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From an entry in Chesnutt's journal, 1880:
"The Negro's part is to prepare himself for recognition and equality, and it is the province of literature to open the way for him to get it -- to accustom the public mind to the idea; to lead people out, imperceptibly, unconsciously, step by step, to the desired state of feeling."



[from "Mars Chan," by Thomas Nelson Page, first published in The Century Magazine in April 1884, then in In Ole Virginia, 1887:]
"Dem wuz good ole times, marster--de bes' Sam ever see! Dey wuz, in fac'! Niggers didn' hed nothin' 't all to do--jes' hed to 'ten' to de feedin' an' cleanin' de hosses, an' doin' what de marster tell 'em to do; an' when dey wuz sick, dey had things sont 'em out de house, an' de same doctor come to see 'em whar 'ten' to de white folks when dey wuz po'ly. Dyar warn' no trouble nor nothin'."



[In Ole Virginia was very popular with white readers, north and south, and helped create a sellers' market for "plantation tales." (To see the whole of "Mars Chan," with illustrations, as included in "Mark Twain in His Times," click here.) Also in 1884 (and early 1885) The Century Magazine published selections from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Among the passages from the novel were Huck & Jim's dialogues about "investin' in stock" and "King Sollermun," but the passage below, from Chapter II, is probably best for recalling the cultural context in which Chesnutt was depicting African American experience.]

[from Huckleberry Finn (1885), Chapter II:]
"Tom said he slipped Jim's hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over him, and Jim stirred a little, but he didn't wake. Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and, after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by and by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, "Hm! What you know 'bout witches?" and that nigger was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn't touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches."




Related Web Sites

Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive
a rich site from Stephanie Browners @ Berea College, especially useful for its collection of contemporary reviews

Original Magazine Text
@ Cornell University's Making of America Archive


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