My husband grew up in North Carolina and had learned about Wilmington Riot of 1898 when he attended segregated schools in his home town of Fayetteville, NC. While living in Raleigh, I gradually learned how the Raleigh News & Observer through its publisher Josephus Daniels played a role in the Riot of 1898. Orage Quarles, III a black man is now the President and Publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer. Finally, in 2010, under Quarles leadership, the full story of the riot led by white supremacists to end "Negro domination" in Wilmington was published.
Upon The Marrow of Tradition's initial publication, Chesnutt intended for it to clarify the misconceptions of those in the North, though the book addresses several themes still pertinent to race relations today.
The Marrow of Tradition, originally published in 1901, is a historical novel by African-American author Charles Chesnutt portraying a fictional account of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Before reading this I wouldn't have thought there would be so much hate by the time this "race riot" took place, but I was wrong. When I went off to look up Charles Chesnutt and read a little about him I was amazed to see a picture of what I thought looked like a middle aged white man. Given his majority-European ancestry, Chesnutt could "pass" as a white man, but he never chose to do so. Chesnutt had learned stenography as a young man in North Carolina and now established what became a lucrative court reporting business, which made him "financially prosperous". Anyway, this is a tiny bit of what happened in the "Wilmington Insurrection": "The Wilmington coup d'état of 1898, also known as the Wilmington massacre of 1898 or the Wilmington race riot of 1898, began in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 10, 1898 and continued for several days. I'm not going to say much more about the novel, I'll let you decide whether you want to read it by letting the book "talk for itself", here are some of the quotes that stick in my mind: "Old Mammy Jane, however, was not entirely at ease concerning the child. "The only servant in hearing of the conversation has been my own; and Sandy is as honest as any man in Wellington." "You mean, sir," replied Carteret, with a smile, "as honest as any negro in Wellington." "I make no exceptions, major," returned the old gentleman, with emphasis. I should imagine, however, that one could more safely trust his life with a negro than his portable property." "Upon the major's first appearance at the office, which took place the second day after the child's birth, he opened a box of cigars in honor of the event. I will sit wherever you do." "I'm sorry again," said the conductor, who had quite recovered his equanimity, and calmly conscious of his power, could scarcely restrain an amused smile; "I dislike to interfere, but white passengers are not permitted to ride in the colored car." "This is an outrage," declared Dr. Burns, "a dd outrage! "I say, burn the nigger." "This," said Carteret, "is something more than an ordinary crime, to be dealt with by the ordinary processes of law. If such crimes are not punished with swift and terrible directness, the whole white womanhood of the South is in danger." "Burn the nigger," repeated McBane automatically. It is an assault upon the white race, in the person of old Mrs. Ochiltree, committed by the black race, in the person of some nigger. It would justify the white people in burning any nigger. I say, burn the nigger." "In the olden time the white South labored under the constant fear of negro insurrections. There was never, on the continent of America, a successful slave revolt, nor one which lasted more than a few hours, or resulted in the loss of more than a few white lives; yet never was the planter quite free from the fear that there might be one." There are a few story lines in this book that can be followed without hanging or burning people. Mrs. Carteret has given birth to only one child "Dodie" and he finds himself in danger a few times - after all there was a mole behind his left ear or some such thing.
His realist fiction work The Marrow of Tradition based on a historical account of race riots that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 has been on my kindle for a while. I had been hesitant to take it on, because I thought such a subject matter would be depressing, but the classics challenge gave me the proper motivation to stop procrastinating and get reading. I read Marrow of Tradition for the PrettyBookss Classics Challenge. The requirements of the challenge are to read one classic a month, review the book and answer specific questions.
Sure, at times the novel is a bit heavy-handed in its depiction of cross-racial relations in the post-Reconstruction south, but Chesnutt never claimed to have written anything but a piece of reform literature, and honestly I didn't find the narrator's interventions a distraction.
Even though Chesnutt's narrator has a very straightforward way of relaying the events that take place in the story, I still felt the superficiality of the white people's worries regarding the African Americans of Wilmington. Chesnutt did a fantastic job of letting each separate storyline run smoothly into the next, and I forever applaud him for it.
What Chesnutt does here, primarily, is to tell the stories of two familiesone white, one blackwho actually share an unacknowledged bond of blood (the wives/mothers are half-sisters). There's a really great moment, for example, after the white sister discovers that her father did indeed marry the mother of her half-sister, and that as such she's entitled to a large portion of his estate. She mulls all this over in her mind, trying honestly and logically to decide whether a black woman can be entitled to a large sum of money from a white man's estate. The characters in the book are compelling, especially the black ones. Black characters have a full range of thought and emotion, as they rarely seem to get even from today's white writers.
I had no desire to know what happened to the baby at the end because what made this work is that we are left uncertain, just like our future. Take control of your situation because as it is, in the context of the book and time period, the white population is heading nowhere.
This novel is surely a page turner, and I would suggest that this be a book that everyone should have the privaledge of reading!