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Evaluation of Optimism and Power in The Sorrow Songs, by W.e.b. Dubois

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W.E.B. Dubois was a black scholar of the 18th century that would leave his mark on society with not only his scholarly achievements but the words that he would write for the African American community that would give them the power to continue on in the fight for their rights. Amongst some of his most powerful writings was “The Sorrow Songs” from The Souls of Black Folk that he wrote in 1903. In this paper, I will argue that Dubois’ epigraph from “The Sorrow Songs”, was a piece that would give back hope and strength to the African American community.

William Edward Burghardt, “W.E.B.” Dubois was born on February 23rd, 1868. While growing up in Massachusetts, he had experienced the better side of life as his community was integrated. This allowed him to reach his full potential in society as he could go to school, and get his education just like the others in his community. He began to further his education when he decided to attend Harvard. After he left Harvard, he would continue on to be the first African American to earn a doctorates. He took his degrees and many accomplishments with him as he traveled to Atlanta University. Dubois would go on from here to create not only the NAACP but would become the leader of the Niagara Movement. Along with the NAACP, the Niagara Movement would be very important factors for the African American society. Which is why the words of Dubois would hold so much power and receive the recognition of the African American society.

Dubois’ words resounded into the spirits of African Americans, especially when he wrote “The Sorrow Songs”. This epigraph would ask the question that many African American’s probably wanted to ask the white community as well, “Would America have been America without the Negro people?” He opened up his statement by asking a similar question that caused the reader to use more thought, he asked “Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here.” In this question he asks the white man how the country they are claiming as theirs can even be considered as such when the African American’s were there before they were.

He continued on to speak about the gifts that his people bough to these lands, even though they wouldn’t be appreciated by the white man nor would they be allowed to prosper in this land as longs as the white man would oppress them. The first gift that he discussed was the gift of story and song. Dubois spoke of how they killed this gift due to their “ill-harmonized and unmelodious land” which wouldn’t allow the talent of story-telling and song to even prevail because with the elements set against them, the gift would never grow to be appreciated. The next gift that his people gave to the white man was the sweat and brawn that they used to build this nation by hand. Dubois wrote, “… the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it.” This is where he talks about the effort and hard work that was put into the land by the hand of the African American people. They were the ones that took the initiative to even provide them with the foundation of the land that the white man would end up stealing nearly two hundred years later. The last gift that he would discuss, was the gift of the Spirit. When it came to the Spirit, Dubois felt as if it had been taken for granted by the white man. He wrote “…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.”

While Dubois focused on what the African Americans gave to the white man that would come in and steal their land, he also shed a bit of light on how they deserved to be treated as equals because even after all of what had been taken away from his people, they still gave everything that they had to contribute to the land and fought the same battles that they have. He wrote, “–we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy and Truth…” From this quote the reader can only conclude that Dubois was pleading his case with the white man for equal rights and the fair treatment of his people, because they too have given up their lives in order to make America what it is. In order to conclude his statement, he asked the question that would strike back on the points that he had made, “Would America have been America without her Negro people?” By ending his piece with a question he left his readers to deeply consider the examples and proof that he had given and apply it to this question.

In response to W.E.B. Dubois I would have to agree with each point that he made. I believe that the African American people did come before the white culture did and sculpted America into the land that it is today. You can still see traces of the gifts that he talked about in his story. Our people still share their stories of what it took to get to where we are today in society, and our folk songs still reign in history dating back to when our people were enslaved by the white man. There is also reason for me to believe that my people used their sweat and brawn to begin this land because if you go back into history, the colored people where some of the most resourceful, using the land in their benefit but never to destroy it. This goes back to the natural remedies created by my people which shows how well we know the land to the civilizations that were built here even before the white man came.

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Evaluation of Optimism and Power in the Sorrow Songs, by W.e.b. Dubois. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from
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