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Charles W. Chesnutt to Albion W. Tourgée, 27 April 1895

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  CHAS. W. CHESNUTT, 7361024SOCIETY FOR SAVINGS BLD'G. Hon. A. W. Tourgee, Mayville, N.Y. My dear Judge Tourgee:-

A friend of mine handed me a copy THE BASIS, your new journal, the other day, and I have hastened to place myself in the list of subscribers.1 The form in which the Basis appears is neat and convenient, and the principles and policy of the new journal are just what would be expected with you at its head. You are the one writer in the United States who ought to have an organ of his own, in which to express his views fully and freely; and I venture to hope that your present arrangement will give full scope to your editorial powers, with greater profit and less risk than your plan as at first proposed.

I see that you make most liberal offers of prizes for literary efforts. I trust they will be productive of the best results, both in quality of the work drawn out and in the increase of the circulation of the BASIS.2 If I can find time between now and the limit fixed for the close of the competitions, I may take a "shy" at one of the prizes. In the meantime I will do all I can to promote the circulation of the BASIS; I already have the promise of several subscriptions.

Very truly 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. The Basis: A Journal of Citizenship was founded by Albion W. Tourgée along with several Buffalo, New York, reformers and businessmen. The journal lasted thirteen months.[back]

2. In addition to Chesnutt's support, the Basis also gained subscribers from other African Americans, including Ida B. Wells, William H. Anderson, and Harry C. Smith. In an effort to increase subscriptions, Tourgée offered prizes for "'sketches and stories by colored writers' illustrating the common life of the colored people" (Carolyn L. Karcher, Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006], 194).[back]