Confronting the Modern Era

Read about Du Bois' experiences.

Once upon a time I taught school in the hills of Tennessee, where the broad dark vale of the Mississippi begins to roll and crumple to meet the Alleghenies. I was a Fisk student then…and in vacation time we sallied forth in lusty bands to meet the county school commissioners.

[Du Bois accepts a teaching job in Watertown, located in Wilson County, and also serving students from Dekalb County.]

The schoolhouse was a log hut, where Colonel Wheeler used to shelter his corn. It sat in a lot behind a rail fence and thorn bushes, near the sweetest of springs….My desk was made of three boards, reinforced at critical points, and my chair, borrowed from the landlady, had to be returned every night. The seats…were rough plank benches without backs, and at times without legs…

It was a hot morning late in July when the school opened. I trembled when I heard the patter of little feet down the dusty road, and saw the growing row of dark solemn faces and bright eager eyes facing me…

There they sat nearly thirty of them, on the rough benches, their faces shading from a pale cream to a dark brown, the little feet bare and swinging, the eyes full of expectation, with here and there a twinkle of mischief, and the hands grasping Webster’s blue-back spelling book. I loved my school, and the fine faith the children had in the wisdom of their teacher was truly marvelous.

We read and spelled together, wrote a little, picked flowers, sang, and listened to stories of the world beyond the hill.

W.E. B. Du Bois
The Souls of Black Folk, 1903



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