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Birth in the Briar Patch: Charles W. Chesnutt and the Problem of Racial Identity

Birth in the Briar Patch: Charles W. Chesnutt and the Problem of Racial Identity Birth in the Briar Patch: Charles W. Chesnutt and the Problem of Racial Identity by Daniel Worden In his speech “The Courts and the Negro,” written around 1908, Charles W. Chesnutt faults the American government’s geographic location for the limits and widespread denials of the Fourteenth Amend- ment’s power. The government’s central location in Washington, D.C. perpetuated racism, Chesnutt argued, for “inevitably the administration, the courts, the whole machinery of government takes its tone from its environment” (Charles 896). This racism, present within the “clubs and parlors” of the South, feeds the “attitudes of presidents and congressmen and judges toward the Negro,” and therefore, “to men living in a com- munity where service and courtesy in public places is in large measure denied the Negro, there seems to be no particular enormity in separate car laws” (897). Chesnutt goes on to reference the U. S. Supreme Court’s 1896P lessy v. Ferguson decision, which ruled in favor of Louisiana’s segre- gated railroad cars: “And under Plessy v. Ferguson, there is no reason why any Northern State may not reproduce in its own borders the conditions in Alabama and Georgia. And it may be that the Negro and his friends will http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Southern Literary Journal University of North Carolina Press

Birth in the Briar Patch: Charles W. Chesnutt and the Problem of Racial Identity

The Southern Literary Journal , Volume 41 (2) – May 21, 2009

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Publisher
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 the Southern Literary Journal and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of English.
ISSN
1534-1461

Abstract

Birth in the Briar Patch: Charles W. Chesnutt and the Problem of Racial Identity by Daniel Worden In his speech “The Courts and the Negro,” written around 1908, Charles W. Chesnutt faults the American government’s geographic location for the limits and widespread denials of the Fourteenth Amend- ment’s power. The government’s central location in Washington, D.C. perpetuated racism, Chesnutt argued, for “inevitably the administration, the courts, the whole machinery of government takes its tone from its environment” (Charles 896). This racism, present within the “clubs and parlors” of the South, feeds the “attitudes of presidents and congressmen and judges toward the Negro,” and therefore, “to men living in a com- munity where service and courtesy in public places is in large measure denied the Negro, there seems to be no particular enormity in separate car laws” (897). Chesnutt goes on to reference the U. S. Supreme Court’s 1896P lessy v. Ferguson decision, which ruled in favor of Louisiana’s segre- gated railroad cars: “And under Plessy v. Ferguson, there is no reason why any Northern State may not reproduce in its own borders the conditions in Alabama and Georgia. And it may be that the Negro and his friends will

Journal

The Southern Literary JournalUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: May 21, 2009

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