Hugh M. Gloster (essay date 1948)
SOURCE: "Negro Fiction to World War I," in Negro Voices in American Fiction, The University of North Carolina Press, 1948, pp. 23-100.
[In the following excerpt, Gloster briefly assesses The Conquest, The Homesteader, and The Forged Note.]
Avoiding both pride and bitterness in his treatment of interracial subject matter, Oscar Micheaux writes some-what autobiographically of the experiences of an enterprising Negro in Chicago, the South Dakota farm lands, and the urban South. His first novel, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer (1913), based largely on the author's own life and dedicated to Booker T. Washington, relates the experiences of Oscar Devereux in Illinois and South Dakota. In the latter state Devereux, after acquiring a homestead and becoming a prosperous farmer, falls in love with a Scottish girl but evades matrimony because of the racial barrier. Later marrying Orlean McCraline, daughter of a Negro preacher of Chicago, he finally leaves her because of frequent disagreements with her father.
In The Conquest, for the first time in American Negro fiction, a leading colored character appears in the role of a pioneer; and settlement in the Northwest is proposed as an approach to the alleviation of racial tension in the South. Admitting that the black man suffers injustice in the United States, Micheaux nevertheless asserts that this "should be no reason why the American Negro should allow obvious prejudice to prevent his taking advantage of opportunities that surround him." Recommending the Northwest as an area where the Negro might work out a successful future, the author continues:
… for years I have felt constrained to deplore the negligence of the colored race in America, in not seizing the opportunity for monopolizing more of the many million acres of rich farm lands in the great Northwest, where immigrants from the old world own many acres of rich farm lands; while the millions of blacks, only a few hundred miles away, are as oblivious to it all as the heathen of Africa are to civilization.
In didactic chapters entitled "Where the Negro Fails" and "Progressives and Reactionaries" Micheaux advances opinions concerning the shortcomings and leadership of his race. He affirms that "the greatest of all the failings" of his people, both ignorant and educated, is the lack of "that great and mighty principle which characterizes Americans, called the initiative." In amplification of this idea, he says:
Colored people are possible in every way that is akin to becoming good citizens, which has been thoroughly proven and is an existing fact. Yet they seem to lack the "guts" to get into the Northwest and "do things." In seven or eight of the great agricultural states there were not enough colored farmers to fill a township of thirty-six sections.
Another predominating inconsistency is that there is that "love of luxury." They want street cars, cement walks, and electric lights to greet them when they arrive.
In an evaluation of the two conflicting schools of Negro leadership, Micheaux expresses a preference for the racial platform of Booker T. Washington:
The Progressives, led by Booker T. Washington and with industrial education as the material idea, are good, active citizens; while the other class, distinctly reactionary in every way, contend for more equal rights, privileges, and protection, which is all very logical, indeed, but they do not substantiate their demands with any concrete policies; depending largely on loud demands, and are too much given to the condemnation of the entire white race for the depredations of a few.
A further examination of Micheaux's views on the...
(The entire section is 1611 words.)