Opening lines: “Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line” (v).
“Leaving, then the world of the white man, I have stepped within the Veil, raising it that you may view faintly its deeper recesses–the meaning of its religion, the passion of its human sorrow, and the struggle of its greater souls. all this I have ended with a tale twice told but seldom written” (v).
“…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?” (vi).
*Chapter headings open with religious songs or spirituals
“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem?, they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town… To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem?, I answer seldom a word” (1).
“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world – a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, 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. One ever feels his two-ness,– an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,– this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. 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. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face (2-3).
“The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a-dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people, –has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves” (3).
[After the Civil War] “The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not?…” (4).
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships…the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.
A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems” (5-6).
“Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,–the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.
So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress to-day rocks our little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea…” (6).
“The bright ideals of the past,–physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,–all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong,–all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simple and incomplete,–the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power” (6).
“…there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folk-lore are Indian and Africa; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness” (7).
[I have written this] “…that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk” (7).
Opens Ch. 2 with a hymn by Lowell in which he reappropriates the “shadow” from which God “keeps watch above his own” as a metaphor for the Veil.
He gives a history of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods: “…the destitution of the freedmen was often reported as ‘too appalling for belief,’ and the situation was daily growing worse rather than better…The broader economic organization thus clearly demanded sprang up here and there as accident and local conditions determined” (11).
“Three characteristic things one might have seen in Sherman’s raid through Georgia, which threw the new situation into shadowy relief: the Conqueror, the Conquered, and the Negro. Some see all significance in the grim front of the destroyer, and some in the bitter sufferers of the Lost Cause. But to me neither soldier nor fugitive speaks with so deep a meaning as that dark human cloud that clung like remorse on the rear of those swift columns, swelling at times to half their size, almost engulfing and choking them…. All these experiments, orders, and systems were bound to attract and perplex the government and nation” (12).
“The annals of this Ninth Crusade are yet to be written, – the tale of a mission that seemed to our age far more quixotic than the quest of St. Louis seemed to his. Behind the mists of ruin and rapine waved the calico dresses of women who dared, and after the hoarse mouthings of the field guns rang the rhythm of the alphabet. Rich and poor they were, serious and curious. Bereaved now of a father, now of a brother, now of more than these, they came seeking a life work in planting New England schoolhouses among the white and black of the South. They did their work well. In that first year they taught one hundred thousand souls, and more” (16).
“…the Negro knew full well that, whatever their deeper convictions may have been, Southern men had fought with desperate energy to perpetuate this slavery under which the black masses, with half-articulate thought, had writhed and shivered. They welcomed freedom with a cry. They shrank from the master who still strove for their chains; they fled to the friends that had freed them, even though those friends stood ready to use them as a club for driving the recalcitrant South back into loyalty” (18).
Everyone had to develop a “new way of working… The largest element of success lay in the fact that the majority of the freedmen were willing, even eager, to work… the two great obstacles which confronted the officials were the tyrant and the idler, – the slaveholder who was determined to perpetuate slavery under another name; and the freedman who regarded freedom as perpetual rest, – the Devil and the Deep Sea” (19).
“…the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent” (20).
“Bureau courts tended to become centres simply for punishing whites, while the regular civil courts tended to become solely institutions for perpetuating the slavery of blacks… It is not difficult now to say to the young freedman, cheated and cuffed about, who has seen his father’s head beaten to a jelly and his own mother namelessly assaulted, that the meek shall inherit the earth. Above all, nothing is more convenient than to heap on the Freedmen’s Bureau all the evils of that evil day, and damn it utterly for every mistake and blunder that was made. All this is easy, but it is neither sensible nor just” (21).
“When sticks and stones and beasts form the sole environment of a people, their attitude is largely one of determined opposition to and conquest of natural forces. But when to earth and brute is added an environment of men and ideas, then the attitude of the imprisoned group may take three main forms, – a feeling of revolt and revenge; an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater group; or, finally, a determined effort at self-realization and self-development despite environing opinion. The influence of all these attitudes at various times can be traced in the history of the American Negro, and in the evolution of his successive leaders” (28).
“Mr. [Booker T.] Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life” (30).
“…it has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things, –
First, political power,
Second, insistence on civil rights,
Third, higher education of Negro youth, –
and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:
- The disenfranchisement of the Negro.
- The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
- The steady withdrawal of aid from insitutions for the higher training of the Negro (31).
“…for where in the world may we go and be safe from lying and brute force?” (31).
“…it is wrong to aid and abet a national crime simply because it is unpopular not to do so” (33).
“First, it is the duty of black men to judge the South discriminatingly. The present generation of Southerners are not responsible for the past, and they should not be blindly hated or blamed for it…Discriminating and broad-minded criticism is what the South needs, – needs it for the sake of her own white sons and daughters, ad for the insurance of robust, healthy mental and moral development” (33).
“I have called my tiny community a world, and so its isolation made it; and yet there was among us but a half-awakened common consciousness, sprung from common joy and grief, at urial, birth, or wedding; from a common hardship in poverty, poor land, and low wages; and, above all, from the sight of the Veil that hung between us and Opportunity. All this caused us to think some thoughts together; but these, when ripe for speech, were spoken in various languages” (41).
“My log schoolhouse was gone. In its place stood Progress; and Progress, I understand, is necessarily ugly” (43).
“Uncle Bird told me how, on a night like that, Thenie came wondering back to her home over yonder, to escape the blows of her husband. And next morning she died in the home that her little bow-legged brother, working and saving, had bought for their widowed mother. …How shall man measure Progress there where the dark-faced Josie lies?…” (45).
“Atlanta must not lead the South to dream of material prosperity as the touchstone of all success; already the fatal might of this idea is beginning to spread; it is replacing the finer type of Southerner with vulgar money-getters; it is burying the sweeter beauties of Southern life beneath pretence and ostentation” (49).
“Today it makes little difference to Atlanta, to the South, what the Negro thinks or dreams or wills. In the soul-life of the land he is to-day, and naturally will long remain, unthought of, half forgotten; and yet when he does come to think and will and do for himself, –and let no man dream that day will never come, –then the part hep lays will not be one of sudden learning, but words and thoughts he has been taught to lisp in his race-childhood. To-day the ferment of his striving toward self-realization is to the strife of the white world like a wheel within a wheel: beyond the Veil are smaller but like problems of ideals, of leaders and the led, of serfdom, of poverty, of order and subordination, and, through all, the Veil of Race… The old leaders of Negro opinion, in the little groups where there is a Negro social consciousness, are being replaced by new; neither the black preacher nor the black teacher leads as he did two decades ago” (50).
“The South laments to-day the slow, steady disappearance of a certain type of Negro,–the faithful courteous slave of other days, with his incorruptible honesty and dignified humility. He is passing away just as surely as the old type of Southern gentleman is passing, and from not dissimilar causes, –the sudden transformation of a fair far-off ideal of Freedom into the hard reality of bread-winning and the consequent deification of Bread” (50).
“In the Black World, the Preacher and Teacher embodied once the ideals of this people, –the strife for another and a juster world, the vague dream of righteousness, the mystery of knowing; but to-day the danger is that these ideals, with their simple beauty and weird inspiration, will suddenly sink to a question of cash and a lust for gold… What if the NEgro people be wooed from a strife for righteousness, from a love of knowing, to regard dollars as the be-all and end-all of life?” (50).
“The hundred hills of Atlanta are not all crowned with factories…There I live, and there I hear from day to day the low hum of restful life. In winter’s twilight, when the red sun glows, I can see the dark figures pass between the halls to the music of the night-bell. In the morning, when the sun is golden, teh clang of the day-bell brings the hurry and laughter of three hundred young hearts from hall and street, and from the busy city below, – children all dark and heavy-haired, – to join their clear young voices in the music of the morning sacrifice. In a half-dozen class-rooms they gather then, – here to follow the love song of Dido, here to listen to the tale of Troy divine; there to wander among the stars, there to wander among men and nations, – and elsewhere other well-worn ways of knowing this queer world. Nothing new, no time-saving devices, –simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and leanring the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs…and is today laid before the freedmen’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal, –not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes” (51).
[Those who planted Fisk & Howard] “forgot, too, just as their successors are forgetting, the rule of inequality: that of the million black youth, some were fitted to know and some to dig; that some had the talent and capcity of university men, and some the talent and capacity of blacksmiths; and that true training meant neither that all should be college men nor all artisans, but that the one should be made a missionary of culture to an untaught people, and the other a free workman among serfs. And to seek to make the blacksmith a scholar is almost as silly as the more modern scheme of making the scholar a blacksmith; almost, but not quite” (52).
“The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization” (53).
“The tendency is here, born of slavery and quickened to renewed life by the crazy imperialism of the day, to regard human beings as among the material resources of a land to be trained with an eye single to future dividends” (58).
“…they are not fools, they have tasted of the Tree of Life, and they will not cease to think, will not cease attempting to read the riddle of the world” (64).
“I insist that the question of the future is how best to keep these millions from brooding over the wrongs of the past and the difficulties of the present, so that all their energies may be bent toward a cheerful striving and co-operation with their white neighbors toward a larger, juster, and fuller future” (66).
“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color-line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America: Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?” (67).
“I think I never before quite realized the place of the Fence in civilization. This is the Land of the Unfenced, where crouch on either hand scores of ugly one-room cabins, cheerless and dirty. Here lies the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury… for has he not fine fences? And those over yonder, why should they build fences on the rack-rented land? It will only increase their rent” (75).
“There is little of the joyous abandon and playfulness which we are wont to associate with the plantation Negro. At best, the natural good-nature is edged with complaint or has changed into sullenness and gloom” (79).
“Have you ever seen a cotton-field white with the harvest, – its golden fleece hovering above the black earth…I have sometimes half suspected that here the winged ram Chrysomallus left that Fleece after which Jason and his Argonauts went vaguely wandering…one might frame a pretty and not far-fetched analogy of witchery and dragon’s teeth, and blood and armed men, between the ancient and the modern Quest of the Golden Fleece in the Black Sea” (83).
“The system of labor and the size of the houses both tend to the breaking up of family groups: the grown children go away as contract hands or migrate to town, the sister goes into service; and so one finds many families with hosts of babies, and many newly married couples, but comparatively few families with half-grown and grown sons and daughters. The average size of Negro families has undoubtedly decreased since the war, primarily from economic stress. …such postponement [of marriage and children] is due to the difficulty of earning sufficient to rear and to support a family; and it undoubtedly leads, in the country districts, to sexual immorality. The form of this immorality, however, is very seldom that of prostitution, and less frequently that of illegitimacy than one would imagine. Rather, it takes the form of separation and desertion after a family group has been formed…the plague-spot in sexual relations is easy marriage and easy separation… It is the plain heritage from slavery” (87).
[due to buying, selling, moving] “it was clearly to the master’s interest to have both of them take new mates…and a broken household is the result. The Negro church has done much to stop this practice, and now most marriage ceremonies are performed by the pastors. Nevertheless, the evil is still deep seated, and only a general raising of the standard of living will finally cure it” (87).
Housewifery is at stake here: “…here ninety-six per cent are toiling; no one with leisure to turn the bare and cheerless cabin into a home, no old folks to sit beside the fire and hand down traditions of the past; little of careless happy childhood and dreaming youth” (88).
“Their great defect as laborers lies in their lack of incentive to work beyond the mere pleasure of physical exertion. They are careless because they have not found that it pays to be careful; they are improvident because the improvident ones of their acquaintance get on about as well as the provident. Above all, they cannot see why they should take unusual pains to make the white man’s land better, or to fatten his mule, or save his corn” (94).
“the best of the whites and the best of the Negroes almost never live in anything like close proximity. It thus happens that in nearly every Southern town and city, both whites and blacks see commonly the worst of each other” (101).
“I will not stop to ask whose duty it was, but I insist it was the duty of someone to see that these workingmen were not left alone and unguided, without capital, without land, without skill, without economic organization, without even the bald protection of law, order, and decency, –left in a great land, not to settle down to slow and careful internal development, but destined to be thrown almost immediately into relentless and sharp competition with the best of modern workingmen under an economic system where every participant is fighting for himself, and too often utterly regardless of the rights or welfare of his neighbor” (102).
“The laws are made by men who have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have absolutely no motive for treating the black people with courtesy or consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would rather punish ten innocent Negroes than let one guilty one escape” (106).
“the Negro has already been pointed out many times as a religious animal– a being of that deep emotional nature which turns instinctively toward the supernatural. Endowed with a rich tropical imagination and a keen, delicate appreciation of Nature, the transplanted African lived in a world animate with gods and devils, elves and witches; full of strange influences, –of Good to be implored, of Evil to be propitiated… the Negro, losing the joy of this world, eagerly seized upon the offered conceptions of the next; the avenging Spirit of the Lord enjoining patience in this world, under sorrow and tribulation until the Great Day when He should lead His dark children home, – this became his comforting dream” (121).
The Sorrow Songs “are the articulate message of the slave to the world. They tell us in these eager days that life was joyous to the black slave, careless and happy. I can easily believe this of some, of many. But not all the past South, though it rose from the dead, can gainsay the heart-touching witness of these 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” (157).
Afterthought: “Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world-wilderness…” (165).