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."
"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."
DuBois's message is still relevant in the digital age.
"America should live up to its principles for all Americans," Morgan said. "Opportunities should be available without regard to color, gender and socioeconomic status. His message is just as alive today as when he first published that book in 1903."
Morgan hails from the booming metropolis of De Soto, Ga. The population was 214, according to the 2000 census.
"It's not terribly far from Albany, Ga. Most people know about that from the civil rights movement. I have this essay I hope to write, 'From Albany to Albany.' I grew up close to Albany, Ga., and I live close to Albany, N.Y. America is America," she said. "The primary difference is I see fewer people of color, and it's much colder."
At today's performance, Morgan doesn't plan to sing alone, though she has sang since childhood.
"I don't have any formal training," she said. "Some people tell me I have a gift of a very nice voice. In high school, I was the voice that got moved from second soprano to first alto to any of the alto groups to tenor, which was embarrassing to me at the time. Singing with the boys was not exactly what I had in mind."
She loved to sing and ultimately didn't care where the choir director placed her.
"Now, I can sing baritone," Morgan said. "My voice is contra alto. It's the lowest female voice. As I get older, my voice gets even deeper."
Email Robin Caudell at: firstname.lastname@example.org