The Souls of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk Summary and Analysis of "Of the Sons of Masters and Man"


Of the Sons of Masters and Man analyzes the relationship between the black and white races in the United States. The relationship between these different racial groups is a complicated one, Du Bois argues, but it requires the nation’s attention, and should be routinely analyze. In the racial climate of the time, there was a survival of the fittest whereby the lighter man always won. In the future, however, Du Bois states that this survival of the fittest would become one in which the better person, regardless of race, would win. In order to realize this dream, an unbiased study of racial relations was necessitated.

The author provides his unbiased account of how races relate to one another. Firstly, blacks and whites interact in terms of where they settle geographically. Secondly, and most importantly are the economic relations of these two groups. Blacks and whites interact with one another in an attempt to earn wages. Thirdly, they interact within political relations, whereby they must reach agreements about taxation. Fourthly, these two races partake in academic exchanges through conferences and periodicals, as well as contact in theaters and social settings. Finally, through different religions and the spread of religion, the black and white races are able to live with and learn about one another. After introducing the ways in which these races come into contact, Du Bois further analyzes the relationship in each one of these contexts.

He begins by detailing how communities established themselves based on race. Especially in the South, towns are segregated between whites and blacks. On maps, he states, it is possible to draw lines so that half of both the black and the white population lie on either side. In cities, each color had its own side of town, while the countryside was only just beginning. Although the poorest white people and the poorest black people often lived very close to one another, it was very difficult to find wealthy whites and wealthy blacks living close to one another. Therefore, each blacks and whites of different social classes have very little contact, which is the direct opposite of what happened during the time of slavery. Throughout enslavement, blacks and whites lived together in master’s houses, regardless of social status. In these new relations, however, either race only ever sees the worst of the other.

When explaining the economic relations of these races, Du Bois points out that many people throughout the United States are aware of the work that is needed in the South. What they fail to realize, however, is that there are many skilled workers who had previously been slaves ready to do their jobs. The newly freed man’s problem was not lack of skill, but lack of self-reliance, providence, and carefulness, required to perform adequate labor. This skills gap present amongst these men made it difficult for them to be able to adequately compete for jobs against more highly trained whites. The black man needs guidance, so that he will be more capable and able to compete against the white man. While some black men had risen to power through land ownership, the percentage of the population that had achieved this goal was fairly small, which proved the inequities within the economic system. If the system had been fairer to all races, more black men would be able to be successful, and then rise to leadership positions within the African-American community.

Political power is also extremely to Du Bois, and contends that suffrage and the right to vote was imperative for African-Americans to reach powerful positions. The issue, here, however, is that the American government never truly accepted African-Americans as a group with any civil power, and thus relinquished all suffrage and voting rights from them. They live in a country where they have no political voice, but are expected to contribute to society in positive ways. Du Bois realizes that many of the uneducated blacks of the South do not have the reasoning or rationale within them that would support a right to vote. While he understands this, withholding the right to vote from this group of people would further marginalize them and these blacks -- particular the more educated ones -- would remain oppressed by uneducated whites.


Political and social inequality extended beyond voting rights and into the Negro acclimating into mainstream American society. After slaves were freed, the Southern government was not equipped to deal with black criminality, which resulted in problematic enforcement. Police in the South were only equipped in dealing with slave control, and not with actual black crimes, which exacerbated the oppression of the Negro. As a collective group, the Negro had no faith in the white political system, and thus could not adequately punish black criminals. Whites, however, were untrustworthy when determining the guilt of African-Americans, as they had been predisposed to abhor this group throughout the institution of slavery. The inequalities leading into this could be solved, according to Du Bois, by implementing an adequate public school system that was as fair for blacks as it was for whites.


While he had mentioned that whites and blacks engaged in intellectual exchange, he notes that within the context of the segregated South, it was difficult for these two groups to ever exchange ideas. Government-enforced segregation resulted in separate schools, libraries, churches, and museums. In order for this to change, it was not only white society that needed to rid itself of the idea of racial prejudice. Thus, the argument that the status of white men in the South resulted from color prejudice was a moot one. The black man’s argument that this racism and colorism resulted in their social position, was also, moot. The only real solution was to work together to achieve systemic change.


In this chapter, Du Bois analyzes the segregation that exists within America, and how it can be fixed. While blacks and white live within close proximity to one another, they never really live within the same neighborhoods. Furthermore, it is virtually impossible for blacks and whites to exchange ideas in educational contexts according to Du Bois.

Du Bois describes a Darwinistic perspective on race relations. He believes that instead of focusing on who can do better, society focuses on which race is lighter and uses that as a symbol for who is better. He uses the element of foreshadowing and says that in the future, this will change.

While he had predicted that this social Darwinism would be eradicated, it is not entirely true. While we were able to elect a black American president, the social condition of most of the African-American race does not reflect this progress. The country does not provide opportunity to non-white groups, and the survival of the fittest whereby the lighter race always wins, continues to happen.

He continues by discussing segregation in the South. In that era, segregated communities existed, so blacks and whites never lived in the same neighborhoods. He attributed this to the social condition of the era, and hoped that federal mandates would do away with these injustices. Years later, however, this problem of segregation exist.

De-facto segregation exists that disallows for lower-income (and usually non-white) groups to settle into "better" communities. Because of the American property tax system, this also makes it difficult for these groups to gain entrance into the best schools, and rid themselves of the position into which they were born in. His early sociological analysis of segregation continued to exist past his era and past the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s.

Although the United States is four or five generations removed from slavery, the condition of "masters and man" still exists within the country.