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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 3 May 1889

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  My Dear Mr. Cable:-

I regret to say that, after mature deliberation, I have reached the conclusion that I could not afford to come to Northampton for any sum which, judging from the figures you have already mentioned, you would probably feel justified in offering me. The contingency which immediately inspired my first letter to you did not happen—that is, the appointment of official stenographers,—so that my business is not affected in that direction. My earnings for, the month just ended, as per memorandum lying before me, are just $250.65. I have just made a change in my business which will, I hope, enable me to increase the income from it with less work on my part individually. So you will see that even $1200.00 or $1500.00 a year would, in comparison, be a sacrifice of half my income,—a sacrifice which I, personally, would not hesitate to make, in view of the compensating advantages, but which my duty to my family, and other considerations which would perhaps not interest you, constrain me not to make.

I hope, however, to still do what I can in the good cause of human rights, and am not likely to grow lukewarm in it, for if no nobler motive inspired me, my own interests and those of many who are dear to me are largely at stake. But I hope still to find opportunities, and I shall write and speak and act as occasion may require.


I have written to the North American Review asking for something definite in regard to the acceptance of my article, but have as yet received no answer.1

I enclose you a list of names of gentlemen who will be valuable additions to the list of those to whom Open Letter Club pamphlets are sent.2

My office arrangements are now such that I can give prompt attention to copying or other work, and as I have already said, you can command me for assistance in anything where distance will not be too great an obstacle. Reiterating my regret at feeling forced to the conclusion I have reached, I remain

Very respectfully yours Chas. W Chesnutt 30 Blackstone Bld'g, Cleveland, O. G. W. Cable, Esq., Northamtonpton, Mass.

P.S. Please note the change of address—


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. Chesnutt references his essay "An Inside View," which he first sent to George Washington Cable on January 18, 1889. He retitled it "The Negro's Answer to the Negro Question" and sent three copies to Cable on February 12, 1889. The essay was rejected by The North American Review and Richard Gilder, editor at The Century, to whom Cable had sent the essay. Gilder described it to Cable as "so timely and so political—in fact so partisan—that we cannot handle it," but suggested it should appear at once somewhere. The essay remained unpublished in Chesnutt's lifetime. See "An Inside View of the Negro Question" in Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., Robert C. Leitz, III, and Jesse S. Crisler, eds, Charles W. Chesnutt: Essays and Speeches (Stanford: Stanford UP), 57-68.[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]