Chesnutt, Charles Waddell

Born: June 20, 1858
Died: November 15, 1932

Ohio connection: Birth


Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1858, the son of two free African Americans, Andrew Jackson and Ann Maria (Sampson) Chesnutt. The Chesnutts had moved from Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1856. Charles’ grandparents were of mixed race, bringing a complexity to his life that was later reflected in his fiction works. In 1866, the family moved back to Fayetteville, where Charles’s father opened a grocery store. Charles attended a Freedman’s Bureau School in Fayetteville, and then began teaching at the age of fifteen at a school for African-American students in Charlotte. In 1877, at the age of 19, he became assistant principal and later principal of the State Colored Normal School in Fayetteville, where he would work until 1883. In 1878, he married Susan Perry, a Fayetteville schoolteacher. They would have four children together. During this time, Chesnutt studied French, German, rhetoric, and stenography. In 1883, he returned to Cleveland, where he opened a stenographic business. He also began his writing career, publishing stories, essays and sketches in magazines and newspapers. He became the first African-American author to appear in Atlantic Monthly. He published collections of short stories, including The Conjure Womanand The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. He also wrote four novels: The House Behind the CedarsThe Marrow of TraditionThe Colonel’s Dream, and Mandy Oxendine. Some non-fiction titles are Frederick Douglass (biography); The Journals of Charles Chesnutt; and To Be An Author: Letters of Charles W. Chesnutt. Charles Waddell Chesnutt died in Cleveland, Tuesday, November 15, 1932.

Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1928.  The United States Postal Service 31st Black Heritage series stamp.