in The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois preserves Josie’s story and pays tribute to her unfulfilled promise and hope for a better world.
Josie Character Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk
The timeline below shows where the character Josie appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: Of the Meaning of Progress
Du Bois found a school through Josie, “a thin, homely girl of twenty,” whom he met while walking. Du Bois describes Josie’s... (full context)
Du Bois describes the school where he chose to teach as run-down and poorly furnished. Josie attended the school along with her siblings, and Du Bois mentions that she dreamed of... (full context)
...describe other families who hosted him, as well as his time spent having conversations with Josie. Although Josie dreamed of going away to school in Nashville, it seemed unlikely that this... (full context)
Ten years later, Du Bois returned to Tennessee to find that Josie was dead. This was only one of many hardships her family had suffered—her brother was... (full context)