In "The Marrow of Tradition," Charles W. Chesnutt has written a story touching upon racial distinction in the South. To many of his readers, the book will be as great a revelation of conditions existing there as was "Uncle Tom's Cabin" at the time that was written, and undoubtedly popular sympathies will be with the colored race. The story is of the present day, and the leading incidents are, no doubt, founded upon fact; but with a single exception, every prominent character in the book, man or woman, is guilty, not only of cruel injustice towards negroes, but of positive crime. For example, for twenty-five years a Southern lady secrets a will and a marriage certificate, which will benefit a mulatto; her niece, who comes into possession of them later, burns both; a Southern lawyer conceals a will, which he has drawn for a client, devising a large sum to the colored hospital; a Southern editor excites a white mob to violence and murder; and a scion of an old Southern family, after disgracing himself at his club by cheating at cards, murders a rich old lady, and then cleverly arranges matters so that suspicion falls upon the negro butler.
On the other hand, we have a negro doctor, who is a skillful surgeon, a man of honor and generous impulses; a negro lawyer who is superior to the leading white lawyer of the town; and an old negro house-servant, who is willing to be lynched for a murder that he has not committed, that the family name of his former master may be shielded from disgrace. The single exception is a fine old Southern gentleman, who saves an aged servant's life, at the risk of disgracing his own nephew.
Mr. Chesnutt is strong and direct in his style; he makes us realize that the future of the negro race is a problem yet unsolved. The story deals with the efforts of the leading spirits in a Southern town to establish "White supremacy," even at the cost of exterminating the negroes. Their bitterness toward the blacks increases with their own acts of injustice, and finally culminates in bloodshed. The story closes with an act of great generosity on the part of the negro surgeon, who, after losing his own child in the riot, saves the life of a white infant by a skillful operation.
Rev. of The Marrow of Tradition, in The Argonaut [San Francisco] (Feb, 3 1902).