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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 12 February 1889

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I enclose herewith three copies of "The Negro's Answer to the Negro Question" as per your suggestion.1

I would have sent them sooner, but have really not had time to write them until now. I shall be very glad to have you place them where they may possibly do some good.

Professor Scarborough, of Wilberforce University, (a colored institution of this State,) and the author of a series of Greek textbooks published by A.S. Barnes & Co. of New York, if I am not mistaken, has an article in the March Forum.2 I have not read it yet, and do not know what it is about, but I mention the fact because the Professor is a Negro, and a full-blooded one at that; perhaps you know him already—he is a scholar and a gentleman.

The article by Professor Wright of Berea College in the last Independent3 but one, I believe, was a good one;4 and the Negro question, I am convinced, will become a more and more prominent subject of discussion until there is a radical departure at the South in the right direction.

Very respectfully yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt.

Correspondent: George Washington Cable (1844–1925) was a reporter, novelist, and critic. He began his career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, writing nearly one hundred columns in two years. After working on a collection of journalistic essays based mostly on historical accounts, Cable turned to writing short stories, novellas, and novels, typically set in New Orleans. In the 1880s, Cable began lecturing, writing essays, and forming organizations focused on social reform, specifically in the areas of Black rights and prison conditions, and in 1885 he moved to Northampton, MA. Cable and Chesnutt met for the first time in Cleveland, on December 21, 1888, at the Congregational Club's Forefather's Day celebration, where Cable was the principal speaker. They began corresponding immediately, and in mid-1889 Cable offered to employ Chesnutt as his secretary in Northampton, MA; Chesnutt declined. Cable visited the Chesnutt home in the fall of 1889, and for two years, their correspondence was frequent, typically about Cable's political efforts on race issues, Chesnutt's writings, or recent publications. After 1891, they corresponded only occasionally.

1. In George Washington Cable's letter of January 30, 1889, he requested that Chesnutt make "two or three (or even more) copies" of his essay to pass around in the Open Letter Club.[back]

2. Professor William Sanders Scarborough (1852–1926) was a Black classics scholar, activist, and professor, then president (1908-1920), at Wilberforce University in Ohio. His work helped pass 1887 legislation that ended segregation in Ohio's public schools. His "The Future of the Negro" appeared in the Forum, March 1889. It elaborated on George W. Cable's "What Shall the Negro Do?", published in the August 1888 Forum.[back]

3. The New York City-based weekly magazine the Independent argued a Black civil rights platform. The magazine published three of Chesnutt's earliest pieces: "What Is A White Man?" and "The Sheriff's Children" in 1889 and "A Multitude of Counselors" in 1891.[back]

4. Chesnutt refers to "Two Roads Before the South" by W. E. C. Wright, which was published in the Independent for January 31, 1889. This article criticized White supremacist sentiments in Texas, Virginia, and North Carolina, and argued for an alliance between the Black and White races.[back]