In 1900, a mere 35 years after the Civil War had ended the practice of one human being owning another, Pauline Hopkins, black and female, published Contending Forces, whose rediscovery here shocks us into recognition that our national literature does indeed contain examples of black awareness and pride.
Like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pauline Hopkins writes of the injustices suffered by blacks at the hands of whites. But her novel penetrates deeper than Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Nor is the white man the sole devil in Hopkins’s fiction; there are the contending forces: “Conservatism, lack of brotherly affiliation, lack of energy for the right and the power of the almighty dollar which deadens men’s hearts to the sufferings of their brothers, and makes them feel that if only they can rise to the top of the ladder may God help the hindermost man, are . . . the contending forces that are dooming this race to despair.”
Very little is known about this remarkable author. She was born in 1859 in Portland, Maine, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1930. In the 1900–1904 period, she was a member of the staff of Colored American Magazine, the most important black magazine of the time. Her novel was published in Boston by The Colored Co-operative Publishing Co.