W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk is one of the most influential books ever published in this country. In it, Du Bois wrote that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” a prophecy that is as fresh and poignant today as when it first appeared in print in 1903. Now, one hundred years after The Souls of Black Folk was first published, Saving the Race reexamines the legacy of Du Bois and his “color line” prophecy from a modern viewpoint. The author, Rebecca Carroll, a biracial woman who was reared by white parents, not only provides her own personal perspective, but she invites eighteen well-known African Americans to share their ideas and opinions about what Du Bois’s classic text means today.
Lalita Tademy, author
Stanley Crouch, cultural critic, novelist
A’Lelia Bundles, great-great-granddaughter of Madame C.J. Walker, author David Graham Du Bois, stepson of W.E.B. Du Bois, writer, teacher, activist
Touré, novelist, contributing writer for Rolling Stone magazine
Julian Bond, chairman of the board, NAACP
Thelma Golden, chief curator and deputy director for exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum of Harlem
Kathleen Cleaver, former communications secretary of the Black Panther party
Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., civil rights leader and lawyer
Cory Booker, former New Jersey councilman, mayoral candidate, activist
Jewell Jackson McCabe, founder and president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women
Derrick Bell, professor of law, New York University
Elizabeth Alexander, poet and writer
Clarence Major, author, poet, artist
Terence Blanchard, horn player, film composer
Reverend Dr. James Forbes, senior minister of Riverside Church, New York
Patricia Smith, poet
LeAlan Jones, author
The result is an insightful and illuminating collection of interviews both provocative and inspiring. Saving the Race paints a fascinating, complicated, and colorful portrait about the “souls of black folk” in twenty-first century America.
Rebecca Carroll is the author of several books, including Saving the Race: Conversations on Du Bois from a Collective Memoir of Souls and the award-winning Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. She lives in New York City with her… More about Rebecca Carroll
"These thought-provoking reminiscences on race recapture the spirit of W. E. B. Du Bois, and join it to a sensibility of our time." –Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present
"Rebecca Carroll has written a heart-rending, subtle and very personal commentary on the division between American blacks and whites, one that cannot fail to beguile its readers." –Louis Begley, author of Shipwreck and About Schmidt
"I was deeply moved–and enlightened–by Rebecca Carroll’s book of reflection on Du Bois’s classic. The voices of the well-known African-Americans were revealing, but it was the personal memoir of Carroll herself that really knocked me out. It is a perfect guide in reading The Souls of Black Folk." –Studs Terkel, author of Race
SAVING THE RACE has such a unique structure–a mixture of your personal reflections with essays from cultural luminaries about Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk. How did this project evolve?
I understand why it might appear to readers like a unique structure, but to me it’s an entirely intuitive, natural, and kind of normal structure, in that it reflects the constant dialoguing I do in my head. While the structure in STR may not represent the conventional Q&A format, or even a traditional call-and-response formula, it does represent ideas generated in my head prior to an interview, during an interview, and that live long after an interview is over.
The memoir pieces that preface each narrative interview in the book demonstrate how deeply I internalized the themes in The Souls of Black Folk, and how those themes inspired me to interview certain contemporary figures, who in turn inspired me to reflect in ways I hadn’t before about my own race consciousness.
You use specific passages from Du Bois’s work to examine the larger topic of racial identity and experience. Which is your favorite passage and why?
It’s less about one passage as about his use of language throughout Souls–unpleasant rawness and gaucherie,” “magnificent barbarism,” “the vague dream of righteousness… simple beauty and weird inspiration”–it’s so evocative and beautiful and stunning. There’s something so otherworldly and yet so real and right here and now about it that makes me feel hopeful.
How did being a biracial woman influence your inspiration for and editing of this project?
Being biracial is a trip. It’s also who and what I am, so you’re only going to get so far with an analysis of it. I black-identify by choice and am black-identified by others because of the color of my skin. But it’s also important to say that above and beyond that–are you black (enough) or not?–I care deeply about black folks as a people, as a culture. While there would obviously be different ramifications if I did a project like this as a nonblack person, I’d like to think that my efforts would still be received in the spirit with which they were intended, and that is to look at and talk about race in new and healthy and provocative ways.
Do you think Du Bois’s work is timeless?
Absolutely. He’s one of those people–like Nina Simone, Toni Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Picasso, Klee, Thoreau, Sidney Poitier–whose careful brilliance and enormous individual integrity transcends time and different cultures and generations.
What were some of the things you discovered or learned–about yourself, about Du Bois’s work and about the topic of race and identity–during this project?
That I don’t know how to fix racism, and I really, really want to.
If a reader isn’t familiar with The Souls Of Black Folk, will they understand your book?
Yes. Like many memoirs or biographies or literary nonfiction works, SAVING THE RACE is a story told through collage–dispatches and scraps of images and notes and inner thoughts and musings that bear an inherent impact.