On the American soul

Perhaps the hope of the future lies not in ``equality'' between whites and blacks in America but in white understanding and acceptance as their own of ``black reality.'' D.H. Lawrence ... wrote that ``the real pioneer ... suffered until the soul was ground out of him: and then, nine times out of ten, failed, was beaten. Americans will not stand for the pioneer stuff, except in small sentimental doses. They know too well the grimness of it, the savage fight and savage failure which broke the back of the country but which also broke something in the human soul.'' We have frequently noted the psychic strains in America; how families, especially immigrant families, have been torn apart, generation from generation, parent from child, brothers from sisters: how communities have collapsed under social or economic pressures.... All these changes have imposed severe psychological burdens upon us: They have dulled our instincts for community, weakened our capacity for love and tenderness. They have, in Lawrenc's phrase, broken our hearts. So the healing of hearts and the restoring of souls may be the next great task.

W.E.B. DuBois called his great book ``The Souls of Black Folk.'' It is as though in some strange way the soul missing in white America has been preserved as a common legacy in black America, as though, in short, black America might give white America the soul that had been lost in the unimaginable rigors of breaking America. At least it is tempting to think so. Of course, it is not white America's soul that black America has been keeping; it is its own, its precious achievement accomplished in the face of suffering and hardship beyond the telling. White America, well aware, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's words, of its ``cold Northern temper,'' has periodically yearned for black soul.... Black Americans have given it to jazz and blues and gospel music, to rock and roll and virtually every form of musical expression, and, dramatically, to professional sports.

[Thus] the final challenge: the restoration of the American soul by those despised and degraded Americans who hold it in trust, not just for white Americans but for the human race.

From ``Redeeming the Time,'' Volume 8 of Page Smith's ``People's History'' of the US. McGraw-Hill, 1987.

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