Professor C. Y. Paden
What Lies Beneath
Living below the oppressive line drawn by the, ‘social construct of
society’, dark bodied, dual-souled ‘possessions’ enslaved in heredity.
Negroes, shut out from a world governed by legislature and democracy in
exchange for an owner, a white man with blood stained hands to dictate.
Shielded from any opportunity for one to experience upward mobility, where
Negro must remember that he is still a Negro. Not his strength in mind but
it is in his back and through a life of labor wherein lies a Negroes hope
for a glimpse of ‘Americanism’. As written in The Souls of Black Folk by W.
E. B. DuBois, ” And finally, need I add that I who speak here am bone of
the bone and flesh of the flesh, of them that live within the Veil? “.
Tearing through the seemingly impervious curtain that has divided our
country and made its history, the Veil here represents more than just a
‘color line’ but a dichotomous issue involving this vast veil that blankets
the south, confined within its own ideology.
DuBois, being a born free, product of the north, he utilizes his
blessings of freedom and education to uplift and create aspirations within
his fellow man still living inside the south, ” …need I add that I who
speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh…” Although
predisposed to the ethos of the north, DuBois realizing his issue with the
‘color line’ can only be treated from within it. Though not a slave in the
physical sense of the word, he is still a slave to society, ” …a world
that yields him no true self-consciousness…” pg. 364. Refusing to conform
to the way in which he is seen through the eyes of the world, he needed an
empirical look into the south and lifted the Veil that had separated him
from his brethren.
Now inside the Veil looking outward, DuBois finds himself in a new
world. Never before had DuBois experienced first had the harsh realities of
being a Negro in the south. Crossing into the south was not just a step
over a boundary or color line, but a step into reality, the reality of
being a Negro first and then American. This DuBois later tags, ” …this,
double-consciousness… one ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro “
Pg. 364. Now, ‘of them that live within the Veil’ DuBois is exposed to a
more socially acceptable and non-legislative form of governing such as
lynching, something Booker T. Washington, a counter-part of DuBois in the
fight for upward mobility, has experienced his whole life.
Washington, being that he is a byproduct of the south, shares the same
common goal for the progress of Negroes as DuBois. Washington, being that
he was born into slavery, was self-educated. As compared to the north,
beneath the veil, education was not permitted to the enslaved. Washington
had taken on the ideology of Fred. Douglas, the man that had written the
first book Washington read as a slave. He preached, rather than waste your
time learning educationally, a Negro is better off withvocational
learning. The jobs of Negroes according to Washington were tilling land,
clearing forests, creating infrastructures for cities,anddomestic
services; that is where a Negro finds his place in society. He found by
being able to accomplish a ‘common task uncommonly well’, this is how a
Negro will gain the favor of the white man (his master) and will then
eventually ‘earn’ respect. George Washington Carver, a graduate of Tuskegee
University, the University that Booker T.Washingtonhadfounded,
exemplified Washington’s theory through his many discoveries from a peanut.
This is the way he had gained his freedom at twenty years of age, through
service and assimilation.
Through the self-expression of Dubois, Souls of Black Folk was written
to confront the ‘problem’ of the twentieth century, ” the problem of the
By jumping across the line into the heart of an entirely new world, he is
a solid example and representation of his Talented Tenth. Influencing the
black community to step beyond the restraints of the Veil and all that it
entails. He believed the Talented Tenth of any ethnic group would spawn the
rest of the nation. He believed in economic development, and moral upward
mobility for an entire nation. DuBois felt, with Washington’s Cotton
Expedition speech in 1895, he created a platform for accommodation and
wanted his Negroes to go after their ballot and not fall into the cast of
society. Once again, the only way to attain such things is only by means of
education, vocational experience can get you nowhere in politics.
It was the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President
Lincoln, “Then the long-headed man… emancipated the slaves…” pg. 373
despite speculation on Lincoln’s motive for the signing; Lincoln single
handedly abolished the black laws of the south set in 1830, giving birth to
the Black Reconstruction Era.
The Black Reconstruction Era created many positive possibilities for
the south. This vanguard brought to life the Freedman’s Bureau, thirteenth,
fourteenth, and fifteenth amendment; which abolished slavery, gave free
black men the right to vote, and participate in commerce. Missionaries
created Schoolhouses and black churches in attempt to Christianize the
population, civilize the uncivilized, and educated the uneducated. Poetry
and literature brought about self-expression (cultivated artists), a vital
piece to DuBois’s Talented Tenth. Seem good right? Not for long. Despite
the efforts, Education was still far too scarce. Education was essential in
breaking away from the Veil; and yet, we have another exampleof
institutional racism holding back this striving race. With literacy exams
before voting or participating in commerce, “the methods of transacting the
business of the Bureau were faulty.” pg. 388, and the governments’ pseudo
authority to give away land; not to mention the increase in violence
towards Negroes including lynching, rapes, and murdered children.
So is the issue of the ‘color line’ solved? I don’t think so. Will it
ever be? That is hard to say, some might say history has a funny way of
repeating itself… I say it already has.