Charles W. Chesnutt
Black Heritage Series
Issue Date: January 31, 2008
City: Cleveland, OH
Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858-1932) was the first black novelist to have his fiction published in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly Magazine and also by major publishers Houghton Mifflin and Doubleday.
Raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Chesnutt attended the newly formed Howard School and worked in his father’s store until age 14. When forced to leave school because of family hardships, Charles continued his education on his own, studying Latin, German, algebra, literature, and history. He became a teacher and then a principal.
In 1883, discouraged and embittered by racial prejudice, Chesnutt moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There he was able to pursue his dream of becoming an author, while working to change racial bigotry. In his own words, “I will live down the prejudice, I will crush it out. I will show to the world that a many may spring from a race of slaves, and yet far excel many of the boasted ruling race.”
He realized his ambitions by achieving publication of three novels, “The House Behind the Cedars,” “The Marrow of Tradition,” and “The Colonel’s Dream,” as well as two short story collections. Chesnutt was a founding member of the NAACP, along with W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, and was awarded that organization’s Spingarn Medal for his life’s work. In 2008, Charles W. Chesnutt was featured on this, the 31st stamp of the Black Heritage Series.