Notes Concerning the Author.
William Hannibal Thomas (1843-1935) was born in Ohio of free blacks from Virginia and Ohio. He attended schools in Ohio and Michigan and was the first black student admitted to Westerville, Ohio’s Otterbein University, but left in 1960 mid-way through his first term. During the WBTS, he fought with distinction in the 5th U.S. Colored Infantry, suffering a severe wound that led to the amputation of his right arm.
After the conquest of the Confederate States, Thomas taught school and served in the South Carolina legislature. It was during this era that Thomas began his study of African Americans and their problems and progress now that they were free, independent and, by necessity, self-supporting. He also developed opinions regarding what he considered the failed government policy during the Republican Party’s Political Reconstruction program.
Thomas was well-informed and had insight, honesty and great concern about the condition and future of his people in the turn-of-the-century United States.
The American Negro, What He Was, What He Is, and What He May Become: A Critical and Practical Discussion is a well-named work of 440 pages, because it is a rather pessimistic picture of the subject, as acquired by the author from experiences between 1860 and 1900. It was not well received by intellectuals of the day (1901-1903), we would surmise, not because it was not objective and a seeker of the truth, but because it was perhaps just that.
The Society has included this study of 440 pages of observation because it surely adds a perspective on the subject that is not that easily obtained in the history and writings to which have access in our normal intercourse today.
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