Thanks to all who took part in yesterday's discussion! I'll wrap up with an excerpt from my favorite chapter, "Of the Sorrow Songs":
"They are the music of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways...Such a message is naturally veiled and half articulate. Words and music have lost each other and new and cant phrases of a dimly understood theology have displaced the older sentiment. Once in a while we catch a strange word of an unknown tongue, as the 'Mighty Myo,' which figures as a river of death; more often slight words or mere doggerel are joined to music of singular sweetness. Purely secular songs are few in number, partly because many of them were turned into hymns by a change of words, partly because the frolics were seldom heard by the stranger, and the music less often caught. Of nearly all the songs, however, the music is distinctly sorrowful....[They] tell in word and music of trouble and exile, of strife and hiding; they grope toward some unseen power and sigh for rest in the End...
"Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope—a faith in the ultimate justice of things. The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?
"...Around us the history of the land has centred for thrice a hundred years; out of the nation's heart we have called all that was best to throttle and subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacrifice, have billowed over this people, and they have found peace only in the altars of the God of Right. Nor has our gift of the Spirit been merely passive. Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?
"Even so is the hope that sang in the songs of my fathers well sung. If somewhere in this whirl and chaos of things there dwells Eternal Good, pitiful yet masterful, then anon in His good time America shall rend the Veil and the prisoned shall go free. Free, free as the sunshine trickling down the morning into these high windows of mine, free as yonder fresh young voices welling up to me from the caverns of brick and mortar below—swelling with song, instinct with life, tremulous treble and darkening bass. My children, my little children, are singing to the sunshine, and thus they sing:
"Let us cheer the wea-ry trav-el-ler, Cheer the wea-ry trav-el-ler, Let us cheer the wea-ry trav-el-ler A-long the heav-en-ly way.
"And the traveller girds himself, and sets his face toward the Morning, and goes his way." ... See MoreSee Less
Anyone else feel like they discovered a missing piece of History? Like you grew up ‘being told’ all about slavery and civil war .... then they jump straight to civil rights.
The complexity of the Reconstruction Era sets the stage for everything that follows.
This series of posts today is what has been missing from the larger national conversation. Reading these words, grappling with what they meant (and still mean) should be required reading. Reading these posts has inspired me to go back & re-read DuBois, Wright, Ellison & even Toni Morrison. It's been refreshing to feel like a grad student again today:) 💚
I will be honest and share that I’m still a few pages shy of finishing this book. But I thought I would share one observation that is weighing on me.
THE George Whitefield.
Preached in favor of slavery.
USED THE BIBLE TO JUSTIFY ENSLAVING OTHER HUMANS.
In Georgia. A state where slavery was ILLEGAL until 1751.
I feel like I have just walked through the looking glass.
I wonder what would have been a wiser way to appropriately "introduce" (for lack of a better word) the millions of freed slaves into U.S. society, if we could go back in time to the 1860s. What could have been done differently to avoid their plight in the following years, and even their plight today?
DuBios gave me hope when I began to question the euro-centric classical curriculum I was teaching my nine year old while holding my black baby boy. The cultivation of goodness, truth and beauty is not white. But when only white individuals are writing the texts or included in the readings or the Black experiences is dismissed.... or when classical learning is not accessible to the black community.... then the classical tradition is white washed.
DuBios spoke to me in my overly intellectually season, when I needed to remember the humanity of both me and others. The struggle hundreds of years old and yet critically important right NOW.
Just in general, I'm glad to have had the push to read this book. I've read a ton of African American literature over the years--have been studying it since a good friend of mine gave me a stack of books in sixth grade, literally, but somehow failed to ever read this one.
"He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world." DuBois pg 3 Can we still here those messages?? I feel like in the generation in which I was raised we were told (and sang) "It don't matter if you're black or white" as in, "we are all the same". But what my suburban neighborhood meant by that was "I can overlook your color if you will act and think like me." True equality is not in pretending that we are the same but in valuing our differences. What thoughts do you have on what some of those "negro blood" messages might still be for our culture?
I agree with Carrie. I think looking back further than you think always illuminates the present. Also this Dubois can WRITE. I felt so much of it was sheer poetry.
So many people never understood that Northeners held contempt for blacks people. They didn’t want “white jobs” taken by freed slaves, they still felt that ‘negroes’ were inferior, and public opinion against slavery wasn’t as big in the North as was made out to be by abolitionists. They liked the ideology of it but not the reality. That’s part of the missing chunk that Carrie is speaking of.
"The white folk of Altamaha voted John a good boy,—fine plough-hand, good in the rice-fields, handy everywhere, and always good-natured and respectful. But they shook their heads when his mother wanted to send him off to school. 'It'll spoil him,—ruin him,' they said; and they talked as though they knew. But full half the black folk followed him proudly to the station, and carried his queer little trunk and many bundles. And there they shook and shook hands, and the girls kissed him shyly and the boys clapped him on the back. So the train came, and he pinched his little sister lovingly, and put his great arms about his mother's neck, and then was away with a puff and a roar into the great yellow world that flamed and flared about the doubtful pilgrim....
"Down in Altamaha, after seven long years, all the world knew John was coming. The homes were scrubbed and scoured,—above all, one; the gardens and yards had an unwonted trimness, and Jennie bought a new gingham. With some finesse and negotiation, all the dark Methodists and Presbyterians were induced to join in a monster welcome at the Baptist Church; and as the day drew near, warm discussions arose on every corner as to the exact extent and nature of John's accomplishments. It was noontide on a gray and cloudy day when he came...
"The people were distinctly bewildered. This silent, cold man,—was this John? Where was his smile and hearty hand-grasp?...The meeting of welcome at the Baptist Church was a failure. Rain spoiled the barbecue, and thunder turned the milk in the ice-cream. When the speaking came at night, the house was crowded to overflowing. The three preachers had especially prepared themselves, but somehow John's manner seemed to throw a blanket over everything,—he seemed so cold and preoccupied, and had so strange an air of restraint that the Methodist brother could not warm up to his theme and elicited not a single "Amen"; the Presbyterian prayer was but feebly responded to, and even the Baptist preacher, though he wakened faint enthusiasm, got so mixed up in his favorite sentence that he had to close it by stopping fully fifteen minutes sooner than he meant. The people moved uneasily in their seats as John rose to reply. He spoke slowly and methodically. The age, he said, demanded new ideas; we were far different from those men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,—with broader ideas of human brotherhood and destiny. Then he spoke of the rise of charity and popular education, and particularly of the spread of wealth and work. The question was, then, he added reflectively, looking at the low discolored ceiling, what part the Negroes of this land would take in the striving of the new century. He sketched in vague outline the new Industrial School that might rise among these pines, he spoke in detail of the charitable and philanthropic work that might be organized, of money that might be saved for banks and business....A painful hush seized that crowded mass. Little had they understood of what he said, for he spoke an unknown tongue...
"John...arose silently, and passed out into the night. Down toward the sea he went, in the fitful starlight, half conscious of the girl who followed timidly after him. When at last he stood upon the bluff, he turned to his little sister and looked upon her sorrowfully, remembering with sudden pain how little thought he had given her. He put his arm about her and let her passion of tears spend itself on his shoulder.
"Long they stood together, peering over the gray unresting water.
"'John,' she said, 'does it make every one—unhappy when they study and learn lots of things?'
"He paused and smiled. 'I am afraid it does,' he said.
"'And, John, are you glad you studied?'
"'Yes,' came the answer, slowly but positively."
Dubois knew that education was part of the answer--part of making black Americans self-aware, part of the strategy that could raise them out of poverty, a map into a possible new world. But he was clear-eyed about it. He also knew that the same education which would give entry into a larger world--a white world--could separate a young man from the world of his birth. John is here suspended between two worlds, belonging to neither.
Education is not always an unalloyed good. It can also be alienating and divisive. A modern take on this is in Tara Westover's EDUCATED, which I didn't particularly like, but which echoes John's experience. Once educated, she could not return home--but, unlike John, she was able to find her place in a new world.
I also wanted to say, this excerpt you’ve posted has me thinking about other cultures in our country and how they view education. Some have outright rejected it. I’m not talking about the college debate on whether or not every job needs a college degree, I’m talking about cultures that encourage kids not to go away, or even finish school because they know it raises the risk they will leave and never return. It makes me look at the states with failing schools and low graduation rates with a new eye.
I was just reading Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 1:18 this morning: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
Yes, getting an education separated me from much of my families worldview...and the community. I can go back to visit, but it's no longer a place I can exist and be mentally healthy.
Yes, absolutely. I think every generation experiences this to some effect. I personally experienced this during and since college with the denomination I grew up in and church in general. I finally have determined just recently to never go back to it (the denomination, we have no idea what we are going to do about church and finding a new denomination) because I cannot reconcile my education, and what I know to be true, with their beliefs.
You see this same feeling, although not as strongly, in "Hillbilly Elegy", which was my absolute favorite book of 2016.
Also, you see it in the discontent that can lead to radicalization in certain circles in Saudi Arabia--there is considerable evidence that it played into the 9/11 attacks.
One of the interesting things about this is how it transmitted to later generations. My parents knew and taught us that we had to go to college, so we never struggled with worrying about growing beyond them. But also they knew and taught us that if we did finish college, we would be able to be self-supporting and make a living. That was true when I was growing up, but it is not true any longer. But additionally, the idea that education is to a great extent enlightening and its own reward had not made it down to their generation, or at least it was not a factor in decision making for them or for us.
At 60 I see this differently. I believe that the exposure to great literature and to ways of thought, to various civilizations, and to great ideas that we are giving our kids are inherently valuable no matter what they end up doing with their lives. If I had a boring job, I could make it a lot more interesting by thinking about Great Ideas or Beauty or Virtue. Studying and contemplating those things and living them out to the greatest extent possible is valuable in and of itself.
As an expat, I live this. 😊 There are certain experiences which make it difficult to go home again. And, like Dubois, I understand that although I am living a certain experience, that experience is not the answer to every problem. In fact, it may make things worse if I'm not wise in how I handle things.
This touches heavily on the theme I outlined earlier. That self-awareness that's a curse and a blessing. I think it's especially frustrating when you know and you know why you know, but to get someone else to truly understand it would take years and years. I mean look at the world now, or the issues in the Middle East and Africa and knowing our part in that, I mean understanding all the bad we've done there and how we should be helping, educating, spending time, money and generations, saying sorry for the harm we've done. But you talk to your brother who says 'But I didn't do anything wrong, they're just evil, not like us'. And you want to shake him for his ignorance and explain this goes back to post-WW2 or that be traced back to the issues of colonialism. Or the troubles in Israel today are because of the revolutions in Israel during Roman Occupation. It's good to know. It's a curse not being able to express it and prove it in simple conversation with people who're only tangentially interested in the subject matter.
Yes. I grew up in a little town south of Houston, TX. My parents are both college graduates, but that was the end of their education. Since leaving home in 1991, my education has changed me as a person so that I have little in common with my roots or my original family. I'm grateful that I have a husband who grows with me as education is scary and causes changes in us whether for better or for worse. Robert Trivers, the anthropologist, writes about how humans deceive themselves in order to survive and find peace of mind for if we accepted all that we see and experience of the world, we would be like John and very very sad.
As troublesome as an education may be, what kind of world would we live in, if we all chose to be uneducated?
"Scientists have uncovered a pit of human bones at a Civil War battlefield in Virginia. The remains are the amputated limbs of wounded Union soldiers." Arghh. Eeek. But still, cool. https://t.co/jtfXqE0wpT