I read an excerpt from this in a class and have wanted to come back to it since then. The book is somewhat different than I expected it to be. I thought it would be more of a philosophico-poetic treatise on the nature of being black in America. It actually is a series of linked essays. These range from straight-forward historical accounts such as the first chapter detailing the Freedmen's Bureau in post civil war society, to personal reminiscences and anecdotes. These various approaches work together and reinforce the points he makes from different approaches.
While in some ways the considerations are dated (I don't mean this as criticism. The book was clearly intended to address the issues of its day.) it's the style of the writing that makes it eminently readable today. His writing is very clear, but in a languid and relaxed way that isn't afraid to follow the contours of his own thought. A great deal of passion is expressed but always reined and held in balance with a faith in reason and human nature. His writing reminds me at times of Emerson's and I can't say whether that was concious imitation, natural influence, or just sympathy of character. Regardless this style is very engaging, and allows him to speak in a way that often enough transcends the particulars of what he is saying and lifts up to a philosophical plane. His thoughts on the nature of the university I thought were particularly significant given the way that university life in America is increasingly commercialized and increasingly a means to workplace success rather than devoted to the love of learning itself which seems to be an idea that is almost sneered at even in the humanities.
On the whole I was educated in a sophisticated way about a period and area of this countries history that I hadn't know much about.