(This page was developed by a Berea College student as part of a course on Chesnutt)
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 - 1906)
Taught to read and write
as a young child by his mother, Dunbar gained inspiration early on by the
tales of slavery told by his parents who had earned their freedom.
Raised in Ohio, Dunbar excelled through school, earning local popularity
as a writer and poet. He worked for Frederick Douglass for a short
time and in 1892 Dunbar spoke at the a Convention of the Western Association
of Writers in Dayton; he gave such an impressive welcome that he was invited
to join the association. He soon began work on dialect pieces and
published his first collection,"Oak and Ivy" (1893). In 1896 Dunbar
received promising reviews on his "Majors and Minors" collection by the
reknowned critic William Dean Howells,
who became a close professional friend and motivator in Dunbar's career.
Dunbar was the first person of color to acheive such a high degree of popularity
in the white world of writing. Between 1896 and 1906 he published
4 novels, 3 more volumes of poetry, and 4 volumes of short stories.
Dunber died of tuberculosis in 1906, suffering with the illness for 7 years.
Whitman was born a slave in Kentucky and lost his
parent as a young boy. Following the Civil War he traveled to Ohio
in search of work. He attened school for a short time then became
a teacher, returning to Kentucky. In 1870 he began studies at Wilberforce
University where college President Payne became his mentor. Whitman
became a pastor with the AME, traveling across the south. He died
of pnemonia during a trip to Alabama. He published many works, his
first a poetry work. His major publications include "The Rape of
Florida" (1884) and "Twasinta's Seminoles" (1885) where he looks at the
seminole culture. Several of his poems gained popularity, including
"The World's Fair Poem" (1893), "Ye Bards of England," a eulogy for
many figures including great English writers-- those who inspired Chesnutt
as well-- and his best poem "The Octoroon." Although usually avoiding
political statements in his work, Whitman believed in Emersonianism ideas
such as 'self-reliance' and disagreed with the theories of Booker T. Washington,
as did Chesnutt. Albery Allson Whitman may not have been a strongly
influnetial or remebered name, but his contribution helped to forward the
reputation of African-American writers.
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois
Washington, founder of Tuskegee, forwarded the ideas of 'accomadation'. He saw the conditions under which his people were suffering and looked at them in the present sense with a "pragmatic realism", rather than looking towards more equality in the future. He encouraged folks to acquire labor and craft skilled positions in the developing Industrial Revolution. "It seemed as though he received the white world's acclaimed because what he attempted to do did not disturb the status quo" (Barksdale, 409). Despite the criticism he received from other prominent African-Americans and white progressives, Washington enjoyed a successful career as an orator, prolific writer, diligent worker, and President of Tuskegee.
Du Bois gained international fame as an historian, sociologist, writer, professor, and intellectual. A Northern man, Du Bois studied at Fisk, Harvard, the University of Berlin, and taught at Wilberforce University. He wrote extensive hisotries on American slavery and African history, as well as many other subjects, including biographical and autobiographical works. Du Bois organized the Niagra Movement in 1905, which lead to the creation of the NAACP. Du Bois encouraged the higher education of African-Americans and opposed Washington's ideas involving vocational training. He believed that education included the entire person -- "Work, culture, and liberty--all these we need together" (Barksdale, 367). Chesnutt associated with both men, although he followed more along Du Bois's line of thinking, with a belief in higher education for all races.