Out & About

February 16, 2012

Singer shares 'Sorrow Songs' of W.E.B. DuBois

PLATTSBURGH — In "The Souls of Black Folk," W.E.B. DuBois used musical bars from spirituals, "Sorrow Songs," he called them, as epitaphs for each of the 14 essays in his seminal book.

For Chapter 14 "Of the Sorrow Songs," he utilized a Negro song:

"I walk through the churchyard

To lay this body down;I know moon-rise, I know star-rise;I walk in the moonlight, I walk in the starlight;I'll lie in the grave and stretch out my arms,

I'll go to judgment in the evening of the day,

And my soul and thy soul shall meet that day,

When I lay this body down."

Dr. MaryNell Morgan presents "The Sorrow Songs in 'The Soul of Black Folk'" at 6 p.m. today in the Angell College Center's Cardinal Lounge.

"To me, those songs are the key to helping all readers, lay readers as well as academic readers, to better understand the message he's trying to get across in the book," said Morgan, W.E.B. DuBois scholar and mentor/coordinator at Empire State College in Saratoga Springs.

"He wrote the book for the highly educated reader to pay attention to the historical developments around the African-American experience and who would be familiar with Greek mythology and other kinds of classical learning."

DuBois wrote:

"Ever since I was a child these songs have stirred me strangely. They came out of the South unknown to me, one by one, and yet at once I knew them as of me and of mine."

Born in Great Barrington, Mass., DuBois was the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard in 1895.

"I have been working on DuBois projects for a couple of decades," Morgan said. "As of 1993, I started to give copies of the book away at family reunions and any time I do an academic or public lecture about DuBois. I think it's a book that all Americans should read."

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