James Pott and Company of New York published a multi-author book titled The Negro Problem in 1903. The work comprises seven essays by African American leaders Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Charles W. Chessnutt, Wilford H. Smith, H. T. Kealing, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and T. Thomas Fortune.
Dunbar's chapter, "Representative American Negroes," is introduced as being "an enumeration of some of the noteworthy American Negroes of today and yesterday, with some account of their lives and their work. In this paper Mr. Dunbar has turned out his largest and most successful picture of the colored people. It is a noble canvas crowded with heroic figures."
To access this work in the Special Collections and Archives reading room, request Curio 301.451 N3936.
In considering who and what are representative Negroes there are circumstances which compel one to question what is a representative man of the colored race. Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and others lived during the reconstruction period. To have achieved something for the betterment of his race rather than for the aggrandizement of himself, seems to be a man's best title to be called representative. The street corner politician, who through questionable methods or even through skillful manipulation, succeeds in securing the janitorship of the Court House, may be written up in the local papers as “representative," but is he?