Skip to main content

Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 22 February 1889

Textual Feature Appearance
alterations to base text (additions or deletions) added or deleted text
passage deleted with a strikethrough mark deleted passage
passage deleted by overwritten added text Deleted text Added text
position of added text (if not added inline) [right margin] text added in right margin; [above line] text added above the line
page number, repeated letterhead, etc. page number or repeated letterhead
supplied text [supplied text]
archivist note archivist note
  219 Superior St. My Dear Mr. Cable:—

I return herewith Mr. Metcalf's letter. I appreciate his words of commendation, and am sorry he could not accept the article.1 I shall read Prof. Scarborough's article2 with interest, and revise my MSS. in view of it. I was thinking that the title of my article, "The Negro's Answer &c", might sound rather large in view of the fact that Scarborough is, I presume, speaking in the same character: but I can tell better when I have read his paper. If you succeed with the Century, I shall regard it as a very good change from the Forum—I presume the Century is read by ten people to the Forum's one.

The "Symposium"3 in this week's   Independent4 is a revelation to me, and confirms me in a theory I have had for some time, i.e., that just about the time that the Negro got ready to assert himself and demand his rights, he would find nothing to do—the white people would have done it all. The most encouraging thing about it all is that these men are the teachers of the white youth of the South. The influence of one Haygood5, or Baskervill6, extending over a long period of time and acting upon receptive and plastic minds, will more than offset the fervid rhetoric of a score of Gradys7 and Eustises8 and Morgans9 —, and I more than suspect that it is your example and your influence have done more than any other one thing to stimulate the growth of the school of thought represented by the Independent's Symposium.

Very Truly yours— Chas. W. Chesnutt—

I am glad that you asked Scarborough to write. I think there is a good deal of latent talent, literary and otherwise, among the colored people of this country, which needs only a decent degree of encouragement and recognition to stimulate it to activity.

Yours &c C.W.C

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. George Washington Cable forwarded a copy of "The Negro's Answer" to the founder and editor of Forum, Lorettus Sutton Metcalf (1837–1920). Cable enclosed Metcalf's rejection with his February 16, 1889 letter to Chesnutt. Because Metcalf had already accepted a paper from William Scarborough that "covers some of the ground that [Chesnutt's] traverses," he declined to publish Chesnutt's essay. Cable recommended that before sending the essay to the Century Chesnutt remove any information that was already discussed in Scarborough's essay.[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. "Shall the Negro Be Educated or Suppressed," a symposium, appeared in the Independent as a rebuttal to the essay "Race Antagonism in the South," written by Louisiana Senator James B. Eustis and published in the Forum. Eustis's essay argues that the "Negro Problem" was singular to the southern states. Atticus G. Haywood replied that the problem was a national one; other respondents included William M. Baskervill, George W. Cable, Charles Foster Smith, Robert T. Hill, F. C. Woodward, W. M. Beckner, John H. Boyd, and Julius D. Breher.[back]

4. 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]

5. Atticus G. Haygood (1839–1896) was an author, editor, president of Emory University, and Methodist bishop. His book Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future (1881) describes the role played by freed persons during Reconstruction.[back]

6. William M. Baskervill was a professor of English at Vanderbilt University. George Washington Williams was a soldier in the Union army and a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican army, as well as a minister, politician, lawyer, journalist and historian. He was elected as the first African American to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives. Both men were personal friends of Cable and were active in the Open Letter Club.[back]

7. Henry Woodfin Grady (1850–1889), considered the "Spokesman of the New South," was a journalist and part owner of the Atlanta Constitution.[back]

8. James Biddle Eustis (1834–1899), a senator from Louisiana, was heavily involved in Reconstruction politics, and as a conservative Democrat, he denounced black public officials and advocated for the restoration of conservative White rule in Louisiana.[back]

9. John Tyler Morgan (1824–1907) was one of the most outspoken White supremacists of the early Jim Crow era. He served six terms as a senator for Alabama.[back]