Of the Passing of the First Born is a telling account of Du Bois' own personal encounter with the birth and death of his newborn son. He opens the chapter by sharing the story of how he first learned of his son's death. Alone in a room, he received a note on a yellow piece of paper that informs him that he is now the father of a young boy. In that instant, he is transformed from a "person" to a "father" (Du Bois, Page 149-150), who was responsible for someone else's life.
When he first meets his child, he does not become completely enameled with it. However, he witnesses the transformation of his wife and how she becomes entirely devoted to this being, and his feelings change as well. He takes in the child's distinct characteristics, and notes that he has golden brown hair. Du Bois states his disdain with his child's hair color, especially because it symbolized the veil. Instead of acquiring all black characteristics, the child was born with the "evil omen" (Du Bois, Page 150) that was gold hair.
His initial indifference to his child transforms into an absolute adoration. He claims that this innocent being was born into a land where freedom did not really exist. As a black boy, he would always need to live within this veil, and remain with this reminder of it on his head. The child's mother was very overprotective of the baby. She did not let anyone else nurse, feed, or clothe the child, and should anyone want to do these things, they needed to ask for her permission. Eventually, the baby got very sick, and the mother devoted herself to him. She fed him, nursed him, and carried him, but his illness was too strong and he wasted away. Du Bois was then left with the saddest sight: a mother without a child.
He uses this essay to show his sadness at the inequalities he is confronted him both as a man and as an African-American. He states that life is already difficult, and that bringing death into it further exacerbates the difficulty. The only good to come out of this, he argues, is that the veil never ruined his child. He had lived within this world, but his innocence did not allow him to fully understand it. He was, thus, above the veil.
For the first time, Du Bois is able to remove the lens of an academic and share his struggle when his first-born passes. Before child dies, Du Bois is faced with an internal struggle, as he does not fully understand what it means to be a father.
This part of the story is a climax within Du Bois' own life. Throughout his life, he had lived as an African-American, and although he had been a victim of the prejudices that come with that, he had fought to overcome them. Despite his work, he could not overcome the struggles that came with losing a child. It did not matter how much he had studied or how much he had worked, for his one true pride had just past. Du Bois, therefore, realizes that it is not only his education that counts, but also his family.
When the child is born, Du Bois is upset because of the child's hair. Instead of inheriting black hair, the child inherits gold hair, which Du Bois states, symbolizes the veil. Throughout slavery, whites often sexually harassed blacks on their plantations. Thus, many African-Americans were born as a result of sexual assault and rape on plantations. This child, to Du Bois, would forever be a symbol of the injustices placed upon African-Americans for most of American history. His gold hair was a reflection of the rape and misogyny that had occurred throughout the reign of the plantation.
Although Du Bois' son is born with some white features, the author acknowledges that his skin color will make him live within the veil. In the United States, the level of colorism that existed was one that was reliant on the "one-drop" rule. Even if one had completely white or European features, the existence of black ancestry would automatically make him African-American, and in turn, make him walk within the veil.
The child, however, dies without being able to live within the veil. Although Du Bois is upset, he also shares his happiness that the son will never have to live with the prejudice that comes with being African-American in the United States. This death results in a conflict for Du Bois, as he is devastated he has lost his son, but over-protective and content that he has managed to escape the discrimination that most African-Americans face. Because his son died without knowing about the veil, he died freely. Du Bois hopes that, in the future, everyone could die above the Veil.