The Marrow of Tradition

By Charles W. Chesnutt with an introduction by Wiley Cash

Part of Belt’s Revivals Series and an undisputed classic of African American literature. With a new introduction by Wiley Cash (When Ghosts Come Home).

On November 10, 1898, a mob of 400 people rampaged through the streets of Wilmington, North Carolina, killing as many as 60 citizens, burning down the newspaper office, overthrowing the newly elected leaders, and installing a new white supremacist government. In a violent reaction prompted by the increasing political powers African Americans in the town were gaining during Reconstruction, the Wilmington Race Riots—also known as the Wilmington Insurrection and the Wilmington Massacre—was the only successful coup d’etat on American soil.

The Marrow of Tradition is a fictionalized account of this important, under-studied event. Charles W. Chesnutt, an African American writer from North Carolina who lived in Cleveland as an adult and was the first black professional writer in the nation, narrates the story of “Wellington” North Carolina through William Miller, a black doctor, and his wife, Janet, who is both black and the unclaimed daughter of a prominent white businessman. Along with dozens of other characters, including a black domestic servant whose speech is rendered in vernacular dialect, they create a composite of Reconstruction and the violent racial politics created in backlash. The novel is also a masterful work of art that stands on its own: gripping, nuanced, and wholly original.

An unsung American classic with startling resonance for America’s racial issues today.


Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) was an African-American author, essayist, political activist and lawyer, best known for his novels and short stories exploring complex issues of racial and social identity in the post-Civil War South. He lived most of his adult life in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Wiley Cash is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy. The founder of the Open Canon Book Club and co-founder of the Land More Kind Appalachian Artists Residency, he has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Weymouth Center. He serves as the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and teaches in the Mountainview Low-Residency MFA. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and their two young daughters.


See also: 

Complete Belt Revivals Series