8 May 2009

T. S. Stribling's Birthright

T. S. Stribling was born in Clifton, Tennessee in 1887, and Birthright (1922) was his first excursion into serious novel writing territory. It's the story of the mixed-race Peter Siner, who, following a Harvard education, travels back south to encounter a huge culture shock; not only does he meet racial prejudice by the whites back in Hooker's Bend, but in the black area - Niggertown - he finds the blacks complicit in this prejudice:

'This constant implication among Niggertown inhabitants that Niggertown and all it held was worthless, mean, unhuman depressed Peter. The mulatto knew the real trouble with Niggertown was it had adopted the white village's estimate of it. The sentiment of the white village was overpowering among the imitative negroes. The black folk looked into the eyes of the whites and saw themselves reflected as chaff and skum and slime, and no human being ever suggested that they were aught else.'

Siner has lofty visions of healing the rift between black and white in the South, of, er, making a stand against the movement of (often more gifted) blacks to the North, but in the end the book is pessimistic about these notions, and Siner leaves Tennessee, with his octoroon bride, for work in Chicago. Black readers were unhappy with the book's conclusion, and Harlem Renaissance writer Jessie Redmon Faucet, for instance, claimed that the white Stribling greatly contributed to her becoming a novelist; Nella Larsen and Walter White were similarly disturbed by Birthright. Nevertheless, in 'The Myth of Objectivity in T. S. Stribling's Birthright and Unfinished Cathedral' - the latter of which was the final part of the 'Vaiden trilogy', Hyeyum Chung states that several critics have claimed that Stribling was 'at the vanguard of the Southern Literary Renaissance'.*

T. S. Stribling is generally considered to have written all of his significant work in the 1920s and 1930s.

* In Southern Quarterly, (October, 2002).