The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 1995, Memorial Issue.

Part 3 out of 8

has an economic value, and at the same time gives the student a
chance to acquire knowledge and skill while performing the labor.
Most of all, we find the industrial system valuable in teaching
economy, thrift, and the dignity of labor, and in giving moral
backbone to students. The fact that a student goes out into the
world conscious of his power to build a house or a wagon, or to
make a harness, gives him a certain confidence and moral
independence that he would not possess without such training.

A more detailed example of our methods at Tuskegee may be of
interest. For example, we cultivate by student labor six hundred
and fifty acres of land. The object is not only to cultivate the
land in a way to make it pay our boarding department, but at the
same time to teach the students, in addition to the practical
work, something of the chemistry of the soil, the best methods of
drainage, dairying, the cultivation of fruit, the care of
livestock and tools, and scores of other lessons needed by a
people whose main dependence is on agriculture. Notwithstanding
that eighty-five per cent of the colored people in the South live
by agriculture in some form, aside from what has been done by
Hampton, Tuskegee, and one or two other institutions practically
nothing has been attempted in the direction of teaching them about
the very industry from which the masses of our people must get
their subsistence. Friends have recently provided means for the
erection of a large new chapel at Tuskegee. Our students have
made the bricks for this chapel. A large part of the timber is
sawed by students at our own sawmill, the plans are drawn by our
teacher of architecture and mechanical drawing, and students do
the brick-masonry, plastering, painting, carpentry work, tinning,
slating, and make most of the furniture. Practically, the whole
chapel will be built and furnished by student labor; in the end
the school will have the building for permanent use, and the
students will have a knowledge of the trades employed in its
construction. In this way all but three of the thirty buildings
on the grounds have been erected. While the young men do the
kinds of work I have mentioned, the young women to a large extent
make, mend, and launder the clothing of the young men, and thus
are taught important industries.

One of the objections sometimes urged against industrial education
for the negro is that it aims merely to teach him to work on the
same plan that he was made to follow when in slavery. This is far
from being the object at Tuskegee. At the head of each of the
twenty-five industrial departments we have an intelligent and
competent instructor, just as we have in our history classes, so
that the student is taught not only practical brick-masonry, for
example, but also the underlying principles of that industry, the
mathematics and the mechanical and architectural drawing. Or he
is taught how to become master of the forces of nature so that,
instead of cultivating corn in the old way, he can use a corn
cultivator, that lays off the furrows, drops the corn into them,
and covers it, and in this way he can do more work than three men
by the old process of corn-planting; at the same time much of the
toil is eliminated and labor is dignified. In a word, the
constant aim is to show the student how to put brains into every
process of labor; how to bring his knowledge of mathematics and
the sciences into farming, carpentry, forging, foundry work; how
to dispense as soon as possible with the old form of ante-bellum
labor. In the erection of the chapel just referred to, instead of
letting the money which was given us go into outside hands, we
make it accomplish three objects: first, it provides the chapel;
second, it gives the students a chance to get a practical
knowledge of the trades connected with building; and third, it
enables them to earn something toward the payment of board while
receiving academic and industrial training.

Having been fortified at Tuskegee by education of mind, skill of
hand, Christian character, ideas of thrift, economy, and push, and
a spirit of independence, the student is sent out to become a
centre of influence and light in showing the masses of our people
in the Black Belt of the South how to lift themselves up. How can
this be done? I give but one or two examples. Ten years ago a
young colored man came to the institute from one of the large
plantation districts; he studied in the class-room a portion of
the time, and received practical and theoretical training on the
farm the remainder of the time. Having finished his course at
Tuskegee, he returned to his plantation home, which was in a
county where the colored people outnumber the whites six to one,
as is true of many of the counties in the Black Belt of the South.
He found the negroes in debt. Ever since the war they had been
mortgaging their crops for the food on which to live while the
crops were growing. The majority of them were living from hand to
mouth on rented land, in small, one-room log cabins, and
attempting to pay a rate of interest on their advances that ranged
from fifteen to forty per cent per annum. The school had been
taught in a wreck of a log cabin, with no apparatus, and had never
been in session longer than three months out of twelve. With as
many as eight or ten persons of all ages and conditions and of
both sexes huddled together in one cabin year after year, and with
a minister whose only aim was to work upon the emotions of the
people, one can imagine something of the moral and religious state
of the community.

But the remedy. In spite of the evil, the negro got the habit of
work from slavery. The rank and file of the race, especially
those on the Southern plantations, work hard, but the trouble is,
what they earn gets away from them in high rents, crop mortgages,
whiskey, snuff, cheap jewelry, and the like. The young man just
referred to had been trained at Tuskegee, as most of our graduates
are, to meet just this condition of things. He took the three
months' public school as a nucleus for his work. Then he
organized the older people into a club, or conference, that held
meetings every week. In these meetings he taught the people in a
plain, simple manner how to save their money, how to farm in a
better way, how to sacrifice,--to live on bread and potatoes, if
need be, till they could get out of debt, and begin the buying of

Soon a large proportion of the people were in condition to make
contracts for the buying of homes (land is very cheap in the
South), and to live without mortgaging their crops. Not only
this: under the guidance and leadership of this teacher, the first
year that he was among them they learned how, by contributions in
money and labor, to build a neat, comfortable schoolhouse that
replaced the wreck of a log cabin formerly used. The following
year the weekly meetings were continued, and two months were added
to the original three months of school. The next year two more
months were added. The improvement has gone on, until now these
people have every year an eight months' school.

I wish my readers could have the chance that I have had of going
into this community. I wish they could look into the faces of the
people and see them beaming with hope and delight. I wish they
could see the two or three room cottages that have taken the place
of the usual one-room cabin, the well-cultivated farms, and the
religious life of the people that now means something more than
the name. The teacher has a good cottage and a well-kept farm
that serve as models. In a word, a complete revolution has been
wrought in the industrial, educational, and religious life of this
whole community by reason of the fact that they have had this
leader, this guide and object-lesson, to show them how to take the
money and effort that had hitherto been scattered to the wind in
mortgages and high rents, in whiskey and gewgaws, and concentrate
them in the direction of their own uplifting. One community on
its feet presents an object-lesson for the adjoining communities,
and soon improvements show themselves in other places.

Another student who received academic and industrial training at
Tuskegee established himself, three years ago, as a blacksmith and
wheelwright in a community, and, in addition to the influence of
his successful business enterprise, he is fast making the same
kind of changes in the life of the people about him that I have
just recounted. It would be easy for me to fill many pages
describing the influence of the Tuskegee graduates in every part
of the South. We keep it constantly in the minds of our students
and graduates that the industrial or material condition of the
masses of our people must be improved, as well as the
intellectual, before there can be any permanent change in their
moral and religious life. We find it a pretty hard thing to make
a good Christian of a hungry man. No matter how much our people
"get happy" and "shout" in church, if they go home at night from
church hungry, they are tempted to find something before morning.
This is a principle of human nature, and is not confined to the

The negro has within him immense power for self-uplifting, but for
years it will be necessary to guide and stimulate him. The
recognition of this power led us to organize, five years ago, what
is now known as the Tuskegee Negro Conference,--a gathering that
meets every February, and is composed of about eight hundred
representative colored men and women from all sections of the
Black Belt. They come in ox-carts, mule-carts, buggies, on
muleback and horseback, on foot, by railroad: some traveling all
night in order to be present. The matters considered at the
conferences are those that the colored people have it within their
own power to control: such as the evils of the mortgage system,
the one-room cabin, buying on credit, the importance of owning a
home and of putting money in the bank, how to build schoolhouses
and prolong the school term, and how to improve their moral and
religious condition.

As a single example of the results, one delegate reported that
since the conferences were started five years ago eleven people in
his neighborhood had bought homes, fourteen had got out of debt,
and a number had stopped mortgaging their crops. Moreover, a
schoolhouse had been built by the people themselves, and the
school term had been extended from three to six months; and with a
look of triumph he exclaimed, "We is done stopped libin' in de

Besides this Negro Conference for the masses of the people, we now
have a gathering at the same time known as the Workers'
Conference, composed of the officers and instructors in the
leading colored schools of the South. After listening to the
story of the conditions and needs from the people themselves, the
Workers' Conference finds much food for thought and discussion.

Nothing else so soon brings about right relations between the two
races in the South as the industrial progress of the negro.
Friction between the races will pass away in proportion as the
black man, by reason of his skill, intelligence, and character,
can produce something that the white man wants or respects in the
commercial world. This is another reason why at Tuskegee we push
the industrial training. We find that as every year we put into a
Southern community colored men who can start a brick-yard, a
sawmill, a tin-shop, or a printing-office,--men who produce
something that makes the white man partly dependent upon the
negro, instead of all the dependence being on the other side,--a
change takes place in the relations of the races.

Let us go on for a few more years knitting our business and
industrial relations into those of the white man, till a black man
gets a mortgage on a white man's house that he can foreclose at
will. The white man on whose house the mortgage rests will not
try to prevent that negro from voting when he goes to the polls.
It is through the dairy farm, the truck garden, the trades, and
commercial life, largely, that the negro is to find his way to the
enjoyment of all his rights. Whether he will or not, a white man
respects a negro who owns a two-story brick house.

What is the permanent value of the Tuskegee system of training to
the South in a broader sense? In connection with this, it is well
to bear in mind that slavery taught the white man that labor with
the hands was something fit for the negro only, and something for
the white man to come into contact with just as little as
possible. It is true that there was a large class of poor white
people who labored with the hands, but they did it because they
were not able to secure negroes to work for them; and these poor
whites were constantly trying to imitate the slave-holding class
in escaping labor, and they too regarded it as anything but
elevating. The negro in turn looked down upon the poor whites
with a certain contempt because they had to work. The negro, it
is to be borne in mind, worked under constant protest, because he
felt that his labor was being unjustly required, and he spent
almost as much effort in planning how to escape work as in
learning how to work. Labor with him was a badge of degradation.
The white man was held up before him as the highest type of
civilization, but the negro noted that this highest type of
civilization himself did no labor; hence he argued that the less
work he did, the more nearly he would be like a white man. Then,
in addition to these influences, the slave system discouraged
labor-saving machinery. To use labor-saving machinery
intelligence was required, and intelligence and slavery were not
on friendly terms; hence the negro always associated labor with
toil, drudgery, something to be escaped. When the negro first
became free, his idea of education was that it was something that
would soon put him in the same position as regards work that his
recent master had occupied. Out of these conditions grew the
Southern habit of putting off till to-morrow and the day after the
duty that should be done promptly to-day. The leaky house was not
repaired while the sun shone, for then the rain did not come
through. While the rain was falling, no one cared to expose
himself to stop the leak. The plough, on the same principle, was
left where the last furrow was run, to rot and rust in the field
during the winter. There was no need to repair the wooden chimney
that was exposed to the fire, because water could be thrown on it
when it was on fire. There was no need to trouble about the
payment of a debt to-day, for it could just as well be paid next
week or next year. Besides these conditions, the whole South, at
the close of the war, was without proper food, clothing, and
shelter,--was in need of habits of thrift and economy and of
something laid up for a rainy day.

To me it seemed perfectly plain that here was a condition of
things that could not be met by the ordinary process of education.
At Tuskegee we became convinced that the thing to do was to make a
careful systematic study of the condition and needs of the South,
especially the Black Belt, and to bend our efforts in the
direction of meeting these needs, whether we were following a
well-beaten track, or were hewing out a new path to meet
conditions probably without a parallel in the world. After
fourteen years of experience and observation, what is the result?
Gradually but surely, we find that all through the South the
disposition to look upon labor as a disgrace is on the wane, and
the parents who themselves sought to escape work are so anxious to
give their children training in intelligent labor that every
institution which gives training in the handicrafts is crowded,
and many (among them Tuskegee) have to refuse admission to
hundreds of applicants. The influence of the Tuskegee system is
shown again by the fact that almost every little school at the
remotest cross-roads is anxious to be known as an industrial
school, or, as some of the colored people call it, an "industrus"

The social lines that were once sharply drawn between those who
labored with the hand and those who did not are disappearing.
Those who formerly sought to escape labor, now when they see that
brains and skill rob labor of the toil and drudgery once
associated with it, instead of trying to avoid it are willing to
pay to be taught how to engage in it. The South is beginning to
see labor raised up, dignified and beautified, and in this sees
its salvation. In proportion as the love of labor grows, the
large idle class which has long been one of the curses of the
South disappears. As its members become absorbed in occupations,
they have less time to attend to everybody else's business, and
more time for their own.

The South is still an undeveloped and unsettled country, and for
the next half century and more the greater part of the energy of
the masses will be needed to develop its material opportunities.
Any force that brings the rank and file of the people to a greater
love of industry is therefore especially valuable. This result
industrial education is surely bringing about. It stimulates
production and increases trade,--trade between the races,--and in
this new and engrossing relation both forget the past. The white
man respects the vote of the colored man who does $10,000 worth of
business, and the more business the colored man has, the more
careful he is how he votes.

Immediately after the war, there was a large class of Southern
people who feared that the opening of the free schools to the
freedmen and the poor whites--the education of the head alone--
would result merely in increasing the class who sought to escape
labor, and that the South would soon be overrun by the idle and
vicious. But as the results of industrial combined with academic
training begin to show themselves in hundreds of communities that
have been lifted up through the medium of the Tuskegee system,
these former prejudices against education are being removed. Many
of those who a few years ago opposed general education are now
among its warmest advocates.

This industrial training, emphasizing as it does the idea of
economic production, is gradually bringing the South to the point
where it is feeding itself. Before the war, and long after it,
the South made what little profit was received from the cotton
crop, and sent its earnings out of the South to purchase food
supplies,--meat, bread, canned vegetables, and the like; but the
improved methods of agriculture are fast changing this habit.
With the newer methods of labor, which teach promptness and
system, and emphasize the worth of the beautiful,--the moral value
of the well-painted house, and the fence with every paling and
nail in its place,--we are bringing to bear upon the South an
influence that is making it a new country in industry, education,
and religion.

by Charles Dudley Warner

On the 29th of June, 1852, Henry Clay died. In that month the two
great political parties, in their national conventions, had
accepted as a finality all the compromise measures of 1850, and
the last hours of the Kentucky statesman were brightened by the
thought that his efforts had secured the perpetuity of the Union.

But on the 20th of March, 1852, there had been an event, the
significance of which was not taken into account by the political
conventions or by Clay, which was to test the conscience of the
nation. This was the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Was this
only an "event," the advent of a new force in politics; was the
book merely an abolition pamphlet, or was it a novel, one of the
few great masterpieces of fiction that the world has produced?
After the lapse of forty-four years and the disappearance of
African slavery on this continent, it is perhaps possible to
consider this question dispassionately.

The compromise of 1850 satisfied neither the North nor the South.
The admission of California as a free State was regarded by
Calhoun as fatal to the balance between the free and the slave
States, and thereafter a fierce agitation sprang up for the
recovery of this loss of balance, and ultimately for Southern
preponderance, which resulted in the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska war, and the civil war. The
fugitive slave law was hateful to the North not only because it
was cruel and degrading, but because it was seen to be a move
formed for nationalizing slavery. It was unsatisfactory to the
South because it was deemed inadequate in its provisions, and
because the South did not believe the North would execute it in
good faith. So unstable did the compromise seem that in less than
a year after the passage of all its measures, Henry Clay and
forty-four Senators and Representatives united in a manifesto
declaring that they would support no man for office who was not
known to be opposed to any disturbance of the settlements of the
compromise. When, in February, 1851, the recaptured fugitive
slave, Burns, was rescued from the United States officers in
Boston, Clay urged the investment of the President with
extraordinary power to enforce the law.

Henry Clay was a patriot, a typical American. The republic and
its preservation were the passions of his life. Like Lincoln, who
was born in the State of his adoption, he was willing to make
almost any sacrifice for the maintenance of the Union. He had no
sympathy with the system of slavery. There is no doubt that he
would have been happy in the belief that it was in the way of
gradual and peaceful extinction. With him, it was always the
Union before state rights and before slavery. Unlike Lincoln, he
had not the clear vision to see that the republic could not endure
half slave and half free. He believed that the South, appealing
to the compromises of the Constitution, would sacrifice the Union
before it would give up slavery, and in fear of this menace he
begged the North to conquer its prejudices. We are not liable to
overrate his influence as a compromising pacificator from 1832 to
1852. History will no doubt say that it was largely due to him
that the war on the Union was postponed to a date when its success
was impossible.

It was the fugitive slave law that brought the North face to face
with slavery nationalized, and it was the fugitive slave law that
produced Uncle Tom's Cabin. The effect of this story was
immediate and electric. It went straight to the hearts of tens of
thousands of people who had never before considered slavery except
as a political institution for which they had no personal
responsibility. What was this book, and how did it happen to
produce such an effect? It is true that it struck into a time of
great irritation and agitation, but in one sense there was nothing
new in it. The facts had all been published. For twenty years
abolition tracts, pamphlets, newspapers, and books had left little
to be revealed, to those who cared to read, as to the nature of
slavery or its economic aspects. The evidence was practically all
in,--supplied largely by the advertisements of Southern newspapers
and by the legislation of the slaveholding States,--but it did not
carry conviction; that is, the sort of conviction that results in
action. The subject had to be carried home to the conscience.
Pamphleteering, convention-holding, sermons, had failed to do
this. Even the degrading requirements of the fugitive slave law,
which brought shame and humiliation, had not sufficed to fuse the
public conscience, emphasize the necessity of obedience to the
moral law, and compel recognition of the responsibility of the
North for slavery. Evidence had not done this, passionate appeals
had not done it, vituperation had not done it. What sort of
presentation of the case would gain the public ear and go to the
heart? If Mrs. Stowe, in all her fervor, had put forth first the
facts in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which so buttressed her
romance, the book would have had no more effect than had followed
the like compilations and arraignments. What was needed? If we
can discover this, we shall have the secret of this epoch-making

The story of this book has often been told. It is in the nature
of a dramatic incident of which the reader never tires any more
than the son of Massachusetts does of the minutest details of that
famous scene in the Senate Chamber when Webster replied to Hayne.

At the age of twenty-four the author was married and went to live
in Cincinnati, where her husband held a chair in the Lane
Theological Seminary. There for the first time she was brought
into relations with the African race and saw the effects of
slavery. She visited slaveholders in Kentucky and had friends
among them. In some homes she saw the "patriarchal" institution
at its best. The Beecher family were anti-slavery, but they had
not been identified with the abolitionists, except perhaps Edward,
who was associated with the murdered Lovejoy. It was long a
reproach brought by the abolitionists against Henry Ward Beecher
that he held entirely aloof from their movement. At Cincinnati,
however, the personal aspects of the case were brought home to
Mrs. Stowe. She learned the capacities and peculiarities of the
negro race. They were her servants; she taught some of them;
hunted fugitives applied to her; she ransomed some by her own
efforts; every day there came to her knowledge stories of the
hunger for freedom, of the ruthless separation of man and wife and
mother and child, and of the heroic sufferings of those who ran
away from the fearful doom of those "sold down South." These
things crowded upon her mind and awoke her deepest compassion.
But what could she do against all the laws, the political and
commercial interests, the great public apathy? Relieve a case
here and there, yes. But to dwell upon the gigantic evil, with no
means of making head against it, was to invite insanity.

As late as 1850, when Professor Stowe was called to Bowdoin
College, and the family removed to Brunswick, Maine, Mrs. Stowe
had not felt impelled to the duty she afterwards undertook. "In
fact, it was a sort of general impression upon her mind, as upon
that of many humane people in those days, that the subject was so
dark and painful a one, so involved in difficulty and obscurity,
so utterly beyond human hope or help, that it was of no use to
read, or think, or distress one's self about it." But when she
reached New England the excitement over the fugitive slave law was
at its height. There was a panic in Boston among the colored
people settled there, who were daily fleeing to Canada. Every
mail brought her pitiful letters from Boston, from Illinois, and
elsewhere, of the terror and despair caused by the law. Still
more was the impressed by the apathy of the Christian world at the
North, and surely, she said, the people did not understand what
the "system" was. Appeals were made to her, who had some personal
knowledge of the subject, to take up her pen. The task seemed
beyond her in every way. She was not strong, she was in the midst
of heavy domestic cares, with a young infant, with pupils to whom
she was giving daily lessons, and the limited income of the family
required the strictest economy. The dependence was upon the small
salary of Professor Stowe, and the few dollars she could earn by
an occasional newspaper or magazine article. But the theme burned
in her mind, and finally took this shape: at least she would write
some sketches and show the Christian world what slavery really
was, and what the system was that they were defending. She wanted
to do this with entire fairness, showing all the mitigations of
the "patriarchal" system, and all that individuals concerned in it
could do to alleviate its misery. While pondering this she came
by chance, in a volume of an anti-slavery magazine, upon the
authenticated account of the escape of a woman with her child on
the ice across the Ohio River from Kentucky. She began to
meditate. The faithful slave husband in Kentucky, who had refused
to escape from a master who trusted him, when he was about to be
sold "down river," came to her as a pattern of Uncle Tom, and the
scenes of the story began to form themselves in her mind. "The
first part of the book ever committed to writing [this is the
statement of Mrs. Stowe] was the death of Uncle Tom. This scene
presented itself almost as a tangible vision to her mind while
sitting at the communion-table in the little church in Brunswick.
She was perfectly overcome by it, and could scarcely restrain the
convulsion of tears and sobbings that shook her frame. She
hastened home and wrote it, and her husband being away, read it to
her two sons of ten and twelve years of age. The little fellows
broke out into convulsions of weeping, one of them saying through
his sobs, 'Oh, mamma, slavery is the most cursed thing in the
world!' From that time the story can less be said to have been
composed by her than imposed upon her. Scenes, incidents,
conversations rushed upon her with a vividness and importunity
that would not be denied. The book insisted upon getting itself
into being, and would take no denial."

When two or three chapters were written she wrote to her friend,
Dr. Bailey, of Washington, the editor of The National Era, to
which she had contributed, that she was planning a story that
might run through several numbers of the Era. The story was at
once applied for, and thereafter weekly installments were sent on
regularly, in spite of all cares and distractions. The
installments were mostly written during the morning, on a little
desk in a corner of the dining-room of the cottage in Brunswick,
subject to all the interruptions of house-keeping, her children
bursting into the room continually with the importunity of
childhood. But they did not break the spell or destroy her
abstraction. With a smile and a word and a motion of the hand she
would wave them off, and keep on in her magician's work. Long
afterwards they recalled this, dimly understood at the time, and
wondered at her power of concentration. Usually at night the
chapters were read to the family, who followed the story with
intense feeling. The narrative ran on for nine months, exciting
great interest among the limited readers of the Era, and gaining
sympathetic words from the anti-slavery people, but without making
any wide impression on the public.

We may pause here in the narrative to note two things: the story
was not the work of a novice, and it was written out of abundant
experience and from an immense mass of accumulated thought and
material. Mrs. Stowe was in her fortieth year. She had been
using her pen since she was twelve years old, in extensive
correspondence, in occasional essays, in short stories and
sketches, some of which appeared in a volume called The Mayflower,
published in 1843, and for many years her writing for newspapers
and periodicals had added appreciably to the small family income.
She was in the maturity of her intellectual powers, she was
trained in the art of writing, and she had, as Walter Scott had
when he began the Waverley Novels at the age of forty-three,
abundant store of materials on which to draw. To be sure, she was
on fire with a moral purpose, but she had the dramatic instinct,
and she felt that her object would not be reached by writing an
abolition tract.

"In shaping her material the author had but one purpose, to show
the institution of slavery truly, just as it existed. She had
visited in Kentucky; had formed the acquaintance of people who
were just, upright, and generous, and yet slave-holders. She had
heard their views, and appreciated their situation; she felt that
justice required that their difficulties should be recognized and
their virtues acknowledged. It was her object to show that the
evils of slavery were the inherent evils of a bad system, and not
always the fault of those who had become involved in it and were
its actual administrators. Then she was convinced that the
presentation of slavery alone, in its most dreadful forms, would
be a picture of such unrelieved horror and darkness as nobody
could be induced to look at. Of set purpose, she sought to light
up the darkness by humorous and grotesque episodes, and the
presentation of the milder and more amusing phases of slavery, for
which her recollection of the never-failing wit and drollery of
her former colored friends in Ohio gave her abundant material."

This is her own account of the process, years after. But it is
evident that, whether consciously or unconsciously, she did but
follow the inevitable law of all great dramatic creators and true
story-tellers since literature began.

For this story Mrs. Stowe received from the Era the sum of three
hundred dollars. Before it was finished it attracted the
attention of Mr. J. P. Jewett, of Boston, a young and then unknown
publisher, who offered to issue it in book form. His offer was
accepted, but as the tale ran on he became alarmed at its length,
and wrote to the author that she was making the story too long for
a one-volume novel; that the subject was unpopular; that people
would not willingly hear much about it; that one short volume
might possibly sell, but that if it grew to two that might prove a
fatal obstacle to its success. Mrs. Stowe replied that she did
not make the story, that the story made itself, and that she could
not stop it till it was done. The publisher hesitated. It is
said that a competent literary critic to whom he submitted it sat
up all night with the novel, and then reported, "The story has
life in it; it will sell." Mr. Jewett proposed to Professor Stowe
to publish it on half profits if he would share the expenses.
This offer was declined, for the Stowes had no money to advance,
and the common royalty of ten per cent on the sales was accepted.

Mrs. Stowe was not interested in this business transaction. She
was thinking only of having the book circulated for the effect she
had at heart. The intense absorption in the story held her until
the virtual end in the death of Uncle Tom, and then it seemed as
if the whole vital force had left her. She sank into a profound
discouragement. Would this appeal, which she had written with her
heart's blood, go for nothing, as all the prayers and tears and
strivings had already gone? When the last proof sheets left her
hands, "it seemed to her that there was no hope; that nobody would
read, nobody would pity; that this frightful system, which had
already pursued its victims into the free States, might at last
even threaten them in Canada." Resolved to leave nothing undone
to attract attention to her cause, she wrote letters and ordered
copies of her novel sent to men of prominence who had been known
for their anti-slavery sympathies,--to Prince Albert, Macaulay,
Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, and Lord Carlisle. Then she
waited for the result.

She had not long to wait. The success of the book was immediate.
Three thousand copies were sold the first day, within a few days
ten thousand copies had gone, on the 1st of April a second edition
went to press, and thereafter eight presses running day and night
were barely able to keep pace with the demand for it. Within a
year three hundred thousand copies were sold. No work of fiction
ever spread more quickly throughout the reading community or
awakened a greater amount of public feeling. It was read by
everybody, learned and unlearned, high and low, for it was an
appeal to universal human sympathy, and the kindling of this
spread the book like wildfire. At first it seemed to go by
acclamation. But this was not altogether owing to sympathy with
the theme. I believe that it was its power as a novel that
carried it largely. The community was generally apathetic when it
was not hostile to any real effort to be rid of slavery. This
presently appeared. At first there were few dissenting voices
from the chorus of praise. But when the effect of the book began
to be evident it met with an opposition fiercer and more personal
than the great wave of affectionate thankfulness which greeted it
at first. The South and the defenders and apologists of slavery
everywhere were up in arms. It was denounced in pulpit and in
press, and some of the severest things were said of it at the
North. The leading religious newspaper of the country, published
in New York, declared that it was "anti-Christian."

Mrs. Stowe was twice astonished: first by its extraordinary sale,
and second by the quarter from which the assault on it came. She
herself says that her expectations were strikingly different from
the facts. "She had painted slaveholders as amiable, generous,
and just. She had shown examples among them of the noblest and
most beautiful traits of character; had admitted fully their
temptations, their perplexities, and their difficulties, so that a
friend of hers who had many relatives in the South wrote to her:
'Your book is going to be the great pacificator; it will unite
both North and South.' Her expectation was that the professed
abolitionists would denounce it as altogether too mild in its
dealings with slaveholders. To her astonishment, it was the
extreme abolitionists who received, and the entire South who rose
up against it."

There is something almost amusing in Mrs. Stowe's honest
expectation that the deadliest blow the system ever suffered
should have been received thankfully by those whose traditions,
education, and interests were all bound up in it. And yet from
her point of view it was not altogether unreasonable. Her
blackest villain and most loathsome agent of the system, Legree,
was a native of Vermont. All her wrath falls upon the slave-
traders, the auctioneers, the public whippers, and the overseers,
and all these persons and classes were detested by the Southerners
to the point of loathing, and were social outcasts. The slave-
traders and the overseers were tolerated as perhaps necessary in
the system, but they were never admitted into respectable society.
This feeling Mrs. Stowe regarded as a condemnation of the system.

Pecuniary reward was the last thing that Mrs. Stowe expected for
her disinterested labor, but it suits the world's notion of the
fitness of things that this was not altogether wanting. For the
millions of copies of Uncle Tom scattered over the world the
author could expect nothing, but in her own country her copyright
yielded her a moderate return that lifted her out of poverty and
enabled her to pursue her philanthropic and literary career. Four
months after the publication of the book Professor Stowe was in
the publisher's office, and Mr. Jewett asked him how much he
expected to receive. "I hope," said Professor Stowe, with a
whimsical smile, "that it will be enough to buy my wife a silk
dress." The publisher handed him a check for ten thousand

Before Mrs. Stowe had a response to the letters accompanying the
books privately sent to England, the novel was getting known
there. Its career in Great Britain paralleled its success in
America. In April a copy reached London in the hands of a
gentleman who had taken it on the steamer to read. He gave it to
Mr. Henry Vizetelly, who submitted it to Mr. David Bogue, a man
known for his shrewdness and enterprise. He took a night to
consider it, and then declined it, although it was offered to him
for five pounds. A Mr. Gilpin also declined it. It was then
submitted to Mr. Salisbury, a printer. This taster for the public
sat up with the book till four o'clock in the morning, alternately
weeping and laughing. Fearing, however, that this result was due
to his own weakness, he woke up his wife, whom he describes as a
rather strong-minded woman, and finding that the story kept her
awake and made her also laugh and cry, he thought it might safely
be printed. It seems, therefore, that Mr. Vizetelly ventured to
risk five pounds, and the volume was brought out through the
nominal agency of Clarke & Company. In the first week an edition
of seven thousand was worked off. It made no great stir until the
middle of June, but during July it sold at the rate of one
thousand a week. By the 20th of August the demand for it was
overwhelming. The printing firm was then employing four hundred
people in getting it out, and seventeen printing-machines, besides
hand-presses. Already one hundred and fifty thousand copies were
sold. Mr. Vizetelly disposed of his interest, and a new printing
firm began to issue monster editions. About this time the
publishers awoke to the fact that any one was at liberty to
reprint the book, and the era of cheap literature was initiated,
founded on American reprints which cost the publisher no royalty.
A shilling edition followed the one-and-sixpence, and then one
complete for sixpence. As to the total sale, Mr. Sampson Low
reports: "From April to December, 1852, twelve different editions
(not reissues) were published, and within the twelve months of its
first appearance eighteen different London publishing houses were
engaged in supplying the great demand that had set in, the total
number of editions being forty, varying from fine illustrated
editions at 15s., 10s., and 7s. 6d. to the cheap popular editions
of 1s. 9d. and 6d. After carefully analyzing these editions and
weighing probabilities with ascertained facts, I am able pretty
confidently to say that the aggregate number of copies circulated
in Great Britain and the colonies exceeds one and a half
millions." Later, abridgments were published.

Almost simultaneously with this furor in England the book made its
way on the Continent. Several translations appeared in Germany
and France, and for the authorized French edition Mrs. Stowe wrote
a new preface, which served thereafter for most of the European
editions. I find no record of the order of the translations of
the book into foreign languages, but those into some of the
Oriental tongues did not appear till several years after the great
excitement. The ascertained translations are into twenty-three
tongues, namely: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch,
Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Hungarian, Illyrian, Italian,
Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, modern Greek, Russian, Servian,
Siamese, Spanish, Swedish, Wallachian, and Welsh. Into some of
these languages several translations were made. In 1878 the
British Museum contained thirty-five editions of the original
text, and eight editions of abridgments or adaptations.

The story was dramatized in the United States in August, 1852,
without the consent or knowledge of the author, and was played
most successfully in the leading cities, and subsequently was
acted in every capital in Europe. Mrs. Stowe had neglected to
secure the dramatic rights, and she derived no benefit from the
great popularity of a drama which still holds the stage. From the
phenomenal sale of a book which was literally read by the whole
world, the author received only the ten per cent on the American
editions, and by the laws of her own country her copyright expired
before her death.

The narrative of the rise and fortunes of this book would be
incomplete without some reference to the response that the author
received from England and the Continent, and of her triumphant
progress through the British Isles. Her letters accompanying the
special copies were almost immediately replied to, generally in
terms of enthusiastic and fervent thankfulness for the book, and
before midsummer her mail contained letters from all classes of
English society. In some of them appeared a curious evidence of
the English sensitiveness to criticism. Lord Carlisle and Sir
Arthur Helps supplemented their admiration by a protest against
the remark in the mouth of one of the characters that "slaves are
better off than a large class of the population of England." This
occurred in the defense of the institution by St. Clare, but it
was treated by the British correspondents as the opinion of Mrs.
Stowe. The charge was disposed of in Mrs. Stowe's reply: "The
remark on that subject occurs in the dramatic part of the book, in
the mouth of an intelligent Southerner. As a fair-minded person,
bound to state for both sides all that could be said, in the
person of St. Clare, the best that could be said on that point,
and what I know IS in fact constantly reiterated, namely, that the
laboring class of the South are in many respects, as to physical
comfort, in a better condition than the poor in England. This is
the slaveholder's stereo-typed apology; a defense it cannot be,
unless two wrongs make one right."

In April, 1853, Mr. and Mrs. Stowe and the latter's brother,
Charles Beecher, sailed for Europe. Her reception there was like
a royal progress. She was met everywhere by deputations and
addresses, and the enthusiasm her presence called forth was
thoroughly democratic, extending from the highest in rank to the
lowest. At Edinburgh there was presented to her a national penny
offering, consisting of a thousand golden sovereigns on a
magnificent silver salver, an unsolicited contribution in small
sums by the people.

At a reception in Stafford House, London, the Duchess of
Sutherland presented her with a massive gold bracelet, which has
an interesting history. It is made of ten oval links in imitation
of slave fetters. On two of the links were the inscriptions
"March 25, 1807," the date of the abolition of the slave-trade,
and "August 1, 1838," the date of the abolition of slavery in all
British territory. The third inscription is "562,848--March 19,
1853," the date of the address of the women of England to the
women of America on slavery, and the number of the women who
signed. It was Mrs. Stowe's privilege to add to these
inscriptions the following: "Emancipation D. C. Apl. 16, '62;"
"President's Proclamation Jan. 1, '63;" "Maryland free Oct. 13,
'64;" "Missouri free Jan. 11, '65;" and on the clasp link,
"Constitution amended by Congress Jan. 31, '65. Constitutional
Amendment ratified." Two of the links are vacant. What will the
progress of civilization in America offer for the links nine and

One of the most remarkable documents which resulted from Uncle Tom
was an address from the women of England to the women of America,
acknowledging the complicity in slavery of England, but praying
aid in removing from the world "our common crimes and common
dishonor," which was presented to Mrs. Stowe in 1853. It was the
result of a meeting at Stafford House, and the address, composed
by Lord Shaftesbury, was put into the hands of canvassers in
England and on the Continent, and as far as Jerusalem. The
signatures of 562,848 women were obtained, with their occupations
and residences, from the nobility on the steps of the throne down
to maids in the kitchen. The address is handsomely engrossed on
vellum. The names are contained in twenty-six massive volumes,
each fourteen inches high by nine in breadth and three inches
thick, inclosed in an oak case. It is believed that this is the
most numerously signed address in existence. The value of the
address, with so many names collected in haphazard fashion, was
much questioned, but its use was apparent in the height of the
civil war, when Mrs. Stowe replied to it in one of the most
vigorous and noble appeals that ever came from her pen. This
powerful reply made a profound impression in England.

This is in brief the story of the book. It is still read, and
read the world over, with tears and with laughter; it is still
played to excited audiences. Is it a great novel, or was it only
an event of an era of agitation and passion? Has it the real
dramatic quality--the poet's visualizing of human life--that makes
works of fiction, of imagination, live? Till recently, I had not
read the book since 1852. I feared to renew acquaintance with it
lest I should find only the shell of an exploded cartridge. I
took it up at the beginning of a three-hours' railway journey. To
my surprise the journey did not seem to last half an hour, and
half the time I could not keep back the tears from my eyes. A
London critic, full of sympathy with Mrs. Stowe and her work,
recently said, "Yet she was not an artist, she was not a great
woman." What is greatness? What is art? In 1862 probably no one
who knew General Grant would have called him a great man. But he
took Vicksburg. This woman did something with her pen,--on the
whole, the most remarkable and effective book in her generation.
How did she do it? Without art? George Sand said, "In matters of
art there is but one rule, to paint and to move. And where shall
we find conditions more complete, types more vivid, situations
more touching, more original, than in Uncle Tom?" If there is not
room in our art for such a book, I think we shall have to stretch
our art a little. "Women, too, are here judged and painted with a
master hand." This subtle critic, in her overpoweringly tender
and enthusiastic review, had already inquired about the capacity
of this writer. "Mrs. Stowe is all instinct; it is the very
reason that she appears to some not to have talent. Has she not
talent? What is talent? Nothing, doubtless, compared to genius;
but has she genius? I cannot say that she has talent as one
understands it in the world of letters, but she has genius as
humanity feels the need of genius,--the genius of goodness, not
that of the man of letters, but of the saint." It is admitted
that Mrs. Stowe was not a woman of letters in the common
acceptation of that term, and it is plain that in the French
tribunal, where form is of the substance of the achievement, and
which reluctantly overlooked the crudeness of Walter Scott, in
France where the best English novel seems a violation of
established canons, Uncle Tom would seem to belong where some
modern critics place it, with works of the heart, and not of the
head. The reviewer is, however, candid: "For a long time we have
striven in France against the prolix explanations of Walter Scott.
We have cried out against those of Balzac, but on consideration
have perceived that the painter of manners and character has never
done too much, that every stroke of the pencil was needed for the
general effect. Let us learn then to appreciate all kinds of
treatment, where the effect is good, and where they bear the seal
of a master hand."

It must be admitted to the art critic that the book is defective
according to the rules of the modern French romance; that Mrs.
Stowe was possessed by her subject, and let her fervid interest in
it be felt; that she had a definite purpose. That purpose was to
quicken the sense of responsibility of the North by showing the
real character of slavery, and to touch the South by showing that
the inevitable wrong of it lay in the system rather than in those
involved in it. Abundant material was in her hands, and the
author burned to make it serviceable. What should she do? She
might have done what she did afterwards in The Key, presented to
the public a mass of statistics, of legal documents. The evidence
would have been unanswerable, but the jury might not have been
moved by it; they would have balanced it by considerations of
political and commercial expediency. I presume that Mrs. Stowe
made no calculation of this kind. She felt her course, and went
on in it. What would an artist have done, animated by her purpose
and with her material? He would have done what Cervantes did,
what Tourgenieff did, what Mrs. Stowe did. He would have
dramatized his facts in living personalities, in effective scenes,
in vivid pictures of life. Mrs. Stowe exhibited the system of
slavery by a succession of dramatized pictures, not always
artistically welded together, but always effective as an
exhibition of the system. Cervantes also showed a fading feudal
romantic condition by a series of amusing and pathetic adventures,
grouped rather loosely about a singularly fascinating figure.

Tourgenieff, a more consummate artist, in his hunting scenes
exhibited the effect of serfdom upon society, in a series of
scenes with no necessary central figure, without comment, and with
absolute concealment of any motive. I believe the three writers
followed their instincts, without an analytic argument as to the
method, as the great painter follows his when he puts an idea upon
canvas. He may invent a theory about it afterwards; if he does
not, some one else will invent it for him. There are degrees of
art. One painter will put in unnecessary accessories, another
will exhibit his sympathy too openly, the technique or the
composition of another can be criticised. But the question is, is
the picture great and effective?

Mrs. Stowe had not Tourgenieff's artistic calmness. Her mind was
fused into a white heat with her message. Yet, how did she begin
her story? Like an artist, by a highly dramatized scene, in which
the actors, by a few strokes of the pen, appear as distinct and
unmistakable personalities, marked by individual peculiarities of
manner, speech, motive, character, living persons in natural
attitudes. The reader becomes interested in a shrewd study of
human nature, of a section of life, with its various refinement,
coarseness, fastidiousness and vulgarity, its humor and pathos.
As he goes on he discovers that every character has been perfectly
visualized, accurately limned from the first; that a type has been
created which remains consistent, which is never deflected from
its integrity by any exigencies of plot. This clear conception of
character (not of earmarks and peculiarities adopted as labels),
and faithful adhesion to it in all vicissitudes, is one of the
rarest and highest attributes of genius. All the chief characters
in the book follow this line of absolutely consistent development,
from Uncle Tom and Legree down to the most aggravating and
contemptible of all, Marie St. Clare. The selfish and hysterical
woman has never been so faithfully depicted by any other author.

Distinguished as the novel is by its character-drawing and its
pathos, I doubt if it would have captivated the world without its
humor. This is of the old-fashioned kind, the large humor of
Scott, and again of Cervantes, not verbal pleasantry, not the
felicities of Lamb, but the humor of character in action, of
situations elaborated with great freedom, and with what may be
called a hilarious conception. This quality is never wanting in
the book, either for the reader's entertainment by the way, or to
heighten the pathos of the narrative by contrast. The
introduction of Topsy into the New Orleans household saves us in
the dangerous approach to melodrama in the religious passages
between Tom and St. Clare. Considering the opportunities of the
subject, the book has very little melodrama; one is apt to hear
low music on the entrance of little Eva, but we are convinced of
the wholesome sanity of the sweet child. And it is to be remarked
that some of the most exciting episodes, such as that of Eliza
crossing the Ohio River on the floating ice (of which Mr. Ruskin
did not approve), are based upon authentic occurrences. The want
of unity in construction of which the critics complain is
partially explained by the necessity of exhibiting the effect of
slavery in its entirety. The parallel plots, one running to
Louisiana and the other to Canada, are tied together by this
consideration, and not by any real necessity to each other.

There is no doubt that Mrs. Stowe was wholly possessed by her
theme, rapt away like a prophet in a vision, and that, in her
feeling at the time, it was written through her quite as much as
by her. This idea grew upon her mind in the retrospective light
of the tremendous stir the story made in the world, so that in her
later years she came to regard herself as a providential
instrument, and frankly to declare that she did not write the
book; "God wrote it." In her own account, when she reached the
death of Uncle Tom, "the whole vital force left her." The
inspiration there left her, and the end of the story, the weaving
together of all the loose ends of the plot, in the joining
together almost by miracle the long separated, and the discovery
of the relationships, is the conscious invention of the novelist.

It would be perhaps going beyond the province of the critic to
remark upon what the author considered the central power of the
story, and its power to move the world, the faith of Uncle Tom in
the Bible. This appeal to the emotion of millions of readers
cannot, however, be overlooked. Many regard the book as effective
in regions remote from our perplexities by reason of this grace.
When the work was translated into Siamese, the perusal of it by
one of the ladies of the court induced her to liberate all her
slaves, men, women, and children, one hundred and thirty in all.
"Hidden Perfume," for that was the English equivalent of her name,
said she was wishful to be good like Harriet Beecher Stowe. And
as to the standpoint of Uncle Tom and the Bible, nothing more
significant can be cited than this passage from one of the latest
writings of Heinrich Heine:--

"The reawakening of my religious feelings I owe to that holy book
the Bible. Astonishing that after I have whirled about all my
life over all the dance-floors of philosophy, and yielded myself
to all the orgies of the intellect, and paid my addresses to all
possible systems, without satisfaction like Messalina after a
licentious night, I now find myself on the same standpoint where
poor Uncle Tom stands,--on that of the Bible! I kneel down by my
black brother in the same prayer! What a humiliation! With all
my science I have come no further than the poor ignorant negro who
has scarce learned to spell. Poor Tom, indeed, seems to have seen
deeper things in the holy book than I. . . . Tom, perhaps,
understands them better than I, because more flogging occurs in
them; that is to say, those ceaseless blows of the whip which have
aesthetically disgusted me in reading the Gospels and the Acts.
But a poor negro slave reads with his back, and understands better
than we do. But I, who used to make citations from Homer, now
begin to quote the Bible as Uncle Tom does."

The one indispensable requisite of a great work of imaginative
fiction is its universality, its conception and construction so
that it will appeal to universal human nature in all races and
situations and climates. Uncle Tom's Cabin does that.
Considering certain artistic deficiencies, which the French
writers perceived, we might say that it was the timeliness of its
theme that gave it currency in England and America. But that
argument falls before the world-wide interest in it as a mere
story, in so many languages, by races unaffected by our own
relation to slavery.

It was the opinion of James Russell Lowell that the anti-slavery
element in Uncle Tom and Dred stood in the way of a full
appreciation, at least in her own country, of the remarkable
genius of Mrs. Stowe. Writing in 1859, he said, "From my habits
and the tendency of my studies I cannot help looking at things
purely from an aesthetic point of view, and what I valued in Uncle
Tom was the genius, and not the moral." This had been his
impression when he read the book in Paris, long after the whirl of
excitement produced by its publication had subsided, and far
removed by distance from local influences. Subsequently, in a
review, he wrote, "We felt then, and we believe now, that the
secret of Mrs. Stowe's power lay in that same genius by which the
great successes in creative literature have always been achieved,--
the genius that instinctively goes to the organic elements of
human nature, whether under a white skin or a black, and which
disregards as trivial the conventions and fictitious notions which
make so large a part both of our thinking and feeling. . . . The
creative faculty of Mrs. Stowe, like that of Cervantes in Don
Quixote and of Fielding in Joseph Andrews, overpowered the narrow
specialty of her design, and expanded a local and temporary theme
with the cosmopolitanism of genius."

A half-century is not much in the life of a people; it is in time
an inadequate test of the staying power of a book. Nothing is
more futile than prophecy on contemporary literary work. It is
safe, however, to say that Uncle Tom's Cabin has the fundamental
qualities, the sure insight into human nature, and the fidelity to
the facts of its own time which have from age to age preserved
works of genius.

by W. E. Burghardt Du Bois

Berween me and the other world there is ever an unasked question:
unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through
the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter
round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me
curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying
directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an
excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville;
or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these
I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as
the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel
to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,--peculiar even
for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood
and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that
the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I
remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little
thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark
Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghanic to the sea. In a wee
wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls'
heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards--ten cents a package--and
exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer,
refused my card,--refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it
dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from
the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but
shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no
desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond
it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky
and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could
beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or
even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine
contempt began to fade; for the world I longed for, and all its
dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should
not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them.
Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by
healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my
head,--some way. With other black boys the strife was not so
fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or
into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking
distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry.
Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?
The "shades of the prison-house" closed round about us all: walls
strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall,
and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in
resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or
steadily, half hopelessly watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and
Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil,
and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world
which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see
himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a
peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of
always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of
measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in
amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,--an
American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled
strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged
strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of
the American Negro is the history of this strife,--this longing to
attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a
better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the
older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America,
for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does
not wish to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white
Americanism, for he believes--foolishly, perhaps, but fervently--
that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply
wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an
American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows,
without losing the opportunity of self-development.

This is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom
of culture, to escape both death and isolation, and to husband and
use his best powers. These powers, of body and of mind, have in
the past been so wasted and dispersed as to lose all
effectiveness, and to seem like absence of all power, like
weakness. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan, on the
one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of
wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and
nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde, could only result in
making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either
cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people the Negro
lawyer or doctor was pushed toward quackery and demagogism, and by
the criticism of the other world toward an elaborate preparation
that overfitted him for his lowly tasks. The would-be black
savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people
needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the
knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own
flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set
the ruder souls of his people a-dancing, a-singing, and a-laughing
raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist;
for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which
his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the
message of another people.

This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two
unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and
faith and deeds of eight thousand thousand people, has sent them
often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and
has even at times seemed destined to make them ashamed of
themselves. In the days of bondage they thought to see in one
divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; eighteenth-
century Rousseauism never worshiped freedom with half the
unquestioning faith that the American Negro did for two centuries.
To him slavery was, indeed, the sum of all villainies, the cause
of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; emancipation was the key
to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before
the eyes of wearied Israelites. In his songs and exhortations
swelled one refrain, liberty; in his tears and curses the god he
implored had freedom in his right hand. At last it came,--
suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of
blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:--

"Shout, O children!
Shout, you're free!
The Lord has bought your liberty!"

Years have passed away, ten, twenty, thirty. Thirty years of
national life, thirty years of renewal and development, and yet
the swarthy ghost of Banquo sits in its old place at the national
feast. In vain does the nation cry to its vastest problem,--

"Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never

The freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land.
Whatever of lesser good may have come in these years of change,
the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,--
a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal
was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly folk.

The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for
freedom, the boom that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,--
like a tantalizing will-o'-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the
headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Kuklux
Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry,
and the contradictory advice of friends and foes left the
bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for
freedom. As the decade closed, however, he began to grasp a new
idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful
means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot,
which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he
now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the
liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not?
Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes
enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power
that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed
zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. The decade fled away,--
a decade containing, to the freedman's mind, nothing but
suppressed votes, stuffed ballot-boxes, and election outrages that
nullified his vaunted right of suffrage. And yet that decade from
1875 to 1885 held another powerful movement, the rise of another
ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after
a clouded day. It was the ideal of "book-learning;" the
curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the
power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to
know. Mission and night schools began in the smoke of battle, ran
the gauntlet of reconstruction, and at last developed into
permanent foundations. Here at last seemed to have been
discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of
emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to
heights high enough to overlook life.

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily,
doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering
feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings of the dark pupils
of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people
strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote
down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here
and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired
climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold,
the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas
disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery
and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection
and self-examination; it changed the child of emancipation to the
youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-
respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul
rose before him, and he saw himself,--darkly as through a veil;
and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of
his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his
place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the
first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back,
that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a
half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent,
without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered
into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a
poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is
the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his
ignorance,--not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of
the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness
of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his
burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy,
which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women
had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient
African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of
filth from white whoremongers and adulterers, threatening almost
the obliteration of the Negro home.

A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the
world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its
own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count
his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling,
sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair.
Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the
natural defense of culture against barbarism, learning against
ignorance, purity against crime, the "higher" against the "lower"
races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much
of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to
civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress he humbly bows
and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice
that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-
nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the
ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and
wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and
boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to
inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the
devil,--before this there rises a sickening despair that would
disarm and discourage any nation save that black host to whom
"discouragement" is an unwritten word.

They still press on, they still nurse the dogged hope,--not a hope
of nauseating patronage, not a hope of reception into charmed
social circles of stock-jobbers, pork-packers, and earl-hunters,
but the hope of a higher synthesis of civilization and humanity, a
true progress, with which the chorus

"Peace, good will to men,"
"May make one music as before,
But vaster."

Thus the second decade of the American Negro's freedom was a
period of conflict, of inspiration and doubt, of faith and vain
questionings, of Sturm and Drang. The ideals of physical freedom,
of political power, of school training, as separate all-
sufficient panaceas for social ills, became in the third decade
dim and overcast. They were the vain dreams of credulous race
childhood; not wrong, but incomplete and over-simple. The
training of the schools we need to-day more than ever,--the
training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and the broader,
deeper, higher culture of gifted minds. The power of the ballot
we need in sheer self-defense, and as a guarantee of good faith.
We may misuse it, but we can scarce do worse in this respect than
our whilom masters. Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still
seek,--the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and
think. Work, culture, and liberty,--all these we need, not
singly, but together; for to-day these ideals among the Negro
people are gradually coalescing, and finding a higher meaning in
the unifying ideal of race,--the ideal of fostering the traits and
talents of the Negro, not in opposition to, but in conformity
with, the greater ideals of the American republic, in order that
some day, on American soil, two world races may give each to each
those characteristics which both so sadly lack. Already we come
not altogether empty-handed: there is to-day no true American
music but the sweet wild melodies of the Negro slave; the American
fairy tales are Indian and African; we are the sole oasis of
simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and
smartness. Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal,
dyspeptic blundering with the light-hearted but determined Negro
humility; or her coarse, cruel wit with loving, jovial good humor;
or her Annie Rooney with Steal Away?

Merely a stern concrete test of the underlying principles of the
great republic is the Negro problem, and the spiritual striving of
the freedmen's sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost
beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name
of an historic race, in the name of this land of their fathers'
fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.

by Charles W. Chesnutt


Mr. Ryder was going to give a ball. There were several reasons
why this was an opportune time for such an event.

Mr. Ryder might aptly be called the dean of the Blue Veins. The
original Blue Veins were a little society of colored persons
organized in a certain Northern city shortly after the war. Its
purpose was to establish and maintain correct social standards
among a people whose social condition presented almost unlimited
room for improvement. By accident, combined perhaps with some
natural affinity, the society consisted of individuals who were,
generally speaking, more white than black. Some envious outsider
made the suggestion that no one was eligible for membership who
was not white enough to show blue veins. The suggestion was
readily adopted by those who were not of the favored few, and
since that time the society, though possessing a longer and more
pretentious name, had been known far and wide as the "Blue Vein
Society," and its members as the "Blue Veins."

The Blue Veins did not allow that any such requirement existed for
admission to their circle, but, on the contrary, declared that
character and culture were the only things considered; and that if
most of their members were light-colored, it was because such
persons, as a rule, had had better opportunities to qualify
themselves for membership. Opinions differed, too, as to the
usefulness of the society. There were those who had been known
to assail it violently as a glaring example of the very prejudice
from which the colored race had suffered most; and later, when
such critics had succeeded in getting on the inside, they had been
heard to maintain with zeal and earnestness that the society was a
life-boat, an anchor, a bulwark and a shield, a pillar of cloud by
day and of fire by night, to guide their people through the social
wilderness. Another alleged prerequisite for Blue Vein membership
was that of free birth; and while there was really no such
requirement, it is doubtless true that very few of the members
would have been unable to meet it if there had been. If there
were one or two of the older members who had come up from the
South and from slavery, their history presented enough romantic
circumstances to rob their servile origin of its grosser aspects.
While there were no such tests of eligibility, it is true that the
Blue Veins had their notions on these subjects, and that not all
of them were equally liberal in regard to the things they
collectively disclaimed. Mr. Ryder was one of the most
conservative. Though he had not been among the founders of the
society, but had come in some years later, his genius for social
leadership was such that he had speedily become its recognized
adviser and head, the custodian of its standards, and the
preserver of its traditions. He shaped its social policy, was
active in providing for its entertainment, and when the interest
fell off, as it sometimes did, he fanned the embers until they
burst again into a cheerful flame. There were still other
reasons for his popularity. While he was not as white as some of
the Blue Veins, his appearance was such as to confer distinction
upon them. His features were of a refined type, his hair was
almost straight; he was always neatly dressed; his manners were
irreproachable, and his morals above suspicion. He had come to
Groveland a young man, and obtaining employment in the office of a
railroad company as messenger had in time worked himself up to the
position of stationery clerk, having charge of the distribution of
the office supplies for the whole company. Although the lack of
early training had hindered the orderly development of a naturally
fine mind, it had not prevented him from doing a great deal of
reading or from forming decidedly literary tastes. Poetry was his
passion. He could repeat whole pages of the great English poets ;
and if his pronunciation was sometimes faulty, his eye, his voice,
his gestures, would respond to the changing sentiment with a
precision that revealed a poetic soul, and disarm criticism. He
was economical, and had saved money; he owned and occupied a very
comfortable house on a respectable street. His residence was
handsomely furnished, containing among other things a good
library, especially rich in poetry, a piano, and some choice
engravings. He generally shared his house with some young couple,
who looked after his wants and were company for him; for Mr. Ryder
was a single man. In the early days of his connection with the
Blue Veins he had been regarded as quite a catch, and ladies and
their mothers had manoeuvred with much ingenuity to capture him.
Not, however, until Mrs. Molly Dixon visited Groveland had any
woman ever made him wish to change his condition to that of a
married man.

Mrs. Dixon had come to Groveland from Washington in the spring,
and before the summer was over she had won Mr. Ryder's heart. She
possessed many attractive qualities. She was much younger than
he; in fact, he was old enough to have been her father, though no
one knew exactly how old he was. She was whiter than he, and
better educated. She had moved in the best colored society of the
country, at Washington, and had taught in the schools of that
city. Such a superior person had been eagerly welcomed to the
Blue Vein Society, and had taken a leading part in its activities.
Mr. Ryder had at first been attracted by her charms of person, for
she was very good looking and not over twenty-five; then by her
refined manners and by the vivacity of her wit. Her husband had
been a government clerk, and at his death had left a considerable
life insurance. She was visiting friends in Groveland, and,
finding the town and the people to her liking, had prolonged her
stay indefinitely. She had not seemed displeased at Mr. Ryder's
attentions, but on the contrary had given him every proper
encouragement; indeed, a younger and less cautious man would long
since have spoken. But he had made up his mind, and had only to
determine the time when he would ask her to be his wife. He
decided to give a ball in her honor, and at some time during the
evening of the ball to offer her his heart and hand. He had no
special fears about the outcotme, but, with a little touch of
romance, he wanted the surroundings to be in harmony with his own
feelings when he should have received the answer he expected.

Mr. Ryder resolved that this ball should mark an epoch in the
social history of Groveland. He knew, of course,--no one could
know better,--the entertainments that had taken place in past
years, and what must be done to surpass them. His ball must be
worthy of the lady in whose honor it was to be given, and must, by
the quality of its guests, set an example for the future. He had
observed of late a growing liberality, almost a laxity, in social
matters, even among members of his own set, and had several times
been forced to meet in a social way persons whose complexions and
callings in life were hardly up to the standard which he
considered proper for the society to maintain. He had a theory of
his own.

"I have no race prejudice," he would say, "but we people of mixed
blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our
fate lies between absorption by the white race and extinction in
the black. The one doesn't want us yet, but may take us in time.
The other would welcome us, but it would be for us a backward
step. 'With malice towards none, with charity for all,' we must
do the best we can for ourselves and those who are to follow us.
Self-preservation is the first law of nature."

His ball would serve by its exclusiveness to counteract leveling
tendencies, and his marriage with Mrs. Dixon would help to further
the upward process of absorption he had been wishing and waiting


The ball was to take place on Friday night. The house had been
put in order, the carpets covered with canvas, the halls and
stairs decorated with palms and potted plants; and in the
afternoon Mr. Ryder sat on his front porch, which the shade of a
vine running up over a wire netting made a cool and pleasant
lounging-place. He expected to respond to the toast "The Ladies,"
at the supper, and from a volume of Tennyson--his favorite poet
--was fortifying himself with apt quotations. The volume was
open at A Dream of Fair Women. His eyes fell on these lines, and
he read them aloud to judge better of their effect:--

"At length I saw a lady within call. Stiller than chisell'd
marble, standing there; A daughter of the gods, divinely tall,
And most divinely fair."

He marked the verse, and turning the page read the stanza

"O sweet pale Margaret,
O rare pale Margaret."

He weighed the passage a moment, and decided that it would not do.
Mrs. Dixon was the palest lady he expected at the ball, and she
was of a rather ruddy complexion, and of lively disposition and
buxom build. So he ran over the leaves until his eye rested on
the description of Queen Guinevere:--

"She seem'd a part of joyous Spring:
A gown of grass-green silk she wore,
Buckled with golden clasps before;
A light-green tuft of plumes she bore
Closed in a golden ring.

. . . . . . . . . .

"She look'd so lovely, as she sway'd
The rein with dainty finger-tips,
A man had given all other bliss,
And all his worldly worth for this,
To waste his whole heart in one kiss
Upon her perfect lips."

As Mr. Ryder murmured these words audibly, with an appreciative
thrill, he heard the latch of his gate click, and a light footfall
sounding on the steps. He turned his head, and saw a woman
standing before the door.

She was a little woman, not five feet tall, and proportioned to
her height. Although she stood erect, and looked around her with
very bright and restless eyes, she seemed quite old; for her face
was crossed and recrossed with a hundred wrinkles, and around the
edges of her bonnet could be seen protruding here and there a tuft
of short gray wool. She wore a blue calico gown of ancient cut, a
little red shawl fastened around her shoulders with an old-
fashioned brass brooch, and a large bonnet profusely ornamented
with faded red and yellow artificial flowers. And she was very
black--so black that her toothless gums, revealed when she
opened her mouth to speak, were not red, but blue. She looked
like a bit of the old plantation life, summoned up from the past
by the wave of a magician's wand, as the poet's fancy had called
into being the gracious shapes of which Mr. Ryder had just been

He rose from his chair and came over to where she stood.

"Good-afternoon, madam," he said.

"Good-evenin', suh," she answered, ducking suddenly with a quaint
curtsy. Her voice was shrill and piping, but softened somewhat by
age. "Is dis yere whar Mistuh Ryduh lib, suh?" she asked, looking
around her doubtfully, and glancing into the open windows, through
which some of the preparations for the evening were visible.

"Yes," he replied, with an air of kindly patronage, unconsciously
flattered by her manner, "I am Mr. Ryder. Did you want to see

"Yas, suh, ef I ain't 'sturbin' of you too much."

"Not at all. Have a seat over here behind the vine, where it is
cool. What can I do for you?"

"'Scuse me, suh," she continued, when she had sat down on the edge
of a chair, "'scuse me, suh, I's lookin' for my husban'. I heerd
you wuz a big man an' had libbed heah a long time, an' I 'lowed
you wouldn't min' ef I'd come roun' an' ax you ef you'd eber heerd
of a merlatter man by de name er Sam Taylor 'quirin' roun' in de
chu'ches ermongs' de people fer his wife 'Liza Jane?"

Mr. Ryder seemed to think for a moment.

"There used to be many such cases right after the war," he said,
"but it has been so long that I have forgotten them. There are
very few now. But tell me your story, and it may refresh my

She sat back farther in her chair so as to be more comfortable,
and folded her withered hands in her lap.

"My name's 'Liza," she began, "'Liza Jane. Wen I wuz young I
us'ter b'long ter Marse Bob Smif, down in old Missourn. I wuz
bawn down dere. W'en I wuz a gal I wuz married ter a man named
Jim. But Jim died, an' after dat I married a merlatter man named
Sam Taylor. Sam wuz free-bawn, but his mammy and daddy died, an'
de w'ite folks 'prenticed him ter my marster fer ter work fer 'im
'tel he wuz growed up. Sam worked in de fiel', an' I wuz de cook.
One day Ma'y Ann, ole miss's maid, come rushin' out ter de
kitchen, an' says she, ''Liza Jane, ole marse gwine sell yo' Sam
down de ribber.'

"'Go way f'm yere,' says I; 'my husban's free!'

"'Don' make no diff'ence. I heerd ole marse tell ole miss he wuz
gwine take yo' Sam 'way wid 'im ter-morrow, fer he needed money,
an' he knowed whar he could git a t'ousan' dollars fer Sam an' no
questions axed.'

"W'en Sam come home f'm de fiel', dat night, I tole him 'bout ole
marse gwine steal 'im, an' Sam run erway. His time wuz mos' up,
an' he swo' dat w'en he wuz twenty-one he would come back an' he'p
me run erway, er else save up de money ter buy my freedom. An' I
know he'd 'a' done it, fer he thought a heap er me, Sam did. But
w'en he come back he didn' fin' me, fer I wuzn' dere. Ole marse
had heerd dat I warned Sam, so he had me whip' an' sol' down de

"Den de wah broke out, an' w'en it wuz ober de cullud folks wuz
scattered. I went back ter de ole home; but Sam wuzn' dere, an' I
couldn' l'arn nuffin' 'bout 'im. But I knowed he'd be'n dere to
look fer me an' hadn' foun' me, an' had gone erway ter hunt fer

"I's be'n lookin' fer 'im eber sence," she added simply, as though
twenty-five years were but a couple of weeks, "an' I knows he's
be'n lookin' fer me. Fer he sot a heap er sto' by me, Sam did,
an' I know he's be'n huntin' fer me all dese years,--'less'n he's
be'n sick er sump'n, so he couldn' work, er out'n his head, so he
couldn' 'member his promise. I went back down de ribber, fer I
'lowed he'd gone down dere lookin' fer me. I's be'n ter Noo
Orleens, an' Atlanty, an' Charleston, an' Richmon'; an' w'en I'd
be'n all ober de Souf I come ter de Norf. Fer I knows I'll fin'
'im some er dese days," she added softly, "er he'll fin' me, an'
den we'll bofe be as happy in freedom as we wuz in de ole days
befo' de wah." A smile stole over her withered countenance as she
paused a moment, and her bright eyes softened into a far-away

This was the substance of the old woman's story. She had wandered
a little here and there. Mr. Ryder was looking at her curiously
when she finished.

"How have you lived all these years?" he asked.

"Cookin', suh. I's a good cook. Does you know anybody w'at needs
a good cook, suh? I's stoppin' wid a cullud fam'ly roun' de
corner yonder 'tel I kin fin' a place."

"Do you really expect to find your husband? He may be dead long

She shook her head emphatically. "Oh no, he ain' dead. De signs
an' de tokens tells me. I dremp three nights runnin' on'y dis
las' week dat I foun' him."

"He may have married another woman. Your slave marriage would not
have prevented him, for you never lived with him after the war,
and without that your marriage doesn't count."

"Wouldn' make no diff'ence wid Sam. He wouldn' marry no yuther
'ooman 'tel he foun' out 'bout me. I knows it," she added.
"Sump'n's be'n tellin' me all dese years dat I's gwine fin' Sam
'fo I dies."

"Perhaps he's outgrown you, and climbed up in the world where he
wouldn't care to have you find him."

"No, indeed, suh," she replied, "Sam ain' dat kin' er man. He wuz
good ter me, Sam wuz, but he wuzn' much good ter nobody e'se, fer
he wuz one er de triflin'es' han's on de plantation. I 'spec's
ter haf ter suppo't 'im w'en I fin' 'im, fer he nebber would work
'less'n he had ter. But den he wuz free, an' he didn' git no pay
fer his work, an' I don' blame 'im much. Mebbe he's done better
sence he run erway, but I ain' 'spectin' much."

"You may have passed him on the street a hundred times during the
twenty-five years, and not have known him; time works great

She smiled incredulously. "I'd know 'im 'mongs' a hund'ed men.
Fer dey wuzn' no yuther merlatter man like my man Sam, an' I
couldn' be mistook. I's toted his picture roun' wid me twenty-
five years."

"May I see it?" asked Mr. Ryder. "It might help me to remember
whether I have seen the original."

As she drew a small parcel from her bosom, he saw that it was
fastened to a string that went around her neck. Removing several
wrappers, she brought to light an old-fashioned daguerreotype in a
black case. He looked long and intently at the portrait. It was
faded with time, but the features were still distinct, and it was
easy to see what manner of man it had represented.

He closed the case, and with a slow movement handed it back to

"I don't know of any man in town who goes by that name," he said,
"nor have I heard of any one making such inquiries. But if you
will leave me your address, I will give the matter some attention,
and if I find out anything I will let you know."

She gave him the number of a house in the neighborhood, and went
away, after thanking him warmly.

He wrote down the address on the flyleaf of the volume of
Tennyson, and, when she had gone, rose to his feet and stood
looking after her curiously. As she walked down the street with
mincing step, he saw several persons whom she passed turn and look
back at her with a smile of kindly amusement. When she had turned
the corner, he went upstairs to his bedroom, and stood for a long
time before the mirror of his dressing-case, gazing thoughtfully
at the reflection of his own face.


At eight o'clock the ballroom was a blaze of light and the guests
had begun to assemble; for there was a literary programme and some
routine business of the society to be gone through with before the
dancing. A black servant in evening dress waited at the door and
directed the guests to the dressing-rooms.

The occasion was long memorable among the colored people of the
city; not alone for the dress and display, but for the high
average of intelligence and culture that distinguished the
gathering as a whole. There were a number of school-teachers,
several young doctors, three or four lawyers, some professional
singers, an editor, a lieutenant in the United States army
spending his furlough in the city, and others in various polite
callings; these were colored, though most of them would not have
attracted even a casual glance because of any marked difference
from white people. Most of the ladies were in evening costume,
and dress coats and dancing-pumps were the rule among the men. A
band of string music, stationed in an alcove behind a row of
palms, played popular airs while the guests were gathering.

The dancing began at half past nine. At eleven o'clock supper was
served. Mr. Ryder had left the ballroom some little time before
the intermission, but reappeared at the supper-table. The spread
was worthy of the occasion, and the guests did full justice to it.
When the coffee had been served, the toastmaster, Mr. Solomon
Sadler, rapped for order. He made a brief introductory speech,
complimenting host and guests, and then presented in their order
the toasts of the evening. They were responded to with a very
fair display of after-dinner wit.

"The last toast," said the toast-master, when he reached the end
of the list, "is one which must appeal to us all. There is no one
of us of the sterner sex who is not at some time dependent upon
woman,--in infancy for protection, in manhood for companionship,
in old age for care and comforting. Our good host has been trying
to live alone, but the fair faces I see around me to-night prove
that he too is largely dependent upon the gentler sex for most
that makes life worth living,--the society and love of friends,--
and rumor is at fault if he does not soon yield entire subjection
to one of them. Mr. Ryder will now respond to the toast,--The

There was a pensive look in Mr. Ryder's eyes as he took the floor
and adjusted his eyeglasses. He began by speaking of woman as the
gift of Heaven to man, and after some general observations on the
relations of the sexes he said: "But perhaps the quality which
most distinguishes woman is her fidelity and devotion to those she
loves. History is full of examples, but has recorded none more
striking than one which only to-day came under my notice."

He then related, simply but effectively, the story told by his
visitor of the afternoon. He told it in the same soft dialect,
which came readily to his lips, while the company listened
attentively and sympathetically. For the story had awakened a
responsive thrill in many hearts. There were some present who had
seen, and others who had heard their fathers and grandfathers
tell, the wrongs and sufferings of this past generation, and all
of them still felt, in their darker moments, the shadow hanging
over them. Mr. Ryder went on:--

"Such devotion and such confidence are rare even among women.
There are many who would have searched a year, some who would have
waited five years, a few who might have hoped ten years; but for
twenty-five years this woman has retained her affection for and
her faith in a man she has not seen or heard of in all that time.

"She came to me to-day in the hope that I might be able to help
her find this long-lost husband. And when she was gone I gave my
fancy rein, and imagined a case I will put to you.

"Suppose that this husband, soon after his escape, had learned
that his wife had been sold away, and that such inquiries as he
could make brought no information of her whereabouts. Suppose
that he was young, and she much older than he; that he was light,
and she was black; that their marriage was a slave marriage, and
legally binding only if they chose to make it so after the war.
Suppose, too, that he made his way to the North, as some of us
have done, and there, where he had larger opportunities, had
improved them, and had in the course of all these years grown to
be as different from the ignorant boy who ran away from fear of
slavery as the day is from the night. Suppose, even, that he had
qualified himself, by industry, by thrift, and by study, to win
the friendship and be considered worthy the society of such people
as these I see around me to-night, gracing my board and filling my
heart with gladness; for I am old enough to remember the day when
such a gathering would not have been possible in this land.
Suppose, too, that, as the years went by, this man's memory of the
past grew more and more indistinct, until at last it was rarely,
except in his dreams, that any image of this bygone period rose
before his mind. And then suppose that accident should bring to
his knowledge the fact that the wife of his youth, the wife he had
left behind him,--not one who had walked by his side and kept pace
with him in his upward struggle, but one upon whom advancing years
and a laborious life had set their mark,--was alive and seeking
him, but that he was absolutely safe from recognition or
discovery, unless he chose to reveal himself. My friends, what
would the man do? I will suppose that he was one who loved honor,
and tried to deal justly with all men. I will even carry the case
further, and suppose that perhaps he had set his heart upon
another, whom he had hoped to call his own. What would he do, or
rather what ought he to do, in such a crisis of a lifetime?

"It seemed to me that he might hesitate, and I imagined that I was
an old friend, a near friend, and that he had come to me for
advice; and I argued the case with him. I tried to discuss it
impartially. After we had looked upon the matter from every point
of view, I said to him, in words that we all know:

'This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.'

Then, finally, I put the question to him, 'Shall you acknowledge

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, friends and companions, I ask you,
what should he have done?"

There was something in Mr. Ryder's voice that stirred the hearts
of those who sat around him. It suggested more than mere sympathy
with an imaginary situation; it seemed rather in the nature of a
personal appeal. It was observed, too, that his look rested more
especially upon Mrs. Dixon, with a mingled expression of
renunciation and inquiry.

She had listened, with parted lips and streaming eyes. She was
the first to speak: "He should have acknowledged her."

"Yes," they all echoed, "he should have acknowledged her."

"My friends and companions," responded Mr. Ryder, "I thank you,
one and all. It is the answer I expected, for I knew your

He turned and walked toward the closed door of an adjoining room,
while every eye followed him in wondering curiosity. He came back
in a moment, leading by the hand his visitor of the afternoon, who
stood startled and trembling at the sudden plunge into this scene
of brilliant gayety. She was neatly dressed in gray, and wore the
white cap of an elderly woman.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "this is the woman, and I am the
man, whose story I have told you. Permit me to introduce to you
the wife of my youth."

by Charles W. Chesnutt

Mary Myrover's friends were somewhat surprised when she began to
teach a colored school. Miss Myrover's friends are mentioned
here, because nowhere more than in a Southern town is public
opinion a force which cannot be lightly contravened. Public
opinion, however, did not oppose Miss Myrover's teaching colored
children; in fact, all the colored public schools in town--and
there were several--were taught by white teachers, and had been so
taught since the state had undertaken to provide free public
instruction for all children within its boundaries. Previous to
that time there had been a Freedman's Bureau school and a
Presbyterian missionary school, but these had been withdrawn when
the need for them became less pressing. The colored people of the
town had been for some time agitating their right to teach their
own schools, but as yet the claim had not been conceded.

The reason Miss Myrover's course created some surprise was not,
therefore, the fact that a Southern white woman should teach a
colored school; it lay in the fact that up to this time no woman
of just her quality had taken up such work. Most of the teachers
of colored schools were not of those who had constituted the
aristocracy of the old regime; they might be said rather to
represent the new order of things, in which labor was in time to
become honorable, and men were, after a somewhat longer time, to
depend, for their place in society, upon themselves rather than
upon their ancestors. But Mary Myrover belonged to one of the
proudest of the old families. Her ancestors had been people of
distinction in Virginia before a collateral branch of the main
stock had settled in North Carolina. Before the war they had been
able to live up to their pedigree. But the war brought sad
changes. Miss Myrover's father--the Colonel Myrover who led a
gallant but desperate charge at Vicksburg--had fallen on the
battlefield, and his tomb in the white cemetery was a shrine for
the family. On the Confederate Memorial Day no other grave was so
profusely decorated with flowers, and in the oration pronounced
the name of Colonel Myrover was always used to illustrate the
highest type of patriotic devotion and self-sacrifice. Miss
Myrover's brother, too, had fallen in the conflict; but his bones
lay in some unknown trench, with those of a thousand others who
had fallen on the same field. Ay, more, her lover, who had hoped
to come home in the full tide of victory and claim his bride as a
reward for gallantry, had shared the fate of her father and
brother. When the war was over, the remnant of the family found
itself involved in the common ruin,--more deeply involved, indeed,
than some others; for Colonel Myrover had believed in the ultimate
triumph of his cause, and had invested most of his wealth in
Confederate bonds, which were now only so much waste paper.

There had been a little left. Mrs. Myrover was thrifty, and had
laid by a few hundred dollars, which she kept in the house to meet
unforeseen contingencies. There remained, too, their home, with
an ample garden and a well-stocked orchard, besides a considerable
tract of country land, partly cleared, but productive of very
little revenue.

With their shrunken resources, Miss Myrover and her mother were
able to hold up their heads without embarrassment for some years
after the close of the war. But when things were adjusted to the
changed conditions, and the stream of life began to flow more
vigorously in the new channels, they saw themselves in danger of
dropping behind, unless in some way they could add to their meagre
income. Miss Myrover looked over the field of employment, never
very wide for women in the South, and found it occupied. The only
available position she could be supposed prepared to fill, and
which she could take without distinct loss of caste, was that of a
teacher, and there was no vacancy except in one of the colored
schools. Even teaching was a doubtful experiment; it was not what
she would have preferred, but it was the best that could be done.

"I don't like it, Mary," said her mother. "It's a long step from
owning such people to teaching them. What do they need with
education? It will only make them unfit for work."

"They're free now, mother, and perhaps they'll work better if
they're taught something. Besides, it's only a business
arrangement, and doesn't involve any closer contact than we have
with our servants."

"Well, I should say not!" sniffed the old lady. "Not one of them
will ever dare to presume on your position to take any liberties
with us. I'll see to that."

Miss Myrover began her work as a teacher in the autumn, at the
opening of the school year. It was a novel experience at first.
Though there always had been negro servants in the house, and
though on the streets colored people were more numerous than her
own people, and though she was so familiar with their dialect that
she might almost be said to speak it, barring certain
characteristic grammatical inaccuracies, she had never been
brought in personal contact with so many of them at once as when
she confronted the fifty or sixty faces--of colors ranging from a
white almost as clear as her own to the darkest livery of the sun--
which were gathered in the schoolroom on the morning when she
began her duties. Some of the inherited prejudice of her caste,
too, made itself felt, though she tried to repress any outward
sign of it; and she could perceive that the children were not
altogether responsive; they, likewise, were not entirely free from
antagonism. The work was unfamiliar to her. She was not
physically very strong, and at the close of the first day she went
home with a splitting headache. If she could have resigned then
and there without causing comment or annoyance to others, she
would have felt it a privilege to do so. But a night's rest
banished her headache and improved her spirits, and the next
morning she went to her work with renewed vigor, fortified by the
experience of the first day.

Miss Myrover's second day was more satisfactory. She had some
natural talent for organization, though she had never known it,
and in the course of the day she got her classes formed and
lessons under way. In a week or two she began to classify her
pupils in her own mind, as bright or stupid, mischievous or well
behaved, lazy or industrious, as the case might be, and to
regulate her discipline accordingly. That she had come of a long
line of ancestors who had exercised authority and mastership was
perhaps not without its effect upon her character, and enabled her
more readily to maintain good order in the school. When she was
fairly broken in she found the work rather to her liking, and
derived much pleasure from such success as she achieved as a

It was natural that she should be more attracted to some of her
pupils than to others. Perhaps her favorite--or rather, the one
she liked best, for she was too fair and just for conscious
favoritism--was Sophy Tucker. Just the ground for the teacher's
liking for Sophy might not at first be apparent. The girl was far
from the whitest of Miss Myrover's pupils; in fact, she was one of
the darker ones. She was not the brightest in intellect, though
she always tried to learn her lessons. She was not the best
dressed, for her mother was a poor widow, who went out washing and
scrubbing for a living. Perhaps the real tie between them was
Sophy's intense devotion to the teacher. It had manifested itself
almost from the first day of the school, in the rapt look of
admiration Miss Myrover always saw on the little black face turned
toward her. In it there was nothing of envy, nothing of regret;
nothing but worship for the beautiful white lady--she was not
especially handsome, but to Sophy her beauty was almost divine--
who had come to teach her. If Miss Myrover dropped a book, Sophy
was the first to spring and pick it up; if she wished a chair
moved, Sophy seemed to anticipate her wish; and so of all the
numberless little services that can be rendered in a school-room.

Miss Myrover was fond of flowers, and liked to have them about
her. The children soon learned of this taste of hers, and kept
the vases on her desk filled with blossoms during their season.
Sophy was perhaps the most active in providing them. If she could
not get garden flowers, she would make excursions to the woods in
the early morning, and bring in great dew-laden bunches of bay, or
jasmine, or some other fragrant forest flower which she knew the
teacher loved.

"When I die, Sophy," Miss Myrover said to the child one day, "I
want to be covered with roses. And when they bury me, I'm sure I
shall rest better if my grave is banked with flowers, and roses
are planted at my head and at my feet."

Miss Myrover was at first amused at Sophy's devotion; but when she
grew more accustomed to it, she found it rather to her liking. It
had a sort of flavor of the old regime, and she felt, when she
bestowed her kindly notice upon her little black attendant, some


Back to Full Books