W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk: A Graphic Interpretation – A Review
Approximately 120 years after African American academic and activist W. E. B. Du Bois published one of the greatest scholarly works in the canon of world literature, The Souls of Black Folk, literary giants Paul Peart-Smith, Paul Buhle, and Herb Boyd provide the public and the world of academia with their masterful graphic adaptation and edited interpretation of Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk. As Buhle and Boyd enabled and assisted Peart-Smith regarding this text, President Jonathan Scott Holloway of Rutgers University provides us with a sagacious and felicitous introduction by titling it – “The Souls of Black Folk: In Its Time…and Ours.”
W. E. B. Du Bois Souls of Black Folk: A Graphic Interpretation
by W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), Paul Peart-Smith
Edited by Paul Buhle, Herb Boyd
Introduction by Jonathan Scott Holloway
By (artist) Paul Peart-Smith
Rutgers University Press; 180 pages
April 14, 2023
Paperback: $19.95; Cloth: $49.95; EPUB: 19.95; PDF: $19.95
ISBN: 9781978824652 - 9781978824669 - 9781978824676 - 9781978824690
This timely adaptation of Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk is further enhanced by the intense and spectacular artistic graphics of Paul Peart-Smith where readers will strongly feel various emotions as they contemplate deeply Du Bois’s profound prophecy regarding race relations along with his pungent polemic regarding not necessarily the souls of Black folk, but essentially the soul of America. For it is the soul of America, not Black folk that created and still perpetuates the pernicious ordeal and reality of not only a double consciousness, but a dual and divided country: one Black, the other White where inequality, injustice, and white supremacy thrive and prevail as the lives of Black folk are not only exasperated, but almost extinguished.
Truth be told, it is the soul of America, not Black folk that created “this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (Peart-Smith, Buhle, and Boyd, 2023, p. 8). Yet, before the birth of the United States, it was Black folk, given their double consciousness, who fought alongside white folk during the American Revolution, and ultimately, in all of their wars for the sake of white liberty and acceptance.
As the United States struggled to develop its infant industries and dominance, it was Black folk from Haiti by way of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 that prevented Napoleon’s dream of an American empire. During the Haitian Revolution, the Louisiana Purchase occurred as France sold the vast territory of Louisiana to the United States which doubled the size of the United States. Therefore, it was the soul of Black folk that made Haiti, not the United States, the first nation in the Americas to abolish slavery. Furthermore, as the United States incorporated Manifest Destiny, it was the soul of Black folk (specifically the Buffalo Soldiers) that further expanded U.S. territories westward and played a major role in making the United States victorious in the Spanish-American War of 1898 by fighting side by side with Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. Thus, it was the soul of Black folk not the soul of America that built this nation even though this nation still “looks on in amused contempt and pity” regarding Black folk.
Although this nation “looks on in amused contempt and pity” regarding Black folk, it was the soul of Black folk that made it possible for Edward Bouchet, a possible descendant of Haiti, to become the first African American to earn a doctorate in the United States. While Dr. Bouchet earned his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1876, it was the soul of Black folk as this nation “looks on in amused contempt and pity” that made a descendant of Haiti, W.E.B. Du Bois prevailed in earning his Ph.D. from Harvard University making him the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895.
It is the pernicious soul of America by way of slavery, Jim Crow, hatred, fear, ignorance, and white supremacy that ruled affirmative action in college admission for Black folk unconstitutional. Yet, unqualified white folk affirmatively enjoy the privilege of being admitted to elite colleges and universities by way of legacies. A legacy where the soul of Black folk, by way of African enslavement, built and financed the very same institutions of higher education that prevent qualified Black folk from admissions and other opportunities. Moreover, it is the pernicious soul of America not Black folk that officially and legally prohibits certain books from being borrowed, purchased, and read. It would be a great American tragedy if certain states banned The Souls of Black Folk and its graphic interpretation because some soulless folk with an elite education purposely misinterpret or misrepresent these texts.
Nonetheless, Peart-Smith, Buhle, and Boyd’s graphic interpretation of Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk is timely and significant because it is the soul of Black folk not the soul of America that will prevail and save this nation and its people. Hopefully, at that point, Black folk will no longer be viewed and treated with “amused contempt and pity.” Furthermore, in their stylistic and artistic representation of Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk, Peart-Smith, Buhle, and Boyd provide the public and the world of academia with a stellar presentation and remembrance of Du Bois’s pungent polemic and profound prophecy. As such, the problem of the color line will no longer persist in the 21st century only if the consciousness of America and the rest of humanity is one with the soul of Black folk.
[Patrick Delices is a Pan-African scholar, public intellectual, essayist, and bibliophile who taught at Hunter College, Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies. Patrick Delices also served as a research fellow at Columbia University for Pulitzer Prize historian Manning Marable. Patrick Delices earned a BA/MS from the City College of New York; an Ed.M at Teachers College, Columbia University; an MBA from New York University, Stern School of Business; and an MPA from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]