The Souls of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk Summary and Analysis of "Of Alexander Crummell"


In this chapter, Du Bois chronicles the life of Alexander Crummell. Alexander Crummell is a black man who begins to struggle with life at a very early age. Initially, he faces hate. Then, he is faced with despair, and finally, in his old age, he faces doubt. Du Bois first encounters Crummell at a commencement ceremony at Wilberforce. He was immediately attracted to Crummell because of his finesse, calmness, courtesy, and sweetness. After meeting him, Du Bois follows Crummell throughout his life and provides the reader with a summary of his life.

When he was very young, Crummell had attempted to attend an abolitionist school in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, the hatred of the local white people resulted in it being pushed into a swamp by oxen. It was not until Beriah Green, who had a school in Oneida, NY, and decided that he wanted to educate a black boy, that Crummell's life changed. Crummell ended up attending this white school, and thus ridding himself of the hate he had previously acquired when he lost his ability to attend the abolitionist school.

As he grew, Crummell shadowed a Christian Father. He was not content with the world or the injustices within it, and followed the calling of the priesthood. When he attempted to join the apostolic church of God, he was told that Negros were not accepted there. He blamed the world for this injustice, and decided that he would fight to get in. Unfortunately, he kept being told no and began to question his intentions; Crummell did not understand why he was opening himself up to the world when it was so unjust to him. His inability to immediately join a church resulted in severe desperation. Fortunately, he was able to finally become a religious leader, and for a moment, he lost his desperation.

Crummell's congregation flourished when he began to work as a priest. After a while, however, people stopped attending church. Here, despair turned into doubt. He began to doubt the capability of the African-American race and of his own vocation. He started to believe that his congregation did not care, and he personally believed that he hard failed because of his dwindling followers. Crummell then told the local bishop that he sought a larger African-American population, and would need to go to a city like Philadelphia with an abundant African-American population.

Crummell arrived in Philadelphia with a letter from the Bishop, granting him permission to preach there. Upon meeting the Bishop in Philadelphia, however, the Bishop informed Crummell that he could not have a Negro priest in his church convention, nor could the Negro have any representation. After all of the struggles of his life, Crummell had decided that this was one he would not accept. He refused to become part of the Diocese and fled. He first went to New York, where he lived in poverty and was not accepted by priests. He gave up and went to England, and then returned to Africa. Du Bois states that the most important part of this story was that Crummell never gave up on his journey; he just kept fighting.

In closing the essay, Du Bois reminds the reader that life is always difficult. However, it is always much more difficult for a black man. A very small number can overcome the struggles that Crummell faced and most give into hate, despair, and doubt. Crummell did not let any of his obstacles stop him; he continued to learn, continued to preach, and continued to strive until his death.

Du Bois continues by arguing that even though very few know of the existence of Crummell, that does not mean he was unimportant. Instead, that is a clear indication of the prejudice that exists within American history. We always place weight on white American history, but fail to focus on the successes of the strong black man.


W.E.B. Du Bois uses the story of Alexander Crummell as a parallel to his own story of life. Crummell, an accomplished African-American, had struggled throughout his life, and ultimately died in poverty. While Du Bois also struggled, he reached academic fame during his lifetime. The juxtaposition of these two successful African-Americans serves to describe the intricacies of the plight of the black man.

Du Bois argues that Crummell faces three temptations throughout his life: hate, despair, and doubt. Every time he is faced with one of these temptations, he ultimately pushes them away and overcomes them. He uses these examples to demonstrate what the rest of African-American society experienced. Many African-Americans were also confronted with the temptations of hate, despair, and doubt. Their lack of faith and education, however, served to further stratify them into their positions.

In this chapter, Du Bois also states that Crummell attempts to attend school in New Hampshire, as he wanted to achieve an adequate education. According to Du Bois, New Hampshire was like the promised land of Canaan. Canaan was a place where everyone wanted to go, but it was ultimately unattainable. While Crummell does reach New Hampshire, he realizes that he cannot attend school there, because of the local racist community. Crummell, however, continues to fight for the right to achieve his education and ultimately succeeds in attaining it, albeit elsewhere.

Through Crummell's schooling and trials, he becomes more acquainted with the African-American community. He learns that African-Americans are stuck in their positions in society because they had served as slaves for so long. The Church, however, could provide the backbone necessary for them to stand up for themselves. The Church, therefore, was also a symbol of resistance to the white modern world.

Crummell, an African-American priest, eventually returns to Africa, and dies alone. Nobody really knows who he is, which upsets Du Bois. Du Bois argues that Crummell's race made it so that his many successes were rated as unnecessary and irrelevant within American society. He realizes that the sentiment towards African-Americans changes over time.