From Ohio History Central
A photograph of Chesnuttat age 40.
Charles Waddell Chesnutt was an African American writer born on June 20, 1858, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Chesnutt family soon moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where Charles's father may have participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Cases. In 1860, the Chesnutts returned to Cleveland. Following the American Civil War, the Chesnutt family moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.
In 1867, Charles Chesnutt began to attend school. He enrolled in a school operated by the Freedmen's Bureau. By 1873, Chesnutt was teaching school in rural communities in North Carolina. In 1877, he became the assistant principal of the State Colored Normal School in Fayetteville. This institution trained African Americans to be schoolteachers. In 1880, Chesnutt became the institution's principal.
In 1883, Chesnutt moved to New York City, where he worked for several newspapers as a reporter. After just a few months in New York, he moved back to Cleveland, where he worked in the accounting office of the Nickel Plate Railroad Company. By 1885, Chesnutt had been transferred to the legal department of the company, and he began to study law. He also began to author several short stories in local newspapers. His first published story was "Uncle Peter's House," published in 1885. In 1887, Chesnutt passed the Ohio bar examination and became a stenographer with Henderson, Kline, and Tolles, a Cleveland law firm.
Chesnutt continued to publish his literary work. He wrote a number of short stories and several novels. Among his most famous books was a collection of short stories called The Conjure Woman, and a novel entitled Behind the Cedars. Chesnutt also became involved with political, social, and economic issues concerning African Americans. He worked closely with both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. He lobbied the mayor of Cleveland to oppose a bill in the Ohio legislature that would have outlawed interracial marriages. He also published numerous stories and gave several speeches about the problems facing African Americans in Ohio and across the United States. Charles Waddell Chesnutt died on November 15, 1932.
- Chesnutt, Helen M. Charles Waddell Chesnutt: Pioneer of the Color Line. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1952.
- Foner, Eric. Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.
- Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1988.
- Heermance, J. Noel. Charles W. Chesnutt: America's First Great Black Novelist. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1974.
- Pickens, Ernestine Williams. Charles W. Chesnutt and the Progressive Movement. New York, NY: Pace University Press, 1994.