Twentieth Century Negro Literature - Or, A Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating - to the American Negro
Author: Various
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The desire to educate and accumulate for the good of the children became the restraining point in the lives of the fathers, and a very appreciable change for better morals was noticeable in the latter sixties and early seventies.

Immediately following the close of the war, a great many missionary agencies set to work among the Negroes for the purpose of improving them morally and intellectually. These agencies operated among the old and young alike, but not with the same results; for it soon became known that very little change could be wrought among the aged ones whose superstitious notions of religious worship and peculiar ideas about "white folks' religion" made it a difficult task to teach them. Notwithstanding their superstition, the aged Negroes were singularly kind and respectful to their white neighbors and permitted the white teachers—for nearly all teachers were white at that time—to have absolute control of their children both as to home and school life.

One of the attributes of morality is a happy conscience, or happiness, for there can be no true happiness where there is no morality. Hence, there existed an appreciable element of morality among the fathers, for, as a rule, no happier or more contented people could be found anywhere. I speak of the whole race. One may be a good servant, or a good neighbor, and yet not a good man. Opportunities have much to do with developing the attributes of the soul. Many of those noble qualities which go to make a good man were latent in the fathers, for there had been no opportunity for the development of these qualities.

The home is the foundation place of all that is good and grand in a race or nation. Wisdom and virtue are inseparable from a good home. Hence, to make the comparison which my subject calls for, we must inquire into the home and religious life of the present generation. The young men from eighteen to twenty-one years of age who are, so to speak, in embryo with respect to questions affecting the progress of the race, are not included in the summary we make and should not be considered directly, in measuring the moral status of the race. As to the homes of the fathers forty years ago, very little can be said. But late statistics show that there are over three hundred thousand homes and farms owned by the Negroes in the United States, which indicates that nearly two millions of the nine million of our people live in their own homes. The figures are very significant when it is remembered that the race started forty years ago, four million and a half in number of individuals, with practically no homes. The property value of the homes now owned is conservatively put at one billion dollars—not a bad showing for a people who commenced forty years ago at zero in wealth. But the accumulation of wealth does not always mean that the owner is moral, yet the accumulation and maintenance of good homes present a better argument in favor of the good moral inclination of the people accumulating and maintaining these homes than can be produced in words. These mean more than the mere ownership of a house and lot, or a sixty acre farm; a respect for the first institution set up by the Creator is thereby shown and that in that institution (the family) is one to love and honor; and that there an altar is to be erected around which all are to kneel and worship God; they mean that morality, the foundation of all true greatness, is to be enthroned there. The establishment and maintenance of so many Christian homes among our people has brought forward a demand which is a barometer of the moral changes, and shows conclusively that the race is improving morally. This demand is for the right kind of men as preachers and teachers. The time was when a man who could read and write, no matter what his character, could find a place to preach and teach among our people. This does not obtain now so much as before, and the people are demanding that their teachers and spiritual advisers be men and women whose lives and characters are living epistles of virtue. If proof of this point were necessary, one would need only to refer to the continued upheavals in various communities, in the schools and churches, where war has been made upon those persons whose lives have been such as to arouse suspicion that they were unworthy the offices held. The fact that these demands are being made for a pure ministry and a competent and worthy corps of teachers is encouraging.

In passing judgment upon the moral status of the young Negro, or in comparing this status with that of the father who has gone from the stage, we will necessarily have to apply the multiplication process, for it will require a life fully lived in all its details to constitute the sum total of a well built character. Therefore, the whole truth about the morals of the present generation will be known only to the next. The processes used in the moral development of the race have been gradual and almost imperceptible in progress, but they have been in progress, nevertheless, and promise great results. The man who sowed his seeds yesterday does not expect to reap a harvest to-morrow. Cultivation is to follow planting. The warm spring rains, the hot rays of a summer sun are to come and moisten and warm the soil around the roots, cause the blade to shoot forth and then harden the stalk and the grain. These are to be followed by the cool winds and frosts of autumn before harvest comes. The planting of moral principles in the present generation of Negroes has been done; the cultivating process is now going on by means of the buying of homes, entering into business and agricultural pursuits, building churches and schools and in educating the youth. These facts point to the moral trend of the mind of the present generation, but perhaps none of them in the same degree as the religious desire of the colored man.

A larger per cent of the Negroes in this country are members of the Christian churches than of any other race of people. Notwithstanding the criticism to the contrary, they are as practical in their Christianity as any set of people. The matter of divorce has been a great problem to many of the most thoughtful men of the race, and the frequent resort to the courts to obtain divorces has been used as an argument against the growth of the moral sentiment in the race. But the very fact that such meets with opposition and is disapproved by the good people is evidence in favor of the Negro's morals. Then again, the class of Negroes who have but little respect for the marriage vow are, as a rule, those who are indolent, worthless and without a home and making no effort to obtain one. But, happily, this class form but a small minority.

Another virtue in the Negro's character which comes only from a moral sentiment is gratitude. He loves his benefactors and would gladly repay them for all they have done for him, if he were able to do so. If the mind was filled with sensuality, deception, hatred and like vices, there would be no room for that noble characteristic, gratitude, which is so prominent in the present generation. His gratitude extends beyond the individual benefactor to the flag of his country; overlooking present conditions and remembering past favors, he is always ready to dare and die for his country's honor. We conclude by saying that the fathers who came up out of slavery, unlettered and untrained, did well. The present generation of fathers, or heads of families, by reason of superior advantages, are doing far better. The race as a whole for the last past thirty-six years has made a history for itself which will form the apex of its glory when it has passed through a century of training under its changed condition from slavery to freedom.





Mrs. Ariel Serena Hedges Bowen, wife of Dr. J. W. E. Bowen of Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Ga., was born in Newark, N. J. Her father was a Presbyterian clergyman in that city. He had graduated from Lincoln University, Pa., and had organized churches in New York State. Her mother represents one of the oldest Presbyterian families of that State. Her grandfather was a bugler in the Mexican war, and was a Guard of Honor when Lafayette revisited the United States. Her parents removed early to Pittsburg, Pa., where she attended the Avery Institute. She completed the Academic course of this school. Her parents then moved to Baltimore, Md., where her father became pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, and finally of Grace Presbyterian Church. She was sent to the High School of Springfield, Mass., where she remained and graduated with honor in a large class in 1885. She also took the Teachers' Course and Examination and passed a creditable examination and was favorably considered as teacher for one of the schools of that city. She was then called to teach History and English Language in the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Ala., under Prof. B. T. Washington.

In the year 1886 she was married to Dr. J. W. E. Bowen. She became a Life Member of the Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She removed to Atlanta with her husband in 1893. She became Professor of Music in Clark University in 1895. She is the State President of the Georgia W. C. T. U., No. 2. She has written very largely, among which may be mentioned, "Music in the Home," "The Ethics of Reform," etc. She is an accomplished vocalist and musician with the piano and pipe organ. She is busily engaged in temperance and reform work, together with training and fitting her family of one boy and three girls for life. She is regarded as one of the foremost and best cultured women of her race. She reads Greek, Latin and German with facility, and is a superb housekeeper.

The most important and vital factors in the development of a race are physical strength, intelligence and morality, these three, but the greatest of these is morality.

The individual or the race possessed of either or both of the first two, and that utterly ignores the third, can never attain to the full status of man, nor reach the zenith of full racial development or the pinnacle of civilization. To-day we hear much about the survival of the fittest and the "superior race and the inferior races." The earnest, thoughtful student of life and its affairs immediately raises the question, To whom do such titles "fittest," "superior" and "inferior" refer, and why? The history of a people shows the advance and growth of that people. Their development can be traced from the crude barbarous or semi-barbarous state in which physical prowess predominated through the period of intellectual development where the mind begins to grasp new ideas and where new ideals of higher and nobler purposes are sought after. Then came the greater perfection, the nobler aspiration, the purer, higher civilization, growing out of the purer thought and purer life of a purified people. This is true of all races, therefore the Negro race is no exception, and is entitled to the same justice that is accorded to every race that has had its rise and fall.

The writer takes it that the young "Negro" and his father are to represent only the ante-bellum and the post-bellum Negro. To go beyond that, to take him in his earlier state in the native wilds of his fatherland, before the Anglo-Saxon missionary reached him and gave to the world a true picture of his morality, would be to present to the world some startling facts that would not only put to shame the "young Negro," but also the hosts of men of all nations who glory in the progress they have made in morals.

It can be proven by the best authorities that many of the heathen Africans, though crude in ethics, were pure morally.

But the discussion resolves itself into two very important questions. What was the moral condition of the Negro before the war, and what is his moral condition to-day? Before the war, what a picture comes before us at these words, what a panorama of deeds passes before our mind's eye. Years of gross darkness, darkness that deepens into the blackness of the pit, those days that seem like a hideous nightmare to the hoary headed, and the story of which sounds to the youth like a heart-rending and nauseating recital. Yet, it was not all dark, some would say; perhaps not, but the bright spots only tended to intensify the darkness.

What morals were chattels expected to have, and who gave to these chattels their moral code? It was certainly not of their own making. What could be the moral condition of a race to whom family rights were forbidden and whose business, next to labor, was to propagate solely for the master's gain? The words mother, father, were used only in the language of the "big house."

Womanhood, the foundation stone of moral eminence, passed through a crucial ordeal, and it is to be greatly wondered at that the Negro woman emerged with even the crudest type of moral capacity.

Every line on every page of the history of those dark days teem and reek with the abandon of licentiousness, nor could this be otherwise. It was the natural sequence of a debasing system. It is no disparagement upon the noble few whose garments were kept unspotted, nor upon those who would have reached towards higher ideals, if they had been masters of themselves, to say that the ante-bellum Negro did not possess a great degree of morality. There can be no other conclusion drawn from such demoralizing conditions.

The moral status of the Negro is to-day an all-absorbing theme, and is discussed pro and con by friend and enemy in other races, and by the optimist and pessimist of his own. Comparisons concerning his morals and moral growth are made as all other comparisons are made concerning him, not between his present and former condition, nor between his condition and that of any other people at the same stage of development, under the same conditions and environments. On the contrary, inconsistency is ever present in the attempts to show the world existing facts. Whenever an attack was made upon the system of slavery, the defenders of the system immediately pointed to the poor slaveholder and the dearth of Negro criminals as points in favor of a time when the Negro enjoyed the blessings of a "mild and humane system."

When the progress of the black race in America is placed in the balance, the lowest and most degraded and careless of the masses who have not come out of a state of inertia are brought into comparison with the noblest types that have ascended the scale of life. What wonder then that there is so much adverse criticism; what is needed is a search for facts and an unprejudiced putting of all that appertains to the Negro, and a just acknowledgment of the results attained.

That the American Negro has made an advance along all lines that make for the higher development of a people cannot be denied. He has improved morally in a corresponding way. The limit of this paper will not permit a statistical comparison, but a few points may be noticed in passing. His moral instinct is quickened and his moral nature asserts itself in higher forms of life under the new conditions. He has started at the fountainhead and the purity of his home and hearthstone is a magnificent memorial to the purity of the black woman.

Were it possible to give in numbers the correct estimate of these beautiful homes and their characters, even the most bitter of his enemies and the pessimists of his own race would look with doubt upon the pernicious libels disseminated in the periodical literature of the day. The dark picture of the Negro's shortcomings is thrown on the canvas and so familiar has it become that not a few seldom think that there is another picture which the Negro himself knows to be truer to life and more prophetic of his real nature, taken from real life, and one that ought to give inspiration and hope to all seekers after facts.

The Negro ministry has made rapid and marked progress in moral achievements for itself and also for the race in their wide influence upon the same. There is a constant and ever-increasing demand coming from the people for a higher and nobler service in the pulpit, and the demand is being met in a comparative measure. Moreover there are professional men whose lives prove the possessors' estimate of virtue and are being spent in bringing others up to these lofty ideals.

The noble army of teachers, most of whom are women, are not to be overlooked or underestimated. Next to the faithful mother, these noble women have lived and worked for the race. They have proved themselves ever against untoward conditions. Their work and worth should not be reflected against because of the few whose lives are not up to the standards of true womanhood. It is undeniably true that the virtues of Solomon's virtuous women may be duplicated in multitudes of our women teachers.

A word concerning the criminal record of the Negro might be worth considering. It is here that the moral weakness of the race is said to be most manifest. We are told that figures do not lie, and an appeal from the records is not to be considered for a moment. Yet, he who wants facts and is in search of the truth must appeal and must make personal investigation.

As yet statistics, the press and history, have not given a truthful, unbiased record of the Negro of to-day as he really is. One side has been faithfully followed, and elaborately and painfully portrayed, but of the other side only here and there an item, a reference and a charitable surmise rewards the seeker after knowledge. A careful study of the environments of the so-called criminal class, also the courts of justice before which the criminals are arraigned, would develop some interesting, not to say startling, facts; for example, "it has been shown by Prof. Branson, of the Georgia State Normal School, that while the illiterate Negro population of the state furnish three convicts per thousand, the Negroes who have profited by the public schools furnish only one convict per thousand." Many of the criminals start from the court-room and are the victims of injustice.

Such untoward conditions serve rather to stamp out every vestige of nobility rather than inspire to a reaching out after higher ideals.

The young or post-bellum Negro is steadily improving morally. In the face of strong opposition, in his moral development, just as he does in mental, financial and civil growth, against all the opposing forces that would hinder his growth and relegate him to the lowest stratum of mankind, he is forcing his way up the stream. His spiritual and moral nature is beating under the animal nature which for so long a time held him as a slave. He now does right for right's sake, and loves the pure and good. He honors the women of his race and is raising her to nobler plains in his thoughts and life.

The Negro woman is asserting herself also and is building for herself a character that rests upon a foundation of personal purity. This she is doing not only for herself, but for others. The building up of pure homes is her chief concern and in them she reigns with womanly queenliness.

Social reform receives her attention, and in these walks she may be found teaching the young the single standard of purity for both sexes. Her way is the roughest, her path most closely beset with snares, but her works show for themselves.

If there had been no advancement along moral lines, the Negro's material and intellectual attainments would count for very little in the world of affairs, for he would degenerate to a mere mechanical factor in human society and become a tool in every case in the hands of a stronger race. But he has added to his material and intellectual strength a greater and higher force, viz., that of moral worth, which at once raises him to higher planes in the social and civil world, and brings him into contact with his enemies and oppressors.

The Negro has met and overcome the great barriers to his progress one by one. Despite the snares that are all about his path, and their hidden evils that seek to hold him in thralldom, yet he bursts his chains and marches forward with renewed purpose and greater zeal.

Yes, the young Negro is embodying nobler ideas in his nature and reaching forward after higher ideals because of his superior advantages. He is to face a future pregnant with struggles of a higher order and of a more diverse character, than the struggles of an earlier day. He enters into competition, not with one race only, but with all the races of mankind. As the knowledge of the fierceness of the battle comes to him, he raises himself from his lethargy and in the strength of his manhood he goes forward.

He who doubts not the Negro's growth and development along intellectual and financial lines cannot gainsay his steady and sturdy growth in moral and social power.





Rev. J. Q. Johnson, D. D., was graduated from the Collegiate Department, of Fisk University in 1890; from the Hartford Theological Seminary in 1893. He taught mathematics at Tuskegee for one year; the John P. Slater fund published his report of the fifth Tuskegee Negro Conference in its series of "Occasional Papers." He has been President of Allen University, Columbia, S. C. His pastoral work has embraced some of the strongest and most influential churches in the A. M. E. connection. Associated with him was his brilliant and cultured wife—Mrs. Halle Tanner Johnson—the first woman who ever passed the State Medical Board of Examiners of Alabama. Her recent death was a loss to the race.

Dr. Johnson is among the foremost men of his church. He is among the best read men of the race. He is an able preacher and a strong, forceful writer. One of his characteristic points is his ability to say much in little. He goes right to the point without wasting time with needless words. He received Doctor's degree from Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Ga. He studied two years as a post-graduate student at Princeton University.

It would be extravagant to set up any claims of greatness in behalf of Negro writers. The Negro has yet his contribution to make to the literature of mankind. We fully believe that he has a message to deliver. The making of a writer is a matter of centuries. England was a long time producing a Shakespeare or a Milton, Italy a Dante, Russia a Tolstoi, France a Hugo or a Dumas, Germany a Goethe and a Schiller. America, active in invention and commerce, has not yet produced a name worthy to stand by the side of those just mentioned. All really great writers have not only a national or racial, but also a universal quality in their productions. So far the greater part of our literary effort has been of historical compilations. We have accumulated a large mass of material for the future historians. Williams' "History of the Negro Race" is an example of this kind. In this way we have recorded the deeds of distinguished Negroes in every avenue of life. Such works have kept alive the hope and kindled the aspirations of the race. A most interesting work of this kind is that of Prof. E. H. Crogman, "The White Side of a Black Subject." In this book we have the serious and earnest efforts of the race recorded. Here we learn of educators like Booker T. Washington and J. W. E. Bowen, lawyers like T. McCants Stewart and S. A. McElwee, women physicians like Halle T. Johnson and Georgia Washington. Books of this kind are in almost every Negro home in the land.

The Negro as a writer of prose is nowhere seen to a better advantage than in Dr. Blyden's "Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race." Here we find the Negro in command of the best English style. Whatever may be said of his opinions, his mastery of a forcible, spirited, nervous expression reminds one of Macauly and Addison. Probably the best book from the standpoint of scientific, historical investigation is the work of Dr. DuBois on "The Suppression of the African Slave Trade."

Bishop B. T. Tanner, in his "Dispensations in the Church," has made a real contribution to our race literature. In this he establishes the Hamitic origin of the ancient Egyptians and shows that Ham is not one whit behind Japheth and Shem in achievement. Dr. R. L. Perry's work, "The Cushite," is a very excellent work along the same line. In this department there is yet much work for the Negro scholar.

In Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the race has struck its highest note in song. A high and worthy tribute has been paid this writer by William Dean Howells. His lyrics have not only a genuine race flavor, but at the same time they appeal to the universal heart. Dunbar's work is of the first class. He has made a real contribution to the literature of the country. His name must now appear in any Manual of American Literature. The success of this writer is a matter of note. His poems and stories are in most of the popular magazines and his books on all news stands. It is clear from this that, whenever a Negro writes anything worth reading, his productions will be in constant demand.

Mention must here be made of the commendable work of Chas. W. Chestnutt, another popular writer of the race. The lamented Dr. A. A. Whitman and Mrs. Frances W. Harper are two poets well-known to the public. Some think that Whitman is a greater poet than Dunbar.

In a short sketch like this, it is impossible to do justice to the literary achievements of the race. A whole volume might be written on the great work done by the Negro press. Here we have many strong writers—men of such mould as Fortune, Stewart, Mitchell and H. T. Johnson. Then, too, there are noted names as magazine writers—Scarborough, Kelly Miller, D. W. Culp and B. T. Washington and H. T. Kealing.

The Negro has been a failure nowhere. In war, there stands Toussaint L'Overture and Maceo; in education, B. T. Washington; in oratory, Frederick Douglas; in art, H. O. Tanner; in letters, Phyllis Wheatley and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. These and others like them are our prophets of the future. Being thus judged by our best men, it doth not yet appear what we shall be. The Greeks are great in a large measure because they wrote of themselves. So the Anglo Saxon, and any race for that matter. The Negro must do the same. His story will not be adequately told till it is done by himself. The Negro poet, novelist and historian have a vast wealth of material before them. Every southern city and plantation are vocal with the past history of our race. From the past and the present, from our achievements and our suffering, the Negro writer, whether poet, novelist or historian, will deliver our message to the world.





Walter I. Lewis was born near Chester, S. C. No record having been kept, it is not possible to determine the date of his birth. Walter is the third of seven children that were born to William Charles and Mollie Lewis who were slaves to a man by the name of W. T. Gilmore.

He successfully passed from the common schools to the preparatory department of Biddle University.

Walter I. Lewis graduated with the second honor of his class of five from Biddle University, in Charlotte, N. C., and at once began his life-work, public school teaching, at Spartanburg, S. C.

After teaching in that city for three years, two of which he succeeded in securing a sufficient donation from the Peabody Fund to have the school term increased from five to nine months, he accepted an appointment under the Freedmen's Board of the Presbyterian Church, to take charge of their parochial school in Columbia, Tenn.

Special inducements were offered him to take a position in the newly organized graded schools of that city, and he resigned the parochial school after serving one year, and accepted work with the graded school. This he found congenial and won special distinction in using the phonetic method of teaching primary pupils, that system being newly introduced there then.

Having a turn for political contests he vigorously entered local political campaigns, generally on the winning side, and won some distinction as a campaign orator.

Mr. Lewis came to Florida in 1890, as corresponding secretary of the Afro-American Chautauqua Association, whose president was the lamented Dr. J. C. Price.

The failure of that enterprise was a withering blow to Mr. Lewis.

After remaining in Florida for nearly a year, at Tallahassee, Mr. Lewis became field correspondent and agent for the Florida Sentinel, then published in Gainesville.

In 1892, Mr. Lewis got a position as city editor on the Labor Union Recorder of Savannah. For a time his activity seemed to be equal to the task of redeeming that paper, but, the entailments of indebtedness were too great. It went under.

He was urged to go to Jacksonville to enter the office of the Jacksonville "Advocate"; the inducements being flattering he went. He served the "Advocate" until the "Daily American" was established. He was on the "Daily American" as its city editor, and was on deck when that sheet went down.

In the winter of 1895-96, necessity demanded a better daily news for the colored people of Jacksonville. This was secured at the office of the "Metropolis," one of the most successful afternoon papers that is published in the whole South.

Mr. Lewis was put on as reporter for his race, on the staff of the "Metropolis," and has held this place continuously ever since.

He is a firm believer in the survival of the fittest in all things, and declares this is the key to the solution of the race problem.

On the stage, on the platform, in the pulpit and in conversation, the Negro has demonstrated a power in the use of speech that has well won him a merited distinction. This fluency and force of language, so often found in striking disparity to his other attainments, has armed critics and students of his racial peculiarities with the opinion that talking is his peculiar forte.

Such an opinion does not obtain, however, in the face of noble examples of this race who have the art of forcibly and correctly writing great thoughts.

The great cause of the Christian religion has furnished the field for more writers of this race than any other. This is noted, not as a fault, but rather to confirm the fact that since the emancipation, the training of the Negro, both at school and in his home, has been largely religious, owing to his inborn susceptibility to religious impressions, and his well known proneness to abide by the teachings of his fathers; it is no marvel that the major portion of his written thoughts should be deeply tinged with religious ideas.

Even in his occasional contributions to current literature, and when he is making an attack or a defense, right often does the religious effusion predominate.

Until about twenty years ago, rare were the instances where Negro writers had produced books and other productions on other than religious subjects. And even at the present the number of secular writers is not large, considering the opportunities for writers of this class and the profits available. There are certain advantages, strange to relate, that the Negro has, that might be called natural. The great realm of thought, through which fiction and mental analysis holds undisputed sway, is not circumscribed by caste and other invidious discriminations as are most other avenues, through which the bravest souls essay to traverse, but are either crushed down or are ejected. Perhaps this is why, in cases that have doubtless come under the observation of all readers of the productions of Negro writers, there is a tendency toward recklessness.

But it will be equitable and fair to take under consideration only those Negro writers, who have won more or less distinction as such, while discussing the Negro as a writer.

From Alexander Dumas to the latest celebrity among Negro writers, the close observer of racial traits is furnished with vivid evidences of methods of thought that are peculiar to this people. In imagery, there is that floridity that goes dazzling to the sublime with a brilliancy that is captivating. If sorrow is depicted, his course through its horrible depths brings a shudder over the most listless reader. If happiness is to be portrayed, the coziest nook in Elysium is laid bare. If anger pleads for expression, no bolt from Vulcan's anvil has ever fallen with so crushing a clang.

The Negro writer is prolific in detail. Situation follows situation in rapid success, demanding close attention to keep clear of the meshes of involvement. The writings of the Negro are full of soul. If, at times, there is a lacking of aptness in conventional adjustments, the hiatus is beautifully abridged with a freshness and wealth of expression that fully atones.

The Negro writer has it largely in his power to demonstrate the higher possibilities and capabilities of his race. As long as there is a Charles W. Chestnut, or a Paul Lawrence Dunbar, a T. Thomas Fortune, and others, whose writings are read by the thousands of literary people of this country and England, so long will there be an irrefutable argument for the intellectual worth of the Negro race.

It is within the power of the Negro writer to practically and profitably demonstrate the oft repeated aphorism, "Genius is not the plant of any particular soil."

It should be a matter of some congratulation to the Negro that the great publishing houses of this country are not, and never will be, located at the great centers of race prejudice. A manuscript of merit can easily find publication. Within recent years it has been noticed that the vein of seriousness that has run through the writings of Negro authors is fading away, and a jollity that is his own is taking its place. Most of the men and women of the race, who have written enough to win public notice, are known to be persons of a cheerful and jovial disposition. For such a person to live in the role of the miserable is at least a misrepresentation.

The Negro's aptness in detecting the facetious, even in things that are serious; his laughing soul that places a bouquet of joy and sunshine where the somber draping of woe would so often be found, is his God-given stock in trade upon which he can do business for generations to come. This secret is being discovered by him. This discovery will yet furnish the great world of letters with men and women of this race, who will place millions under tribute to graciously acknowledge the beneficence.

The way to favor and preferment for the Negro writer is to be made by himself. The epic of his race awaits a writer. The drama of an unwritten history covering about four centuries will welcome the facile pen of some gifted son or daughter. The well nigh inexhaustible field of folk-lore of his own people is ready to be told to the world, whether in the crude dialect of the race, or in Americanized English, it matters little. It will make no difference. The English speaking people of both continents will read it if it is written by a master. It is not at all taken for granted, admitted, or intimated, that the Negro writer of the present century is oblivious to any of these facts. Just as the "coon" melodies have captured the musical realms of this country, and will remain in the saddle for some time yet; just as Negro singers and actors are honorably invading the progressive end of the American stage, so will Negro writers swarm in the great field of writers, bringing with them a supply of freshness of genius, that will rejuvenate and give fresh life to the literature of this country.

This is a domain that mocks at legislative restrictions, caste, exclusionism and what not. Those who will enter and maintain their ground will be few. All of the stars in the heavens are not fast flying meteors. There never was such a thing as an army of sages.

Mindful of the fact that his antecedence is small in the world of letters, the Negro writer is the more ardently inspired when he looks beyond and catches sight of golden fields into which no swarthy hand has thrust a sickle.

The world wants more joy; the world cries for more sunshine; the world begs for a laugh. Mankind gloats over the depiction of deeds both noble and ignoble. The world delights in that which is novel. The Negro is a son of caloric. His presence is sunshine. He tells a story leaving nothing out. He is himself a novelty, and it will not be too far in the twentieth century before he will take pity on the world and mankind and write them what they like.



BY G. M. McClellan.


The objection is often raised against schools of higher education for the Negro race that these people need instruction, not in Latin, history, geometry and moral science, but in scientific farming and geometric bed making. The leaven of truth in this assertion makes a plump denial hard to return; while its leaven of error is a reminder of the old antislavery assumption that till the end of time the Negro must be a hewer of wood and drawer of water, with no mental life to speak of. This error is best confuted by proof of the race's actually wide range of intellectual demands, imaginative sympathies, moral questionings; and for this reason, if for no other, one thanks Mr. George Marion McClellan for venturing on the publication of his verses. This gentleman is a graduate of Fisk University, as he tells us in the interesting and modest preface to his volume. Thus he belongs to the first generation since the War. His parents, he indicates, were slaves, and his early home was upon the "Highland Rim" of Tennessee, amid the poverty of a freedman father's little farm. These things well weighed, the refined love of nature, the purity of sentiment, the large philosophy, the delicacy of expression which his poems display, are sufficiently marvelous. One must, perhaps, deny him the title of "poet" in these days when verse writers are many. His ear for rhythm is fatally defective, while, so far as one may judge from the few dates appended to the poems, the later productions seem not to be the best. Nevertheless, his little volume stimulates to large reviews and fair anticipations. It is a far cry from "Swing low, sweet chariot"—an articulate stirring of poetic fancy, but hardly more than that—to Mr. McClellan's "September Night, in Mississippi":

"Begirt with cotton fields, Anguilla sits, Half birdlike, dreaming on her summer nest Amid her spreading figs and roses still In bloom with all their spring and summer hues. Pomegranates hang with dapple cheeks full ripe, And over all the town a dreamy haze Drops down. The great plantations stretching far Away are plains of cotton, downy white. Oh, glorious is this night of joyous sounds. Too full for sleep Aromas wild and sweet From muscadine, late-booming jessamine And roses all the heavy air suffuse. Faint bellows from the alligators come From swamps afar where sluggish lagoons give To them a peaceful home. The katydids Make ceaseless cries. Ten thousand insects' wings Stir in the moonlight haze, and joyous shouts Of Negro song and mirth awake hard by The cabin dance. Oh, glorious is the night! The summer sweetness fills my heart with songs. I cannot sing; with loves I cannot speak."

If many thoughts and feelings such as these lie folded in Southern cabins, let us not deny, for their unfolding, the genial influences of literature and history and the sciences. The race that possesses such powers, even though undeveloped in the great majority of its members, needs Fisk and Atlanta educated pastors and teachers.

"The pen is mightier than the sword." It would have seemed idle to have said this at the mouth of the mountain pass at Thermopylae with Leonidas and his immortal Spartan heroes all lying dead amid the wreck made by the mighty host of Xerxes. A century afterward, at Cannae, one sixth of the whole population of Rome lay dead on the battlefield by the sword thrust. Where was the might of the pen to compare with this? The might of the sword at Thermopylae, together with the concluding events at Salamis, turned back the Persian hordes and thereby saved the Greek civilization for Europe. Again, after the blood of Cannae, at Zama, Hannibal was utterly broken and Carthage, with her attending civilization, was doomed to everlasting death, while Rome, her mighty adversary, with her eagles and short sword, carried her dominion and her splendid civilization from England to India. One more great movement in the world illustrating the power of the sword is too tempting to pass by in this connection. From the deserts of Arabia a fanatical dreamer came forth claiming a new revelation from God and as a chosen prophet to give the world a new religion. His pretentions at first caused his expulsion from Mecca, together with a small and insignificant band of followers. Yet because of these it was not long until there came from out the desert the sound of the marching of a mighty host, heralding the approach of the Arab, the despising and despised. Before these barbarous hordes the principalities of the East were doomed to crumble and yield up their accumulated treasures of the ages, and so triumphant were these invaders from the desert they decided to appropriate for themselves the whole world, and from this they were not dissuaded until Charles Martel sent them back from Tours and out of Europe, together with their hateful civilization. So it would seem from these and all other mighty movements of races and tribes, men and nations, the sword has ever been the arbiter. Yet over all the mighty sweep of events and the stupendous results of the sword-thrust throughout the ages, comes this insinuating claim, "The pen is mightier than the sword." And when we consider the whole of accumulated philosophy, the onward march of science and human thought, and the consequent development of the human race, the comparative might of the sword becomes insignificant before the less demonstrative power of the conquering pen. And here comes the question, which in some phase or other comes up in all great questions of America, "What part has the Negro in the might of the pen?" Nobody doubts that the great movements of the world at present, let their primary manifestations be military or political, scientific or industrial, have any other great lever than knowledge and sentiment brought into notice and activity by writers.

The chief agencies for the dissemination of thought and discoveries are the newspapers, magazines, literary journals and books of fiction. The newspapers have the most immediate and controlling influence over the action of men in the business and political world. To undertake to estimate with anything like exactness the part the Negro has in molding sentiment through the press and giving the consequent direction to the action of men would be a task impossible in the very nature of the case.

It shall be, then, the purpose of this article to discuss in a general way the Negro as a writer in all lines in which he has essayed to express thought. It would be easy to dispose of the question in two ways. One would be to separate all that he has done as far as that would be possible, and put it over against the production of the white race and thus so minimize it by comparison that its power would likely to be underrated. Another way would be to magnify all that has been done as especially praiseworthy, because the production comes from the Negro, thus overrating its significance, forgetting that whatever power any writing can have can only be in proportion to its real merit in the thought-world, regardless of all source from which it came. Overrating the Negro as a writer is more likely to be done in passing on his attempts in literary art than in any other field. But in literary lines the number who can command attention and be worthy of notice is very small. One does not have to go far to see that the most effective work, so far as creating sentiment is concerned, and thereby wielding power in the great moving forces of this age, the Negro as a writer is best evinced by the Negro press. We have many newspapers, and after thirty years we have not been able to produce one single great newspaper, nor for many good reasons one single great editor who is a power in the land. Indeed, the most of the many papers of ours that come from the press have but little in them that can attract the intelligent minds of the race. There is, however, among us too great a tendency to ridicule the Negro press unreservedly, and though much of the ridicule may be deserved it remains true that the accumulative power of the Negro press is hardly appreciated as it deserves to be. They who write for us and fight our battles are essentially our only spokesmen, and as ignored as our articles and editorials would seem to be by the white press, it is true nevertheless that the white newspapers take close notice of what the Negro writers have to say. They may not ordinarily deign to appear to take notice, but let any publication be made in our most humble sheets that seems to them to be dangerous or too presumptuous to let pass, and it will be seen then that the white press takes notice and the power of the colored press will become apparent. I have said that we have not yet produced one single great paper, nor one great editor, as white papers and editors are great, and to this I think there can be justly no exceptions taken, for we are lacking in nearly all the accessories to make such greatness possible, but we do have a few papers and editors of marked power. The two most exceptional papers of power that have come under my notice are the New York Age, edited by Mr. T. Thomas Fortune, and the Richmond Planet, edited by Mr. Mitchell. These two papers and their editors have been, and are yet, valiant warriors for the race and of incalculable benefit to the race. As a terse, caustic and biting editorial writer Mr. Fortune is hardly surpassed by any one, and his paper for years has been uncompromising in fighting all adverse issues in the race question. Almost the same thing can be said of the Richmond Planet, and more than any other, perhaps, has this paper been valiant in waging war against lynching. These two papers, together with a host of others, have set forth the power of the pen and have accomplished far more to offset the adverse sentiment created by the white press than can ever be fully determined. There is another class of Negro writers than those I have mentioned that gets an occasional hearing in the white papers of the South and is of great value to the race. Any one familiar with the strictures of the South, knows that the Negroes themselves have essentially no chance to discuss through the white newspapers the great questions which are ever to the front concerning them, and their position in the South, and also but very little more in the newspapers of the North, unless in the South the Negroes write some articles to say amen, and highly sanction the white man's dictums and positions on the Negro questions that happen to be up. But there are a few who are able to write on some questions in our defense without compromise, and yet so skillfully as not to offend. In speaking of the attitude of the white press, and its representations, it is not assumed that there is no disposition of fairness on the part of the writers of the white press. Many of the great editors mean to be fair from their standpoint. The Southern white people are prejudiced and supersensitive on some points beyond all reason, and in all questions between the Negro and the white man, as man to man, the assumptions, without an exception, are arrogant beyond all naming, so that it comes about at any point of issue, where men differing, usually would permit the opponent his views as fitting from his side of the question, what the Negro has to say, if he is emphatic and decided, is called impudence. The writer must be skillful, then, to write uncompromisingly and yet not be of the "impudent." There are a few men among us who are able to write for the Southern white papers with reserve, yet without compromise, greatly to our advantage. Among those few, prominent are Prof. G. W. Henderson, of Straight University, New Orleans, and President W. H. Councill, of the College, Normal and Industrial School at Normal, Alabama. Prof. Henderson is a graduate of Middlebury College, Vermont, and Yale Theological Seminary, having taken the fellowship from that institution and studied in Germany two years. His writings show his scholarship and refinement. He has been persistent and valiant in all race matters, especially in educational lines in Louisiana, and his articles, though uncompromising, have from time to time found a hearing and forced respect from the great dailies of New Orleans. President Councill is the most widely accepted in the Southern white press of all Negroes. On some points of disagreement between the Negroes and the white people he concedes more to some of the white man's claims than any other Negro who writes. Secondly, he is truly a great man, and has gained his right to a hearing in intelligent sources. As a writer, pure and simple, he is forcible; and while the whole of his attitude may not be accepted generally by his own race, there is no doubt about his uncompromising attitude and loyalty to his own race first and last, and any one who has followed his articles in newspapers and leading magazines have surely seen that the apparently sometimes too generous bouquet throwing to the white brother is fully offset by the terrible blows given that same white brother for his sins against the Negro race. This is especially seen in his symposium article in the April number of the Arena, 1899. It would be impossible in the limitation of this article to mention the many Negro writers who are acceptable in leading magazines, and to a greater extent in the great weekly journals of this country. Only one or two can be mentioned: Rev. H. H. Proctor, pastor of the First Congregational Church at Atlanta, Ga., is a graduate of Fisk University and Yale Theological Seminary, and he is a young man of exceptional ability as a writer on timely questions, but as an article writer is often seen in the Outlook, the New York Independent, and such papers. Above them all is Bishop Tanner, of Philadelphia. For diction, fine style, conciseness and logical conclusions, one must go far to find his superior. In the way of history, text books on various subjects, and scientific presentation, not much has yet been done among us. Mr. Geo. W. Williams, the Negro historian, has done more in that field than any other. Dr. D. W. Culp has written a treatise on consumption and other medical subjects that have attracted attention and favorable criticism.

It now remains to speak of the writers in literary art. In this field there are many who have certainly made praiseworthy attempts, and of the ladies who cannot be classed with those who have truly made a place among successful literary artists, but whose writing has attracted attention and in character is literary, most complimentary things can be said of Mrs. Frances E. W. Harper, of Philadelphia; of Mrs. Fanny Barrier Williams, of Chicago; of Miss Edna Matthews, of New York, and of Mrs. Cooper, Washington, D. C. Mrs. Cooper's book, "A Voice from the South," is a work in purpose and execution of decided merit. In real literary art, perhaps there are only two in the whole race who have reached a place of genuine high rank among the critics, namely, Dunbar and Chestnut. There are four poets, however, who have attracted much attention and favorable criticism, and of these I will speak in turn. It is in order to speak of Mr. A. A. Whitman first, because he appeared first of all and in one particular of excellency he is first of all four. His "Rape of Florida" is truly poetry and as a sustained effort, as an attempt in great lines, it surpasses in true merit anything yet done by a Negro, and this assertion without one qualifying word. He failed as a poet? Certainly. Mr. Whitman made attempts in lines in which Shelley, Keats and Spenser triumphed, and with such mediocrity only possible to him in such a highway, what else could follow beyond a passing notice, though his "Rape of Florida" is a production of much more than passing merit. Aside from the mediocrity of the work attempted in Spenserian lines the man himself in his lack of learning, in his expressible egotism, was derogatory to his ultimate success, and his styling himself as the William Cullen Bryant of the Negro race was sickening in the extreme. Mr. Whitman died recently, but not before he had done all in literary excellence that could be hoped from him. It remains true, however, that he was worthy of a much better place than is accorded him as a Negro poet, and it is to be regretted that his work is so little known among us.

Ten years after Mr. Whitman, Paul Dunbar came forth as a new singer, and got the first real recognition as a poet. As a poet, pure and simple, as a refined verse maker in all directions, Mr. Dunbar surpasses Mr. Whitman by far in the truest significance in the term poet, and he is justly assigned the first place among Negro poets. For many reasons Mr. Dunbar is famous, and to enter into any extended discussion of his work in this connection is needless. Mr. Dunbar is the first Negro to attempt poetic art in Negro dialect. To speak the truth, however, it must be said that there is no such thing as a Negro dialect, but in the bad English called Negro dialect Mr. Dunbar has in verse chosen to interpret the Negro in his general character, in his philosophy of life, in his rich humor and good nature, and the world knows how well he has succeeded. Robert Burns has shown how the immortal life of all beautiful things can be handed down for all time in dialect, but it can scarcely be believed by any one that great poetry can ever be clothed in the garb known as Negro dialect. But for some pathos and to put the Negro forward at his best in his humorous and good natured characteristics the so-called dialect is the best vehicle, and in these lines, and these lines only, is Mr. Dunbar by far greater than all others. Out of those lines he is still the first poet, Whitman not excepted, but he is first with nothing like the difference in real merit and the fame he has above all others. But in passing from him, here is Dunbar at his best, dialectic and otherwise:

"When de co'n pone's hot— Dey is a time in life when nature Seems to slip a cog an' go, Jes' a-rattling down creation, Lak an ocean's overflow; When de worl' jes' stahts a-spinnin' Lak a pickaninny's top, An' you feel jes' lak a racah, Dat is trainin' fu' to trot— When yo' mammy says de blessin' An' de co'n pone's hot.

"When you set down at de table, Kin' o' weary lak an' sad, An' you's jes' a little tiwhed An' purhaps a little mad; How yo' gloom tu'ns into gladness, How yo' joy drives out de doubt, When de oven do' is opened, An' de smell comes po'in out; Why, de 'lectric light o' Heaven Seems to settle on de spot, When yo' mammy says de blessin' An' de co'n pone's hot.

"When de cabbage pot is steamin' An' de bacon good an' fat, When de chittlins is a-spuller'n' So's to show you whah dey's at; Tek away yo' sody biscut, Tek away yo' cake an' pie, Fu' de glory time is comin', An' it's 'proachin' mighty nigh, An' yo' want to jump an' hollah, Dough you know you'd bettah not When yo' mammy says de blessin', An' de co'n pone's hot.

"I have hyeahd o' lots o' sermons, An' I've hyeahd o' lots o' prayers, An' I've listened to some singin' Dat has tuck me up de stairs Of de Glory-lan' an' set me Jes' below de mahstah's th'one, An' lef' my hea't a-singin' In a happy aftah tone; But dem wu'ds so sweetly murmured Seemed to tech de softes' spot, When my mammy says de blessin', An' de co'n pone's hot."

This is not so great a poem as the "Cotter's Saturday Night" by Burns, because the spiritual element and the whole scope of the tenderest concerns of the family and of life in that poem are left out of this. But in Dunbar's poem, where only the festival is pictured, the scene is so intensified that one feels the warmth and sees the glow of the evening fire and inhales the appetizing odors of the coming homely cheer, and can see back of these the tender care and ineffable love of the "Mammy," who puts the crowning touch upon her love with the blessing. As far as it goes, "When the co'n pone's hot" is great precisely in the same lines that the "Cotter's Saturday Night" is great.

Mr. Dunbar has also written a number of novels and short stories. It has not been my good fortune to see "The Stories from Dixie;" but the novels I have bought and read. If there were no Charles Chestnut, Mr. Dunbar's novels would have to be discussed in this connection, and he would have to be put down as the very first Negro novel writer, mainly, however, because there would be no other; but with Mr. Chestnut in the field, no true admirer of Mr. Dunbar will ever discuss the prolific diffusions of his, bearing the name novels, in any connection with Dunbar, the poet. There is only enough space left in this article for the poets, to barely mention the names of Mr. Daniel Webster Davis, of Manchester, Virginia, and Mr. James D. Corrothers of Red Bank, New Jersey, and to give a selection from each and let their poems speak for them as writers. Both of them have received notice in the best magazines and favorable criticism elsewhere. Both owe their distinction mainly to their work in dialectic verse which, I fear, is too much like the "ragtime" music, considered quite the proper dressing for Negro distinction in the poetic art.

Here is to "De Biggis' Piece ub Pie," by Mr. Davis:

"When I was a little boy I set me down to cry, Bekase my little brudder Had de biggis' piece ub pie. But when I had become a man I made my min' to try An' hustle roun' to git myself De biggis' piece ub pie.

"An' like in bygone chil'ish days, De worl' is hustlin' roun' To git darselbes de biggis' slice Ub honor an' renown; An' ef I fails to do my bes', But stan' aroun' an' cry, Dis ol' worl' will git away Wid bof de plate an' pie.

"An' eben should I git a slice I mus' not cease to try, But keep a-movin' fas' es life To hol' my piece ub pie. Dis ruff ol' worl' has little use Fur dem dat chance to fall, An' while youze gittin' up ag'in 'Twill take de plate an' all."

The one more selection from Mr. Davis will show him as a poet outside of dialect:


"The rose of the garden is given to me, And, to double its value, 'twas given by thee; Its lovely bright tints to my eyesight is borne, Like the kiss of a fairy or blush of morn.

"Too soon must this scent-laden flower decay, Its bright leaves will wither, its bloom die away; But in memory 'twill linger; the joy that it bore Will live with me still, tho' the flower's no more."

Mr. James D. Corrothers writes:


"Cindy, reach dah 'hine yo' back. 'N han' me dat ah Almanac; W'y, land! t'morrer's Thanksgivin'! Got to git out an' make hay— Don't keer whut de preachah say— We mus' eat Thanksgivin' day, Uz sho' uz you's a-libbin.

"You know whah Mahs Hudson libs? Dey's a turkey dah dat gibs Me a heap o' trouble. Some day Hudson g'ine to miss Dat owdashus fowl o' his; I's g'ine ober dah an' twis' 'At gobbler's nake plumb double.

"Goin' pas' dah t' othah day, Turkey strutted up an' say, 'A-gobble, gobble, gobble,' Much uz ef he mout remahk, 'Don' you wish 'at it wuz dahk? Ain't I temptin'?' S' I, 'you hah'k, Er else dey'll be a squabble.

"'Take an' wring yo' nake righ' quick, Light on yo' lak a thousan' brick, 'N you won't know whut befell you.' 'N I went on. Yet evah day When I goes by that a-way, 'At fowl has too much to say; 'N I'm tiahd uv it, I tell you.

"G'ine to go dis bressed night An' put out dat turkey's light, 'N I'll nail him lak a cobblah. Take keer, 'Cindy, lemme pass, Ain't a-g'ine to take no sass Off no man's turkey gobblah."

And now for the last and the greatest Roman of them all in literary art—Mr. Charles W. Chestnut, of Cleveland, Ohio. I have never seen him, and at present the only personal acquaintance I have with him, is a brief letter of a dozen or more lines; but Mr. Chestnut, revealed by his novels, I know well. The chief distinction one finds in reading Mr. Chestnut from all other Negro story-writers, so far as there are such, is that he is truly an artist and that his art is fine art. Secondly, and this is of the greatest concern to Negroes in any thought of the Negro as a writer, he is the best delineator of Negro life and character, thought and feeling, of any who has attracted notice by writing. It is not possible to give in this connection any quotations from Mr. Chestnut's work that may speak for him, but it is fitting in this article to speak of the character of some of Mr. Chestnut's stories, and, as far as possible, suggest the ground and purpose of his fiction. Perhaps, to mention the stories, "The Wife of His Youth," "The Wheel of Progress," and "The House Behind the Cedars," would serve best for this occasion. There are some situations of the Negroes too full of ineffable pity for utterance. Who has not sat at some time in a Negro church and heard read the pitiful inquiry for a mother, or a child, or a father, husband or wife, all lost in the sales and separations of slavery times—loved ones as completely swallowed up in the past (yet in this life they still live) as if the grave had received them. At such a reading, though it was given with unconcern, one heard the faithful cry of faithful love coming out of the dark on its sorrowful mission.

And in this realm Mr. Chestnut tells us of a mulatto boy who marries a woman of Negro type, and who was old enough for the boy's mother, but had, at that time, youth enough left to make the disparity of age at the time of little objection, especially in the times and situation where there was little objection to marriages of any sort. But the youth escapes from slavery and in the far North receives education, development and culture, and in time earns a competence that makes life desirable and opens up vistas to new happiness, for the old life is now only a memory of what the new man once was, and the new man is on the borderland of new love and marriage befitting all his advancements, while the mulatto slave boy, the slave girl, the black slave-wife and the slave connections are left forever behind. But in all these twenty-five years the black slave wife is still living, still ignorant and yielding all the while to age until she is an old woman. But there was one thing that did not yield to age and time, and that was her love for her boy husband, and, what was more, her sublime and unwavering faith in the constancy of her "Yaller Sam," after whom she sends inquiry after inquiry, and year after year tramps from place to place in her search, with faith and love divine ever leading her on, until one day in a Northern city, to which place she had finally traced him, she stopped at his very door to humbly inquire of the strange gentleman she saw for her "Yaller Sam," never dreaming that it was he to whom she spoke, though he knew her and had to face the bitter tragedy of it all. But Mr. Chestnut's art enables him to take care of so sorrowful a case satisfactorily.

"The Wheel of Progress" touches another phase of pathetic situations arising out of the mixture of people and sentiments in the South. The story tells of an ostracized Northern white teacher who, from young womanhood, labors away her life for the Negroes, until her age and health reach that degree of disadvantage that her position as teacher, once her medium of charity, becomes her only means for a living. In the meantime the Negroes whom she and others helped to uplift and develop, and to whom, because of race distinction, most all avenues outside of menial labor are closed, except preaching and teaching, had become her competitors. In the conflict that arose over the reappointment of the white missionary teacher and a young Negro to the place the pitiful situation is again taken care of by Mr. Chestnut's fine art. "The House Behind the Cedars," until his latest, "The Marrow of Tradition," was his most ambitious attempt. In this book the story of an Octoroon family is put forth in all the pathos and tragedy that is the lot of so many Negroes who belong wholly to neither race.

Mr. Chestnut's latest book, "The Marrow of Tradition," is a strong and vigorous presentation of the colored man's case against the South in the form of a dramatic novel. This book especially deserves a wide reading among the Negroes, who have none too many friends to plead their cause. Mr. Chestnut, as one truly high-rank novelist among us, ought to have such a hearing among the eight millions that would give him all the advantages of a successful novelist from a financial standpoint as a return for his labor, which is by no means for himself alone.

In closing, it is but fair to say, while the artists of high rank among us are few in number, in an article discussing the Negro as a writer, in mentioning names at all, it must necessarily follow that there are very many names not here mentioned that would deserve to be if in such an article as this there were any intention or necessity to mention the whole list of Negro writers who write well and with power in every department of letters.





The subject of this sketch was born July 25, 1862, at Mechanicsville, Sumter County, South Carolina. His parents were slaves and his father, a Baptist minister, is still alive. Mr. Gilbert began his early school life during the reconstruction period, at Mechanicsville, and continued it at Mannville, in an adjoining township, until 1879, when he entered Benedict College (then Benedict Institute) at Columbia, South Carolina. He remained in Benedict till the spring of 1883, when he graduated from a classical course specially designed to fit him for a Northern college. In the fall of 1883, after a searching examination, he entered the freshman class of Colgate University and remained in that institution four years, until his graduation in 1887 with the degree of A. B. During his college course Mr. Gilbert particularly distinguished himself in the languages and oratory. During his sophomore year he won in an oratorical contest the First Kingsford Prize. Although the only colored man in his class, yet he was so highly esteemed by his classmates that he enjoyed the unique distinction of being elected every three months for four years as Class Secretary and Treasurer. In addition to this he was elected Class Historian in his senior year. His alma mater conferred on him the degree of A. M. in 1890. Immediately after his graduation Mr. Gilbert was called to the pastorate of the First Colored Baptist Church at Nashville, Tenn. He remained in this position three years and a half and then he accepted the call of the Bethel Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. He was not permitted by his denomination to remain long in this pastorate; for after one year in it, on the nomination of the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York, he was elected to lead in the educational work among the colored Baptists of Florida. He presided one year over the Florida Institute at Live Oak, and he led in 1892 in the founding of the Florida Baptist Academy (now college) at Jacksonville, Fla. The cares and anxiety involved in this work threatened his health and in 1894 he resigned this position to accept the pastorate of a young church organization in Savannah, Ga., having in the meantime declined an election to the presidency of State University at Louisville, Ky. In 1894 he was elected Vice-President and Professor of History, Political Science, and Modern Languages, in the Colored State College at Orangeburg, S. C. He served in this capacity two years and after re-election for a third year he resigned to re-enter upon his life-work in the gospel ministry. He served a few months after this in the office of General Missionary and Corresponding Secretary of the Baptist State Convention of South Carolina, but this work militating against his health he gave up to enter upon the pastorate of the Central Baptist Church at Charleston, S. C., where he now is. Mr. Gilbert received three years ago the degree of D. D. from Guadalupe College of Seguin, Tex. In 1883 Dr. Gilbert was married in Columbia, S. C., to Miss Agnes Boozer. Seven children have been born to them, five of whom are still living. Dr. Gilbert is much in demand as a public speaker on great occasions and his services are frequently sought by some of the best churches of his denomination.

The necessity for asserting and maintaining the affirmative of the above question is due to the deep-seated prejudice against the Negro, which prejudice is the unfortunate fruit of the Negro's past enslavement. It is not surprising that those who for centuries held the Negro as a chattel should regard him as a being essentially inferior to themselves, and time is required, in the changed condition of affairs, to completely eradicate this idea. Even now, despite the remarkable development of the Negro since his emancipation, occasionally some Rip Van Winkle, awaking from a long sleep, essays to deny the complete humanity of the Negro race. A true believer in the Scriptures must be equally a believer in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all men. For the divine record declares that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth." Language, physiology and psychology confirm the truthfulness of Scripture on this issue. The mission of Christianity to preach the gospel over the inhabited world is based upon this great idea. Science and Holy Writ assert the intellectual equality of all men of whatever race or color, so far as real capacity and possibilities are concerned.

The position and relative importance of a race or nation in the world's history are determined more by its antecedents and environments than by the original endowments of each individual that constitutes it. Two different races, having the same antecedents and subject to the same environments, will produce the same results. In answering the question as to whether the Negro has demonstrated his intellectual equality with the white man during the century just closed, our inquiry must necessarily be confined to the closing third of that century; for prior to the emancipation of the race the colored people were generally in an enslaved condition. Opportunities for education, citizenship, and the development of manhood, were few, and at best could apply to but few of the race. Although our inquiry is limited to only one-third of the century just closed, nevertheless we can safely assert that in that short period the Negro has demonstrated by actual results his intellectual equality with the white man.

1. The Negro has demonstrated in thirty-five years a capacity for education equal to that of the white man. This remark does not apply alone to his primary education, but also to the highest. He has entered already every intellectual field that is open to him, and he is achieving success in every one that he has entered. Within a third of a century one hundred and fifty-six institutions for the higher education of the Negroes have been founded, and from these and Northern colleges there have been more than seventeen thousand graduates. These colleges are located chiefly in the South, and their courses of studies are as high as their neighboring white colleges; in some instances they are higher. Some of these graduates have evinced great ability and brilliancy in mastering the most difficult studies included in the curriculum. The existence of Negro colleges and the successful graduation of Negroes therefrom is a strong argument for his intellectual equality. Nor has the Negro simply demonstrated his ability to master the literary courses of the college, but also his capacity to acquire the knowledge and training to fit him for life in the various professions. Within a third of a century the race has produced thirty thousand teachers, five hundred physicians, two hundred and fifty lawyers, and a large number of others who have entered the ministry, politics, and editorial life. If there is doubt on the demonstration of the Negro's ability to acquire education in his own colleges, we need only to mention the fact that his ambition has led him to some of the leading Northern universities where he studied at the side of white men, and even there he has demonstrated his essential intellectual equality with the white man by winning, in several well-known instances, some of their highest honors for scholarship, proficiency and oratory.

2. The Negro has demonstrated his capacity for imparting an education to others after he has himself received it. He is an essential and established factor in the public school system of the South. It is he that is intrusted with the primary education of his people, and it is due largely to him that his people in thirty-five years have reduced their illiteracy 45 per cent. During those thirty-five years he has become professor of law, medicine, theology, mathematics, the sciences, and languages. In the colleges devoted to the education of the colored men, there are colored professors who have become eminent in their departments and who would fill with credit similar chairs in white institutions of learning. All of the colored state colleges of the South are under the management of Negroes as presidents and professors.

3. The Negro has also demonstrated his productivity in the field of authorship. In this particular he has shown a white man's capacity. In calling attention to the Negro's achievement in this particular, it may be well to note the fact that the Negro's white neighbor, although he lives in a clime similar to that which produced in Greece, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle and poets like Homer, Euripides, and Sophocles, and in Italy poets like Virgil and Horace, has not produced a philosopher or a first-class poet, with all the leisure he enjoyed while the Negro has been engaged in enforced labor for him. In the highest field of thought as in philosophy and the works of imagination the South presents a barren field. In the sphere of authorship usually entered by white men the Negro has already worked his way. He has already produced meritorious books on mathematics, sociology, theology, history, poetry, travels, sermons, languages, and biographies. There have been three hundred books written by Negroes.

4. Nor has the Negro's mind followed slavishly in the beaten path of imitation. He has demonstrated that he possesses also a high order of intellect by his inventive genius. The "lubricator" now being used on nearly all the railroad engines in the United States was invented by a colored man, Mr. E. McCoy, of Detroit, Michigan. Eugene Burkins, a Negro, was inventor of the Burkins' Automatic Machine Gun, concerning which Admiral Dewey said it was "by far the best machine gun ever made." Many other useful inventions in the country are credited by the Patent Office to the Negro.

5. The Negro has also demonstrated in thirty-five years his capacity for organizing, controlling, and directing great and diversified interests. Capacity to organize, maintain, and direct presupposes a high order of mind. Executive ability requires accompanying intellectual ability and not mere brilliancy. Unaided and alone the Negro has set on foot great ecclesiastical organizations which he is maintaining and developing with much credit to himself. In all these organizations, leadership to the few has been cheerfully conceded by the masses. As a church builder, with little means at his command, the Negro stands without a peer. Within the last thirty-five years of the nineteenth century the Negro has founded high schools, academies and colleges, and he is successfully supporting and managing them. If it is fair to estimate the ability and worth of men by real achievements, then it must be conceded that the foremost man for real ability throughout the entire South is a Negro, and we refer to the eminent founder and developer of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It is unquestionable in our mind that the greatest enterprise conceived and executed by any one mind, in the entire South, during the past forty years, was that conceived in the brains of a single Negro, the child of a slave mother, that resulted in the world-renowned Tuskegee Institute. The results at Tuskegee will demonstrate that the highest order of mind in the South, as well as the most famous, is in the keeping of the Negro. The leading Presbyterian institution of learning in the South for the education of colored men is now managed successfully by Negro scholars. We refer here to Biddle University.

6. In business and politics the Negro, despite the odds arrayed against him, is succeeding reasonably well. He is constantly undertaking new business enterprises, and wherever the government or state has intrusted him with official position the intelligent Negro has discharged his public functions with credit to the government and glory for himself. Whenever failure is recorded against the Negro it is not due to his lacking the mental endowments equal to that of the white man, but because he was denied the white man's favorable past, and because a white man's opportunity is denied him. Equality of opportunities and equality before the laws should be cheerfully granted him. Criticism against him is savage and un-Christian, if these doors are closed against him.





John Wesley Cromwell, the twelfth child and seventh son of Willis H. and Elizabeth Carney Cromwell, was born at Portsmouth, Va., September 5, 1846. In 1851 the family moved to Philadelphia, where he entered the public schools and subsequently the Institute for Colored Youth, graduating in 1864.

He taught at Columbia, Pa., after which he established a private school in his native town. Under the auspices of Northern charitable associations he taught at Spanish Neck and Little Gunpowder in Maryland, Providence Church, Scott Farm, Charlotte County and Wytheville, Va. On the inauguration of the public school system he became principal of the Dill's Bakery School in Richmond, Va., and in the following summer taught near the scene of the Nat Turner Insurrection in Southampton County in the same State.

Mr. Cromwell took an active part in the reconstruction of Virginia, was delegate to the first State Republican Convention, did jury service in the United States Court for the term at which the case of Jefferson Davis was calendared, and was a clerk in the reconstruction Constitutional Convention. A shot, fired with deadly intent, grazed his clothing while at Spanish Neck, Md., where the church in which the school was taught was burned to the ground, and he was twice forced to face the muzzles of revolvers in Virginia, because of his work as an educator.

In 1871 he entered the law department of Howard University, graduating therefrom in 1874. In 1872, after a competitive examination, having distanced two hundred and forty applicants, he received a $1,200 appointment in the Treasury Department, in which he was twice promoted, by the same method, within twenty months. In 1885, in the early days of the Cleveland administration, he was removed as an offensive partisan, having established and conducted since 1876 "The People's Advocate," a weekly journal of more than local influence. He then began the practice of law in connection with his journalistic work. In 1889 he was tendered and he accepted a principalship of one of the grammar schools of Washington, D. C., the position he still holds.

In 1875 he was chosen at Richmond the president of the Virginia Educational and Historical Association and was four times re-elected. He has served two terms as the president of the "Bethel Literary," with which he has been officially connected for twenty years. He was one of the original members of the American Negro Academy founded by Rev. Alexander Crummell, and is its corresponding secretary.

In 1873 he was married to Miss Lucy A. McGuinn, of Richmond, Va. Six children survive of that marriage, the eldest being Miss Otelia Cromwell, the first Colored graduate (1900) of Smith College, Mass. In 1892 he married Miss Annie E. Conn, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

In 1887 he became a member of the Metropolitan A. M. E. Church under the pastorate of Rev., now Chaplain, T. G. Steward.

Among his addresses and papers are "The Negro in Business," "The Colored Church in America," "Nat Turner, a Historical Sketch," "Benjamin Banneker," "The Negro as a Journalist," and other historical and statistical studies. The first named, published for a syndicate of metropolitan newspapers in 1886, found its way in one form or other in nearly all the representative papers of the land.

The status of the Negro at the close of the eighteenth and the opening of the nineteenth centuries was substantially the same, North and South. These well-defined geographical sections on both sides of Mason and Dixon's line were not as extensive then as now. Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee were the only states west of the Alleghanies; Florida was a foreign possession, Alabama and the region beyond were to be numbered with the United States at a subsequent period.

The colored population in 1800 was 1,001,436, free and slave, or 18.88 per cent of the entire population; 893,041 were slaves, of whom there were in round numbers 30,000 in the states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware; 20,000 were in New York alone. In 1900 the total population is 76,303,387, with 8,840,789 persons of Negro descent, or 11.5 of the aggregate population.

The year 1800 marks the beginning of an epoch of increasing hardship for the Negro, both in church and state. It was also characterized by fierce aggressiveness by the slave power, stimulated by the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney and the impetus which it gave to the growth and importation of cotton. The acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase from France added to the possible domain of slave territory and affected the current of political action for more than half a century.

During this period the Negro was a most important figure, both in church and state, the occasion if not the cause of perplexing problems. In the field of religion and politics, especially, has his status attracted world-wide attention.

At a very early day the Methodist and Baptist churches had the largest number of colored followers in both town and city; but these as yet were not assembled in distinctive organizations. The right of the Negro, not only to govern but to direct his religious instruction, was bitterly contested, sometimes by force, at other times by law. The high-handed manner in which the ordinary rights of worship were denied the Negro led to the withdrawal of the majority of colored Methodists in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and South Carolina, and ultimately to the formation of the two denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches, that became independent before the end of the first quarter of the last century.

As to the recognition of the right of colored Baptists to church fellowship, the white Baptists were more liberal, for we find an association of white churches recognizing the existence of a colored Baptist church at Williamsburg, in 1790.

The first colored Episcopal society was received into membership on the express condition that no delegate was to be admitted in any of the diocesan conventions.[1] As early as 1801 Rev. John Chavis, a Negro of North Carolina, was licensed by the Hanover Presbytery of Virginia as a missionary to his own people.[2] The incompatibility of an ordained minister of the same denomination being a slave was recognized in the manumission of Rev. John Gloucester, the slave of Rev. Gideon Blackburn, of Tennessee, on the organization of the first colored Presbyterian church of the country, at Philadelphia, in 1807, and the subsequent settlement of Rev. Gloucester as its pastor.[3]

That the white Baptists really manifested greater liberality in this period is obvious, because we also find Jacob Bishop, a Negro, the pastor of the First Baptist church of Portsmouth, Virginia, for a few years.[4] The church was a large and influential one, and the predecessor of Bishop, Rev. Thomas Armistead, had served with distinction as a commissioned officer in the Revolutionary War.

To-day at all the general conferences of the M. E. and M. E. South—both white—and of the A. M. E., A. M. E. Zion, and C. M. E. denominations—all colored—fraternal delegations are exchanged with all the courtesies bestowed by the two former on the two latter that should prevail among brethren. A further concession is seen in the fact of the elections of colored ministers of recognized scholarship and fitness to important secretaryships and an editorship by the powerful M. E. Church. Another illustration is the organization about thirty years ago by the M. E. Church South of its colored membership into the C. M. E. denomination and the liberal provision made by the former connection for secondary education in the Payne Institute, at Augusta, Georgia.

The Protestant Episcopal Church that forbade St. Thomas, Philadelphia, and St. Phillips, New York, to aspire to membership in diocesan conventions repealed this resolution after the breaking out of the Civil War and delegates from these and other colored parishes throughout the North and West, at least, find free admission.

Sixty years ago the application of so promising and talented a young man as Alexander Crummell to be matriculated as a student in any of the Episcopal divinity schools created a great shock in church circles, and his rejection is set forth at length in Bishop Wilberforce's History of American Episcopalianism; yet both at the New York and Philadelphia theological seminaries numerous colored clergymen, Episcopalian and others, now graduate with honor and distinction.

To-day in the House of Bishops there are two colored prelates of African descent, Rt. Rev. S. D. Ferguson, the Bishop of Africa, and the Rt. Rev. James Theodore Holly, the Bishop of Hayti; the former a native of South Carolina, the latter of the District of Columbia. Their welcome to the pulpits of many of the most exclusive Episcopal Churches and to the homes of their parishioners is in marked contrast to the greeting of the Negro by the same communion only two generations previously.

In the general assemblies of the Presbyterian Church to-day the presence of colored commissioners is no novelty, and the faculty of Biddle University, composed of colored professors, by the will of the Presbyterian Board of Education, shows what this conservative body has done in the recognition of Negro scholarship.

The conventions and associations of the Baptist Church in the South, where the bulk of the black race dwell, are still on the color line, yet there is progress towards true fraternal feeling here. Some years since "The Religious Herald," of Richmond, Virginia, the leading journal of that denomination in the South, announced among its paid contributors the name of a prominent colored divine.

It must be said, nevertheless, that during the first half of the nineteenth century the record of the white church on the Negro shows not only a temporizing, but a cowardly spirit. This was true in some respects of the Congregational Church;[5] instead of leading, the church followed the state. The anti-slavery sentiment which was unmistaken in the later years of the eighteenth century became with the growth of commercialism and national expansion, quiescent and subservient to the slave power. The right to vote, which in colonial days was generally exercised by colored freeholders, was subsequently either restricted or wholly denied. North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee in the South, and Pennsylvania in the North, disfranchised their colored suffragists. The wave of disfranchisement then, as on the threshold of the twentieth century, dashed from one state to another. In the North repeated efforts were made to concede to the Negro his complete political and civil rights. Though the sentiment in his behalf became stronger at every trial of strength, yet with a single exception—Wisconsin—each result was decisive against the concession of the franchise to the Negro. It was only after a bloody civil war, in which thousands of lives were sacrificed and billions of treasure were expended, that the nation conceded to the Negro, first, his freedom, next his civil rights, finally his political franchise.

One hundred years ago there were but few colored schools, even in the free states, and these only in the larger towns and cities. Philadelphia was in the lead, with New York a second and Boston a third.

Connecticut, in the third decade of the nineteenth century, would not permit Prudence Crandall to maintain a school of colored girls. The means employed to break it up stands a blot on the name of the commonwealth. A resolution of the National Convention of Colored Men, held at Philadelphia, to establish a college for the education of colored youths, at New Haven occasioned both fierce excitement and bitter hostility.

Negroes could ride only on the top of the stagecoach when traveling, and Jim Crow cars prevailed on the introduction of railroads. Angry mobs were frequent. Churches and schools were the common target of attack. In the opening of the West to settlement public sentiment there against the Negroes found emphatic expression in Black Laws forbidding with heavy penalties their permanent abode in that section. These laws have only been removed in the memory of men still living. In many communities, however, these laws were a dead letter, just as to-day there are isolated localities in Indiana and Illinois, as in Georgia and Texas, where no Negro is permitted to permanently abide.

Through the Anti-Slavery and Abolition agitation, carried on by such reformers as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, John G. Whittier and Horace Greeley, the organizations of the colored people themselves, and their appreciation of the meager educational advantages afforded them prior to Appomattox, the sentiment of the country yielded one by one the rights and privileges of citizens, until colored members of state legislatures in more than half a dozen Northern states, delegates to city councils, a judgeship each in Massachusetts and Michigan, and state elective officers in Kansas—in none of which communities was the colored voting population of itself sufficiently numerous to elect—evidences the remarkable revolution in public opinion towards the Negro throughout the North.

In the South, since 1867, there have been more than a score of congressmen, including two senators, state legislators by the hundreds, councilmen, police officers, city and county officials without number; but nearly all of these were obtained by the numerical preponderance of the Negro rather than any liberalizing of dominant white sentiment.


[1] History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. Samuel Wilberforce.

[2] History of Education in North Carolina.—United States Bureau of Education.

[3] Semi-Centenary Discourses.—Rev. William T. Catto.

[4] Rise of the Baptists.—R. B. Semple.

[5] Slavery and Anti-Slavery.—Wm. Goodell.



BY REV. J. M. COX, D. D.


James Monroe Cox was born in Chambers County, Alabama, February 26, 1860. While he was yet a boy his parents moved to Atlanta, Ga., and in the public schools of that city he received his first educational training. Having a desire to go to college and receive the best training possible for life's work, he entered Clark University. He took high rank in his studies, completing the classical course in 1884, and graduated from Gammon Theological Seminary in 1886, being the first student to receive the degree of B. D. from that institution. The year following his graduation from Gammon he was appointed teacher of ancient languages in Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Ark. In the fall of 1887 he was married to Miss Hattie W. Robinson, a young woman of culture and refinement, who after graduating from Clark University in 1885, taught two years in the public schools of Macon, Ga. They have five interesting children, and their married life has been singularly happy and helpful. After a professorship of eleven years in Philander Smith College he was appointed president of the institution. As president he has served for five years, and under his administration the school has had a strong, healthy growth, until now it numbers almost five hundred students. A much-needed addition to the main building has been completed at a cost of fourteen thousand dollars, the faculty has been increased, and through the efforts of the students he has raised some money, which forms the nucleus of a fund for a trades school. He is a member of the Little Rock conference of the M. E. Church, and has twice represented his brethren as delegate to the General Conference,—at Omaha, Neb., in 1892 and at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1896. His influence over the young people committed to his care is great, and he is striving to send out strong, well-rounded, Christian characters, and thus erect monuments more enduring than granite or marble. Last year Gammon honored him with the degree of D. D.

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