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From the Negro Side

From the Negro Side.


A book which deserves the attention of thinking men and women over all this land is Charles W. Chesnutt's "The Marrow of Tradition." Mr. Chesnutt is a resident of Cleveland, who has negro blood in his veins. He has written three other books dealing with the life of the negro, but none of them approaches his latest in intensity of interest, dramatic treatment, or importance of subject. Some critics have likened it to "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a comparison warranted only by the fact that it deals with the white man's–the Southern white man's–cruelty and injustice to the black race. It is an "Uncle Tom's Cabin" under modern conditions–the conditions that have led to the cry of "no negro domination," to disfranchisement of the black man, to mob, murder and race riot. The week just passed has seen an example of these conditions in the killing of negro men, women and children in Washington Parish, La. From all accounts that was as wickedly planned a raid upon the negroes as that one which Mr. Chesnutt so vividly pictures in his book.

Northern readers who must be guided by Southern accounts of lynchings and allied outbreaks are compelled to the belief that Mr. Chesnutt has not exaggerated his picture of conditions which have brought about the awful events so frequently chronicled in the newspapers. He presents to view the bigot, narrow minded and honest, but bred in the old traditions of the South and only too willing to imbibe the precepts of the present. With him is a blatant demagogue, risen from the poor white trash, a convict-labor contractor, in whose mind is no justice, in whose breast is no pity. The third member of his trio is a politician who is seeking his own aims through whatever channel he can attain them. These three–Gen. Belmont, the politician, Capt. McBain, the demagogue, and Editor Carteret, the bigot–agree that the time has come when "white supremacy" must be established. Thus they map out their campaign:

"It seems," said Gen. Belmont opening the discussion, "as though we had undertaken more than we can carry through. It is clear that we must reckon on opposition, both at home and abroad, if we are to hope for success, we must extend the lines of our campaign. The North as well as our own people must be convinced that we have right upon our side. We are conscious of the purity of our motives, but we shall avoid even the appearance of evil."

McBain was tapping the floor impatiently with his foot during this harangue.

"I don't see the use," he interrupted, "of so much beating about the bush. We may as well be honest about this thing. We are going to put the niggers down because we want to, and think we can; so why waste our time in mere pretense? I'm no hypocrite myself–if I want a thing I take it, provided I'm strong enough."

"You see, captain," the general went on, looking McBain smilingly and unflinchingly in the eye, "we need white immigration, we need Northern capital. 'A good name is better than great riches' and we must prove our cause a righteous one."

The terrible harvest of this sort of plotting is reaped in Mr. Chesnutt's story as it is reaped in actuality throughout the South today. Events have proved that there has been just such plotting, that just such sentiments are common in our Southern States, that just such men have been permitted to control public thought and action. True there are men, as the author points out, who see no necessity for the movements that have resulted in taking the franchise from the negroes, who fail to see the justice[sic] of denying them protection of the law, who fear for what the truth will bring. But these are not always the men whom the South has permitted to lead it.

It is little wonder that the negroes resent this. They are human. It is little wonder that occasionally some of them fight instead of fleeing. Mr. Chesnutt lets one of his characters–an uneducated negro–thus state the black man's view of the situation:

"De niggers is b'n train' fer fergiveness, an' fer fear dey might fergit how ter fergive, de w'ite folks gives 'em somethin' new ev'y now an' den ter practice on. A w'ite man kin do w'at he wants ter a nigger, but de minute de nigger gits back at 'im, up goes de nigger, an' don't come down till somebody cuts 'im down. If a nigger gits a' office, er de race 'pears ter be prosperin' too much, de w'ite folks up an kill a few, so dat de res' kin keep on fergivin' an' bein' thankful dat dey're lef' alive.

The negro question is a problem that will not down. Justice demands its solution. Politics must be laid aside that right may not be throttled. Mr. Chesnutt has presented the negro's side of the case in a story of absorbing interest. That he has done so moderately and in a conservative spirit, without bitterness, makes his presentation all the stronger. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.)