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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

W. E. B. Du Bois - Teaching Tips

Back Back to W. E. B. Du Bois Activities
  • Du Bois's articulation of "double-consciousness" and the "two-ness" of African Americans is one of the most famous passages in The Souls of Black Folk. You might begin your discussion of Du Bois by focusing on this passage, which appears early in Chapter 1, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings." Ask your students to think about Du Bois's claims that double-consciousness is both a gift (it enables a "second-sight" into American culture) and a curse (it denies African American individuals "true self-consciousness"). According to Du Bois, what kinds of stresses and tensions does double-consciousness create for African Americans? How can these tensions be resolved? Ask students to consider how Du Bois's formulation of double-consciousness impacted later twentieth-century artists interested in recording the experiences of racial minorities (Toni Morrison's and Ralph Ellison's work might lend themselves well to this discussion).

  • Divide your class into two groups and have them prepare a mock debate between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Ask them to imagine that the two leaders are meeting to formulate a platform of goals for the African American community at the turn of the twentieth century. What strategies would each leader advocate? How would they prioritize their goals? Ask each group to anticipate arguments and to be prepared to defend their strategies in the context of the historical circumstances of early-twentieth-century America.

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