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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Hampton Negro Conference. Number III. July 1899.
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here and there, and at last almost losing the art that once resided in hand and brain.
There is still another danger. It is that of imitation pure and simple, the following of lines which gave fame to others; leaving that which is best known to deal with themes and situations impossible to depict with the highest success because of the very force of circumstances. The white man has failed in such attempts and the Negro does the same. Literature is a coy mistress and a jealous one in each line. Very few have the power or ability to be great in several lines; very few can dally here and there or give attention to quantity instead of quality with any hope of success. Deterioration is the price that must eventually be paid for such stupidity.
It has been said by a writer in Lippincott's that in the many possibilities of the world the African has his fair share, and it is hinted that the future novelist of America may be a Negro. But I return to the idea suggested in the article mentioned in the beginning of my paper. What we want is a novelist who possesses the genius to "weld the new life to the old,"--one who can overcome the difficulty spoken of by Judge Tourgee, "the finding himself always confronted with the past of his race and the woes of his kindred."
The demand is for the novelist who will portray the Negro not in the commonplace way that some have done, but one who will elevate him to a high level of fascination and I interest; one who can place the old life with the new in such a dramatic juxtaposition that the movement as well as the characters, while absorbing, will yet be true to life. Let the dramatis personae represent the plantation, or the hut in the black belt of the South; or let them be college bred, or from the more refined society of Afro-American, North or South, but above all let them be true to nature--to fact.
The Negro, I claim, can portray the Negro best if he will. There is an inner circle, a social sphere, that no one else knows so well as he. Others may have looked in upon it; they may have spent hours, days, even years within it, but even then that is not living the life. The onlooker who may perchance remain with us longest can never know all. So we must look to the Negro as the last resort for that portrayal of the Negro character that will attract and please, yet be true to the facts.
We are tired of vaudeville, of minstrelsy and of the Negro's pre-eminence in those lines. We want something higher, something more inspiring than that. We turn to the Negro for it,
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