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A Defamer of His Race

By CHARLES W. CHESNUTT

[Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt, the writer of this review, speaks freely and forcibly of the man who has
defamed his race. Mr. Chesnutt, who is himself allied by blood to the negro race, is also a writer of wide
reputation. He knows his subject thoroughly and speaks not only with feeling, but with the facts at his
finger-ends.— Eus. CRITIC.]

THE first thought that strikes the gade Jew, in which all the worst slan
reader of this atrocious book* is, how ders against this oppressed people were
did a reputable publishing house ever gathered from the obscure and musty
permit itself to become parties to its folios of ancient libraries, and dished
publication ? The answer probably is up in a paper-covered volume for the
that the readers of the publishing house delectation of the nineteenth century.
knew nothing about the colored race It must have been a satisfaction to the
beyond what they read in the news chosen people to note that within a
papers, and therefore took it for granted year the author of the book was sent
that a colored man, who claimed to be to the penitentiary for forgery, and
a lawyer and ex-member of a legisla that a year or two later the publishing
ture, would know all about his own peo house failed disastrously. This may
ple. It seems never to have occurred have been a logical non sequitur, but it
to them that a man might be all that, was poetic justice. Mr. Thomas may
and yet be unworthy of credit, nor do continue to escape this fate, but if it
they seem to have inquired into the an be any satisfaction to him to know
tecedents of the author of a book the that he has not a single friend or well-
value of which must rest almost solely wisher among the whole eight or ten
upon the writer's character, for the millions of his own people, he may rest
book is almost wholly an expression of content that such is emphatically the
opinion, with no statistics to support case.
it, but based entirely upon the claimed So much for the man, if it be pos
knowledge and experience of the sible to separate the man from the
writer. That a reputable publishing book. The present reviewer once
house should have issued such a book wrote a story in which a negro was
against any other considerable class of transformed into a tree, and the tree
people without such preliminary inves sawed up into lumber, and built into a
tigation is incredible. house, which was ever afterwards
The present reviewer during a recent haunted by the spirit of the unfortu
extended tour of the Southern States, nate victim of an untoward fate. The
under circumstances which threw him parallel between Thomas and this tree-
mainly among the better class of the man is obvious. He has transformed
colored people, has taken pains to as himself into white paper and black ink
certain as far as possible the past record — he is a mulatto by blood — and has
of Mr. Thomas, and is obliged to say bound himself into a book. Neverthe
that he has not heard anywhere one less, it may be possible, by an effort,
good word concerning him. The to consider the book as a separate
writer has conversed with colored thing.
bishops, college professors, and others, In the first place, it is not a well-
men of substance and character, who written book. That it has a certain
have known this man during his varie amount of ability is beyond question ;
gated career, and they are all unani but it lacks consecutiveness. It would
mous in the statement that the book seem to have been compiled from a
faithfully represents the man. The scrap-book, into which the author had
only parallel example to this book was pasted for twenty years or more every
one written some years ago by a rene- newspaper clipping that he had seen
* " The American Negro." By anywhere to the discredit of the colored
The Macmillan Company.
William Hannibal Thomas.
$2.00. race. A peculiarity of the book which
35°
A Defamer of His Race 351

bears out this view is his employment to society may well be admitted ; but
of the word
" freedman," a term which that there are among them many good
is not now in common use as descrip men, faithful to their trust, earnestly
tive of the colored people, as it was striving to uplift their people, and with
twenty years ago. A full average encouraging results, is apparent to any
generation has elapsed since the aboli one who will take the trouble to inquire.
tion of slavery, and fully three fourths The greatest preacher of America did
of the colored people of the present not escape calumny, if he avoided sin.
day are free born, as a comparison of Human character is a compound of
their numbers now and at the close of good and evil. For aught we know,
the civil war will demonstrate. Mr. Judas Iscariot was a very good apostle
Thomas has great fluency of language before he betrayed his Master; we
— a fondness for big words is supposed know that Benedict Arnold was a gal
to be a trait of his race. A good com lant soldier who had served his country
mand of a large vocabulary is a valu well before he betrayed her. But here
able accomplishment, and, if it be a the parallel between these men and
race trait, one which may be judiciously this author fails, for what good thing
cultivated to the enrichment of litera Thomas had ever done for his people
ture; but it is painfully apparent here before he dealt them this traitorous
and there that Mr. Thomas's thought blow is not of record among the tradi
has been swept away by the current tions of his people, nor in the archives
of his own eloquence. One must some of the South Carolina Legislature of
times fish long in this turbid pool to which he claims to have been a valu
catch a minnow. able member. That membership in
The negro has suffered a great deal, that body should be set forward by a
in the public estimation, from loose writer and accepted by a publisher as
and hasty generalizations with refer a certificate of moral character, is the
ence to his intelligence, his morals, his most curious feature of this whole re
physical characteristics, and his social markable performance.
efficiency. But not the worst things Among the glimmerings of reason
said about him by his most radical de which here and there may be found in
tainers, all put together, could surpass this book, is the statement that the
in untruthfulness and malignity the colored people are deprived of social
screed which this alleged reformer has stimulus because the white people will
put forth under his publisher's imprint. not associate or intermarry with them.
The slanders against the womanhood Granted. But with what face could
of his race are so vile as to confute any one ask a race with any self-respect,
themselves by their mere statement. any pride of its past, any hope for its
There are several passages in the book, future, to consort with such moral and
reflecting on the morals of colored mental degenerates as Thomas has
youth, which ought to bar the volume sought in this book to make of his
from circulation in the United States own people ?

mails. They are false on the face of The strongest argument against the
them. No individual could possibly negro suggested by this book is the
know that they were true, and they existence of the book itself. As one
are utterly abhorrent to human nature of a race which has but just begun to
and human experience. To believe win a hearing in the forum of letters,
them, one must read the negro out of the author might have found a different
the human family. If they are the theme. If the book were truthful, it
fruit of this author's observation, one would be without excuse as coming
shudders to contemplate the depths from such a source. But being false,
of vice which he has fathomed. as the book essentially is, it is all the
His characterization of colored more worthy of condemnation. That
preachers is also unjust. That there a man of color should write such a book
are many such preachers who might be is almost enough to make out his case
otherwise employed with more profit against the negro.