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The Wife of his Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line, and Selected Essays   By: (1858-1932)

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The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line, and Selected Essays

Charles W. Chesnutt



Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858 1932) African American educator, lawyer, and activist was the most prominent black prose author of his day. In both his fiction and his essays, he addressed the thorny issues of the "color line" and racism in an outspoken way. Despite the critical acclaim resulting from several works of fiction and non fiction published between 1898 and 1905, he was unable to make a living as an author. He kept writing, however, and several works which were not published during his lifetime have been rediscovered (and published) in recent years. He was awarded the Springarn Medal for distinguished literary achievement by the NAACP in 1928. The library at Fayetteville State University, in North Carolina, is named after him.

The Wife of His Youth (1899) was Chesnutt's second collection of short stories, drawing upon his mixed race heritage. These deal largely with race relations, the far reaching effects of Jim Crow laws, and color prejudice among African Americans toward darker skinned blacks. Eric J. Sundquist wrote: "Chesnutt's color line stories, like his conjure tales, are at their best haunting, psychologically and philosophically astute studies of the nation's betrayal of the promise of racial equality and its descent into a brutal world of segregation. [He] made the family a means of delineating America's racial crisis, during slavery and afterward." For our PG edition, I have added three of Chesnutt's essays on the "color line" in an Appendix to this collection.

Suzanne Shell,


The Wife of His Youth

Her Virginia Mammy

The Sheriff's Children

A Matter of Principle

Cicely's Dream

The Passing of Grandison

Uncle Wellington's Wives

The Bouquet

The Web of Circumstance


Three Essays on the Color Line:

What is a White Man? (1889)

The Future American (1900)

The Disfranchisement of the Negro (1903)

The Wife of His Youth


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 lifeboat, 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... Continue reading book >>

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