The Souls of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk Summary and Analysis of "Of The Coming of John"


In "Of the Two Johns", Du Bois chronicles the experience of white man and a black man who had both decided to pursue educations. The black John is very obedient, and when his mother wanted to send him to school, people said it would ruin him. The white John was a son of privilege: his father was a judge, and he ultimately enrolled at Princeton. The black John, however, started with very little, and attended an unknown school.

The black John had many difficulties in school. He could not keep up with the work, and was even asked to leave for a semester because he was so poorly behaved. However, he decided he would dedicate himself to his schoolwork so that he ultimately could do well in life. Throughout his time in school, he never visited his home, as he took his studies very seriously.

Eventually, the two Johns meet in New York City. In New York, they both go to a theatrical presentation, and while he was there, he was asked to leave because of his skin color. They meet again years later, but before this happen, the black John returns home after graduation, despite his initial reluctance.

When John returns home, all of his relatives and his neighbors throw a welcome back party. His community, however, is not very impressed with John's new personality. As he is newly educated, he understands racial and social injustices and shares his opinions with those within his community. At the party, he lets everyone know that people's religious creeds or educational status do not necessarily matter, as the most important part was their own personality.

The black John decided he wanted to open up a school for the people in his community, since he wanted to give back. When he is given the permission to open this school, he is told to follow a racially unequal curriculum that promotes submission to the United States' racial hierarchy. John, however, decided to teach about European history and about the racism that existed within American society. His attempt to teach the people within his community about everything he had previously learned resulted in the ultimate closing of his school.

The white John, on the other hand, decides to move to New York. The white John eventually sexually assaults the black John's sister, and is ultimately killed by the black John. At the end of the chapter, John decides to go north, and insinuates that he awaits lynching for his crime.


"Of the Coming of John" differs from the rest of the collection of essays, as it is a metaphorical presentation of the plight of the black and white man in the United States. The black man devotes his life to studying and to helping his community, while the white John attends to school because of his privilege.

In this essay, Du Bois insinuates that privilege is what allows for certain people to attend elite educational institutions. While the black John had worked hard his entire life, he had gained access to a school that was unknown, and had eventually graduated from there. The white John, however, as the son of a judge, gained admission into one of the greatest universities in the United States by the simple virtue that he had been born into privilege. This reliance on privilege was another way in which the veil served to limit African-Americans in the United States.

When the black John returns home, his family and his neighbors do not fully accept him. John had begun to fully understand the Veil, and to what his position within the American hierarchy would forever be, but the people within his home community took issue with this. Thus, Du Bois proves that an education, while providing opportunity for blacks, also served to alienate them from their home communities. It was difficult to merge the identity of an educated black man with the ideals of the traditional black community.

Despite the black John's hard work, he ultimately succumbs to the injustices of the veil. Although he had given back to his community and attempted to eradicate the social injustices within his community, his last act would position him into a negative position within society. While he had killed someone in self-defense, the allusion to the lynching mob signified that his race was what was looked at, and not the act of self-defense that he had done. A black man, therefore, could never rid himself of the prejudice that came with his race.

"Of the Coming of John" foreshadows the racial relations of modern America. Despite hard work, non-white groups remain marginalized. While members of these groups often pursue the same trajectory as John, they are also faced with injustices once they commit acts of self-defense and other positive acts within society.