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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 9 September 1889

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  Chas. W. Chesnutt, 30 Blackstone Bld'g, Acknowledge will write further. My dear Mr. Cable:-

I enclose you herewith a paper on County Government in North Carolina.1 I could not gather, from Miss Moffat's note, whether you simply wanted me to collate material for use in connection with something you are writing on southern political methods, or whether you wanted something complete in itself. I thought most likely it was for the former purpose, and have therefore thrown it together rather crudely, after spending half a day in the law library looking up the law. If you should wish to use it as coming from me, and there is time, I would like to have it back again, unless you think it good enough in its present shape. You are entirely welcome, however, to make whatever use of it may be best for the "cause", which from present indications,—the shootings in Mississippi and Louisiana, the whippings in Georgia, and the burning at the stake in Kentucky, not to mention such trifles as burning postmasters in effigy —, would seem to be in rather a bad way. If things keep on at this rate much longer, I shall be compelled to believe, with Judge Tourgee, that serious and widespread race troubles in the South are not improbable in the near future2. Such conflicts would probably result to the injury of the negroes, but as sure as there is a heaven and an earth the white people of the South are sowing a crop from which they will reap an abundant harvest of hatred; the plant|ias already attained a vigorous growth, and what its fruit will be none can tell.

I take the liberty of enclosing you the Ms. of a story, entitled "Rena Walden".3 If it is not asking too much of you, will you kindly read it, and tell me what you think the chance would be of its acceptance by the Century? Its local color is certainly new; it deals with a class similar to your Louisiana quadroons, but of course not so romantic. The hardest point I had to decide in connection with the story was what to call my heroine's mother. I could n't call her" "Mrs. PMolly: and be consistent, because she was really called "Miss", by those people who gave her any title at all—and "Mrs." was an unknown term to all but people of the highest culture. And yet "Miss" as the title of an unmarried woman, looks a little out of place. I did not have   your practically non-committal French "Madame" to fall back upon. While I have n't the "nerve" to ask for suggestions from you, yet any that you might have time to make on that or any other point would be gratefully appreciated, and you need not fear you would be establishing a dangerous precedent, for I am quite aware of the value of your time and the manner in which it is taken up.

I have written to-day to North Carolina for a copy of the new election law referred to in the enclosed article,4 and will send it to you when I receive it.

Hoping to hear from you at your convenience, I remain

Very respectfully 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. George W. Cable, through his secretary Mary Moffat, asked Chesnutt to write an essay on a topic that may have been discussed in person during Chesnutt's visit to Northampton in March 1889. This paper has not been located.[back]

2. Judge Albion W. Tourgée's Appeal to Caesar (1884) argued for the end of racial discrimination, and it suggested a Black rebellion might occur if legal and policy reforms were not made.[back]

3. This story would eventually become the novel House Behind the Cedars (1900).[back]

4. Chesnutt wrote to the editor of the Progressive Educator, Charles N. Hunter, who promised to forward a copy of the article, but this letter is unlocated. The new election law was a modification of South Carolina's election law, which required applicants to provide their state and date of birth, the last precinct in which they voted, and their residence. Hunter noted that many African Americans would not be able to provide this information, preventing them from becoming registered voters. See "To Be an Author": Letters of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1889–1905, ed. Joseph R. McElrath and Robert C. Leitz, III (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 38–39.[back]