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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 1 March 1889

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  My dear Mr. Cable:—

I have read Prof. Scarborough's article1 in the March Forum. He has a clear grasp of the situation; his article is well written, though it might have had a little more fervor. I don't believe that emigration to the West will do the Negroes in the South a great deal of good, for the reason that those who go will probably be the most advanced of them instead of the lowest, and it is not difficult to foresee the effect upon a people of a steady drain of its best blood. While Scarborough   2 and I have written on the same subject, and our views upon it are substantially the same, I am not able to see, at first glance at least, that we have treated any special topic identically. I will go over it more carefully, however; and if, as sponsor to my essay, you have time or inclination to make any further suggestions in regard to it, they will be gratefully received and respectfully considered.

Thanks for the Open Letter2 pamphlet containing Dr. Haygood's Reply to Eustis; I shall endeavor to send Mr. Baskervill a number of such names as are desired.3

Very Truly Yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt G.W Cable, Esq. Northampton, Mass.

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. 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]

2. The Open Letter Club was a national organization led by George W. Cable and William Malone Baskervill, which advocated for civil rights and educational access for southern African Americans. Cable asked Chesnutt to develop a mailing list of prominent North Carolinians for the Club in early spring, 1889.[back]

3. After printing three thousand copies of Atticus G. Haygood's response, George Washington Cable distributed them among the members of the Open Letter Club. In Cable's undated letter to Chesnutt, he asked Chesnutt to send a list of potential Club members, and Chesnutt obliged on March 9, 1889 by forwarding the pamphlet to A. H. Slocomb, a turpentine merchant of Fayetteville, North Carolina, who provided ten names for the mailing list.[back]