Skip to main content

Charles W. Chesnutt to Albion W. Tourgée, 21 November 1893

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
  7513 7513 CHAS. W. CHESNUTT. ATTORNEY-AT-LAW. 30 BLACKSTONE BUILDING736 Soc. for Savings Bld'g. Judge Albion W. Tourgee, Mayville, N. Y. My dear Judge Tourgee:—

I received your letter of several days ago, and it has been the subject uppermost in my mind ever since. I am also in receipt of your note this morning requesting an immediate answer.

It is needless to say that I recognize the need of such a journal. The demand for it, however, is a different matter, and were it not for the large roll of the Citizens' Rights Association, I would doubt the existence of such a demand, so far as white people are concerned; although I am well aware that colored people who think at all, are interested in whatever favors them. The only question for me, therefore, is whether I shall take a certain amount of the stock, with the prospect or the certainty, as the case may be, of becoming associate editor of the National Citizen.1

As to the editorship, I am free to say that I should like it, and should manage to find a certain amount of time to devote to it. My business, on the scale on which I conduct it, is very absorbing, and will be especially so for the next eight   7513 CHAS. W. CHESNUTT


Cleveland, O.__________189____ -2- months, unless all signs fail; yet in this cause I would be willing to sacrifice somewhat of comfort and leisure. I have always looked forward to the literary life, although not specially in the direction of journalism.

This leaves only the financial part of your proposition for consideration. As to my investing, $2,500.00, that is out of the question. I have been earning money in excess of my expenditures for only the past five years. With my savings I have purchased a comfortable home, which is worth some four or five thousand dollars. And my surplus since paying for that, I have invested in other ways.—in land and in securities of other kinds, never keeping more than a few hundred dollars in the bank to meet current expenses. My investments, while conservative, are nevertheless to some extent of a speculative character, and while I expect them to be very profitable in a comparatively short time, yet I am sure I could not close them out at present without loss rather than profit; and I am only just now started in on what I hope to be a profitable season's business, after my regular dull season during the Summer time, which always depletes to a large extent my current expense fund.

With regard to the least sum which you mention, $500.00, I   7513 CHAS. W. CHESNUTT


Cleveland, O.__________189____ -3- should feel somewhat differently. If you had written to me without reference to the position of associate editor, I should have subscribed for one or two hundred dollars worth of stock and sent in a subscription for some five or ten copies of the paper. I do not suppose you want an associate editor merely for ornament. I certainly would not care to be a mere figurehead in such an enterprise, even for the honor of having my name coupled with such a distinguished one as your own. I am willing to put in my work and take my chances in that regard, and to contribute to the capital to the extent of $500.00, provided the same can be paid in several instalments, in the manner in which stock subscriptions to new enterprises are generally paid; provided I am named as associate editor, and that in reply to this you tell me you have received such responses to your circular as would justify me in taking that course. In saying this I have in mind the sentence in the printed circular in which you state that " you are not putting in any money and cannot advise others to do so without positive assurance, etc." Five hundred dollars is not a large sum in the abstract, but it represents a good deal of hard work in my case, and the magnitude of my family makes me perhaps unduly cautious in disposing of it.

I shall await a reply, and give you a definite answer immediately   7513 CHAS. W. CHESNUTT


Cleveland, O.__________189____ upon hearing from you. If I had known this matter several months ago, I would have had more available cash, and would have had time to see you and talk with you. I might have come up to Mayville last Saturday, when I could have discussed the matter more fully; and I should like to come toward the end of this week, say Saturday, if the matter is not too pressing, and if you are inclined to consider my proposition at all favorably. In any event, I will take $100.00 worth of stock, and guarantee at least ten subscriptions. I have not had time, since receipt of your letter, to work up the matter among my friends, as your letter caught me at a very busy time.

Very respectfully yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt.

Correspondent: Albion Winegar Tourgée (1838–1905) was a White activist, author, and judge. During Reconstruction, he settled in North Carolina and became an advocate for racial equality. Tourgée wrote his bestselling autobiographical novel, A Fool's Errand (1879), before moving to Mayville, New York, in 1881. He published 15 more novels in the next 17 years, and several times attempted to found magazines, often inviting Chesnutt to serve as editor. In 1891, he founded the National Citizens' Rights Association, an organization devoted to equality for African-American citizens, and in 1896 served as Homer Plessy's lead counsel in the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

1. In Albion W. Tourgée's "Bystander" column, of the Inter Ocean, October 17, 1891, he asked the "people of the North" if they would "demonstrate their solidarity with their 'colored' fellow citizens of the South by joining a 'Citizens' Equal Rights Association.'" The organization aimed to "bring to the front again the idea of personal liberty and the equal right of the citizen." This organization was promoted by several African American newspaper editors as well as other prominent figures like Chesnutt and Ida B. Wells (See Carolyn L. Karcher, Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006], 149–150).[back]