Throughout the book, Du Bois implies that one of the main problems preventing African Americans from achieving greater justice and prosperity is lack of proper leadership. He devotes a whole chapter to criticizing the leadership of Booker T. Washington, the most famous and influential black leader at the time. Du Bois argues that Washington was far too conciliatory to whites, and that his decision to compromise on the issues of civil, political, and educational rights allowed white people to strip African Americans of these rights and reverse the brief moment of progress that took place during Reconstruction. Du Bois is certainly aware of how difficult it was for a single leader to address the concerns of both the radical and conservative sides of the African-American community, not to mention whites who were vigilantly opposed to any kind of racial equality. However, he is decisive in his judgment that Washington contributed to the “speedier accomplishment” of the disenfranchisement, “civil inferiority,” and economic hardship black people experienced at the time he was writing.
For Du Bois, then, the question of leadership is closely tied to education. He shows that teachers (including himself) often come to serve as leaders within their communities. Similarly, institutions such as universities and the church also provide opportunities for individuals to work for change on behalf of the communities they represent and to inspire people toward hard work and self-improvement. Given that black people were deprived of the vote, teachers and clergymen became even more important as leaders of the African-American community. The chapter on Alexander Crummell, who was a Cambridge-educated scholar as well as an Episcopal priest, highlights the ways in which Crummell was a better leader than Washington and thus suggests that the leaders the black community needs will likely emerge from the church and universities.
In writing The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois positioned himself as a major leader in the African-American intellectual tradition and in the fight for racial justice. In many ways, Du Bois’ leadership style is unusual. He combines personal anecdote, historical evidence, numerical data, and even a short story in order to depict the African-American community in a multi-dimensional, insightful, and nuanced manner, and refuses to shy away from highlighting the bleaker elements of black life. Although prescriptive at points, the main purpose of Du Bois’ writing seems to be to convey rich and detailed information about the history and present situation of black people in America. In doing so, Du Bois suggests that if more people properly understood the reality of race and racism, they would be inspired to act in a way that would foster racial justice.
Leadership Quotes in The Souls of Black Folk
History is but the record of such group-leadership; and yet how infinitely changeful is its type and character!
For every social ill the panacea of Wealth has been urged––wealth to overthrow the remains of the slave feudalism; wealth to raise the "cracker" Third Estate; wealth to employ the black serfs, and the prospect of wealth to keep them working; wealth as the end and aim of politics, and as the legal tender for law and order; and, finally, instead of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, wealth as the ideal of the Public School.
The teachers in these institutions came not to keep the Negroes in their place, but to raise them out of the defilement of the places where slavery had wallowed them. The colleges they founded were social settlements; homes where the best of the sons of the freedmen came in close and sympathetic touch with the best traditions of New England. They lived and ate together, studied and worked, hoped and harkened in the dawning light.
War, murder, slavery, extermination, and debauchery––this has again and again been the result of carrying civilization and the blessed gospel to the isles of the sea and the heathen without the law.
In any land, in any country under modern free competition, to lay any class of weak and despised people, be they white, black, or blue, at the political mercy of their stronger, richer, and more resourceful fellows, is a temptation which human nature seldom has withstood and seldom will withstand.
Of all the three temptations, this one struck the deepest. Hate? He had out- grown so childish a thing. Despair? He had steeled his right arm against it, and fought it with the vigor of determination. But to doubt the worth of his life-work,––to doubt the destiny and capability of the race his soul loved because it was his… this, this seemed more than man could bear.
“Now I like the colored people, and sympathize with all their reasonable aspirations; but you and I both know, John, that in this country the Negro must remain subordinate, and can never expect to be the equal of white men. In their place, your people can be honest and respectful; and God knows, I'll do what I can to help them. But when they want to reverse nature, and rule white men, and marry white women, and sit in my parlor, then, by God! we'll hold them under if we have to lynch every Nigger in the land.”