The novel was written in direct refutation of many of sensationalized accounts of the "race riot" in Wilmington. These accounts included inaccurate news reports and a series of white supremacist novels. These accounts were the only ones available to readers in the North, whose knowledge was limited to what was readily available in print.
Chesnutt himself reflected on the book in 1905, answering a letter on behalf of a high school student: "The book was received by the public with respect, but not with any great enthusiasm. By the public I mean the great reading public whose opinion is reflected by the newspapers and magazines which reflect public opinion. It had a fair sale, but was criticized as being bitter. I did not intend it to be so. Nor do I think it was."