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Negro Authors and Professionals

Negro Authors and Professionals

Rapid Advance of Black Men into the Domain of the White–Creditable Instances of Literary and Professional Ability.

The August number of the New England Magazine contains a story and a poem by a negro author, and the reader would never dream that this author was not white were it not for his black portrait, which is also given. The Baker family from South Carolina has reached Boston to-day. A letter in a Boston newspaper from a Southern writer says that all the race trouble in the South is due to the mischievous efforts to educate the negro, that Southern people are unable to find competent and contented servants as they formerly did, and that all Northern people ought to join with the South in putting the negroes back into subjection in which they belong. So there is provocation enough in the events of the day to see what the negro is doing in the realm of letters and of mind generally. The following points are gathered from both white and black sources here:

One of the foremost negroes of the city says that he does not personally encounter any race prejudice which is a hindrance to him in his profession of law. For fifteen years he has been in practice here. He gets plenty of white clients, and has no difficulty because of the darkness of his skin. He quotes the editor of the Atlantic Monthly as having said to him that his purpose was to get the best writers, and that he did not care whether an author were white or black as long as his writings had genuine merit. The Atlantic had been conducted on that principle even before Mr. Page became its editor. It is recognized, of course, that there is great difference between the treatment of the negroes in the North and in the South. The comments upon their condition apply only to the Northern States. Discrimination is made here against the negro, but he is fast rising in spite of it. It is said that the chronic evil in the situation is that the black man is expected to be a gentleman, but he is not treated as one. Many avenues are closed to him, but they are opening slowly. It is a fact that negroes as barbers have disappeared almost entirely from Boston, but the explanation is said to be, not that there has been a growth of prejudice against colored barbers, but that the Italians have underbid them. The negroes are becoming carpenters, wheelwrights, and so on, filling higher industrial positions than before.

The broad generalization is made in behalf of the negroes that they are becoming less emotional and more businesslike–that is, they are coming to be mentally more like the whites. Negroes are said to be getting into the real-estate business. Companies for dealing in real estate are said to exist which are never mentioned in print, and a transaction in real estate by negroes to the extent of $10,000 in suburban city has been consummated this week The property-holdings of the negroes are increasing constantly, and are larger to-day than ever. They have a much larger amount of church property in Boston than a few years ago, and it is added that they are less factious and more businesslike in their meetings.

The individual instances of excellence in education, science, and letters are becoming very numerous. There are over 250 newspapers conducted by negroes, some of which are doing well, while others struggle for a living. Individual men and women are named whose record equals that of many white writers and scientists. Giving first mention to Booker T. Washington for his work for his race at Tuskegee Institute, there is another remarkably talented teacher in Prof. Du Bois of Atlanta University who has studied at the Harvard Law School and was pronounced by President Eliot to be of the very first rank among the graduates of the university. Du Bois is a man of brilliant parts, and if not himself a slave, was of slave parentage, and is a striking proof of the capacity which inheres in the race when it is given a fair chance in the struggle of life. Another instance is that of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the writer in the New England Magazine referred to. He was an elevator boy at Dayton, O., whose genius expressed itself in verses and other writings of such merit that his literary reputation is now established. Charles W. Chesnutt is the author of articles in the Atlantic Monthly and other publications, and his story 'The Conjure Woman' has had much favorable mention for its skillful delineation of negro character. He has acquired some knowledge of the classics and of French and German literature, though he was unable to get a college education. He has two daughters at Smith College, and a son is preparing for a college course.

Archibald H. Grimké, well known in Boston for many years, is author of biographies of Garrison, Phillips, Sumner, and Calhoun, and stands as well as if he were white. His brother, the Rev. Francis J. Grimké, has published a volume of sermons and a contribution on the negro problem. Archibald was United States Minister to San Domingo under President Cleveland. Mrs. Francis J. Grimké has contributed to the Century and Atlantic. Butler R. Wilson, a well known lawyer in this city, has written a pamphlet upon the problem of negro life in cities. Prof. Eugene Harris, formerly of Fisk University at Nashville, Tenn., is a prolific writer upon theological questions of the day. John E. Bruce, who is a contributor to the daily press in different cities, discusses ably the issues of the times. Prof. Kelly Miller of the chair of mathematics at Howard University in Washington is a writer upon the problem of the negro race. His idea is that the race should seek to advance along the line of least resistance. That is, if it is found that there is hostility to the exercise of the suffrage by the negro, he would advise his fellows to abstain from voting. But there are others who do not receive that doctrine with favor, but hold that the negro should insist upon his political rights as the quickest way to command the respect of the world and to reach his rightful position. Mrs. Rosa M. Bass, a graduate of Atlanta University, is a prolific writer of stories of child-life in the South. Her husband is the chief clerk in the postoffice at Atlanta, and has held his position during the recent race disturbances without any adverse demonstration.

Another prominent member of the race mentioned in this connection is Miss Jackson, an artist in Detroit, who is a writer on art subjects for magazines, and has a well-recognized standing in her profession. Prof. Scarboro of Wilberforce University, at Xenia, O., is the author of a volume on Greek roots and idioms. He has written many other things and edited some school-books. Mrs. Cooper, a teacher in Washington, is the author of several volumes of stories, and has also written on economic subjects, She is one of the most fruitful and popular of the writers of her race. John Stephens Durham has been United States Minister to Hayti, and is author of a striking article in the Atlantic Monthly of February, 1898, upon "Labor Unions and the Negro," showing how white labor combines against black, and how ability to work on the part of the black man does not carry nearly so good an opportunity as equal ability on the part of the white.

These names are given offhand in conversation, and, of course, cannot represent adequately what the negro race is doing in literature and science. But the fact that such excellent work as is produced by some of these negro authors has been given to the world in the course of comparatively a few years after emerging from slavery, is of the utmost consequence in the present tendency to deprive the negroes of their rights, especially in the South, and proves that the education which is said to be the cause of the race friction is raising up the blacks faster than the whites raised themselves centuries ago. Making due allowances for the imitative faculty, as distinguished from the originative, the negro race is held by its white friends here to-day to have abundantly proved its capacity, and it is not questioned that it will continue to make its way upward.