A Negro Schoolmaster in the New South
W.E.B. DuBois

by W.E.B. DuBois

Unlike the fictional works that make up most of this collection, DuBois' narrative is a factual account of his experiences as a schoolmaster in a rural black community in Tennessee for two summers when he was a college student. DuBois tells the story of those summers, then revisits the community a decade later. This narrative is included in his classic work, "The Souls of Black Folk," under a different title.  Go to the tale

   B a c k g r o u n d

  • Story Setting: Tennessee
  • Story Date: Late 1880s, late 1890s
  • Publication Date: 1899
  • W.E.B. DuBois: 1868-1963

  •    T h e    S t o r y
    (The links bookmark the tale.)

  • The beginning of the tale
  • Looking for a school without a teacher
  • DuBois finds a school
  • School begins
  • The families of the children
  • The town, the churches, the community
  • Ten years later, DuBois returns

  •    T h e    T h e m e s
    (The links bookmark theme-related passages in the color-coded version of the tale.)

  • The Schoolmaster: 1
  • Students at Work: 1
  • School & Community: 1

  •    R e l a t e d    S i t e s

  • "The Souls of Black Folk"

  • Works by DuBois on the Internet

  • W.E.B DuBois Virtual University

  • W.E.B DuBois - The Man & His Works

  • W.E.B DuBois

  •    I n t r o d u c t i o n

       W.E.B. Du Bois' "The Souls of Black Folk," written in 1903, ranks among the classics of twentieth century American literature. Its primary subjects are the condition of African Americans in the U.S. from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the twentieth century and the nature of racial relations during that period. Du Bois combines the fields of history, economics, sociology, politics, and psychology in the book, uniting scholarship, personal insight and beautifully crafted prose to create an important literary as well as scholarly work.

       "A Negro Schoolmaster in the New South" was first published as an article in the "Atlantic Magazine" in 1899, then included in "The Souls of Black Folk" with the title, "Of the Meaning of Progress." It is a factual narrative of DuBois' experiences as a schoolmaster in a rural black community in Tennessee during two summers when he was an undergraduate student at Fisk University, then of his return to the community for a short visit ten years later. The portraits of the schoolhouse, DuBois' pupils, and their lives in the rural south 35 years after the end of the Civil War are a valuable record of a world rarely depicted and analyzed so perceptively. The opportunities and obstacles DuBois faced as a talented, educated young African American man also reveal a great deal about the times.

       The importance DuBois places on the value of education to African Americans cannot be overstated, and it is a theme he returns to throughout "The Souls of Black Folk." According to Henry Louis Gates, DuBois was "among the most deeply read, most widely traveled, and broadly and impeccably educated human beings in the world." He held a Bachelor's Degrees from both Fisk University and Harvard as well as a doctorate from Harvard, and a listing of his books, essays, and poems includes some 2,000 entries.

       Because education is such a pervasive theme in "The Souls of Black Folk," I have included a number of excerpts about education taken from various places in the book. Of particular interest is an excerpt from Chapter XIII, "Of the Coming of John," the only short story in the book. The story revolves around John, who leaves his rural Georgia town to attend college, then returns to become the schoolmaster in the town's black school. The excerpt I have included is from the portion dealing with the community's schoolhouse and John's short tenure as schoolmaster, but the complete story is well worth reading for its discussion of the transformative nature of education.