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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Hampton Negro Conference. Number III. July 1899.
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A long list could be made of those of our white friends who have attained name and fame through fiction dealing with the Negro. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Judge Tourgee, Thomas Nelson Page, Joel Chandler Harris, Ruth McEnery Stuart, are but a few of the names that have gained prominent places in the world of letters largely through the portrayal of the Negro character.
Then comes the list of those who, dilettante like, dabbled in the roles and essayed occasionally to drag in the Negro. Among these we may mention Cable, Donnelly, W. D. Howells, D. P. Roe, Harry Stillwell Edwards, and Will Allen, Dromgoole. A number of other writers of fiction in short and long story have incidently brought the Negro before the public.
I paid my respects to W. D. Howells' "An Imperative Duty," when I stated that his delineations are essentially street types, with but one excuse,--that higher types would not allow him to carry out the purpose of the book, which was to analyze the character of a modern American conscience in the matter of living a lie. Of E. P. Roe one can only say that his dialect is a makeshift and his people artificial.
Since then, in comparatively recent years, another specie of fiction has sprung up,--the purpose novel, as it deals with the Negro. Judge Tourgee once said: "About the Negro as a man with hopes, fears, aspirations like other men, our literature is very nearly silent. Much has been written of the slave and something of the freedman, but thus far no one has been found able to weld the new life to the old."
This is no longer true, but with what success the ventures in this direction have met is still another question. Here again the white man has entered the field and "Yetta Segal," by Rollins, reasons out the whole matter of race absorption to a logical, optimistic conclusion. "Harold," while commendable as a literary effort, presents the pessimistic side and gives evidence of its authorship. Mrs. Harper's "Iola Le Roy," is in similar, somber hues, while "Imperium in Imperio," a work entire void of literary merit, deals with an anarchistic view that few Negroes hold, we are happy to say. We hardly feel it worth while to mention Ermine Rives' "Smoking Flax," which presents an educated villain and asks the world to take him as a type of the Negro.
We now come to another point. Eight years ago I said that the Negro must come to the front and boldly assume the task of portraying Negro life and character from his own standpoint. We see that the work has already begun, and aside from those named as colored writers of the purpose novel, we find Dunbar
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