August 1900 (Vol. 1, No. 3)
Source: James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Salzburg
The third issue of the Colored American Magazine, which appeared after an interruption of a month due to delays in procuring contributions, promises to give its readers “a periodical that will entertain, but instruct as well” by offering “short stories and articles of general interest” as well as “historical and biographical articles of persons and incidents famous in the history of the race” (“Editorial and Publisher’s Announcements” 191). In addition to articles of general interest (about the Young Men’s Congressional Club, prison reform, magic tricks, Virginia Union University) there are historical and biographical articles about and of famous people, often accompanied by their portraits (about the French National holiday, singer Mamie Williams, writer Olivia Ward Bush, Vaudeville dancers Johnson and Dean, playwright W. Henry Thomas, Soprano singer Madame Perkins of Boston, diplomat Archibald Grimke, actress Eva E. Gay). The political content of this issue addresses matters important to African American readers. Its fiction promotes two young writers and starts a serial novel.
Capt. W. H. Jackson, U.S.A., writes from Manila where he served in the 8th Army Corps of the 1st Division during the Philippine-American War. He writes about the friendly reception of the African American soldiers by the people in Manila and includes a message of American patriotism: “The insurgents even sent out placards to the colored officers and men, asking us not to fight against them, because we were of the same color. But we only laugh, for we are U.S. soldiers, and all the enemies of the U.S. government look alike to us, hence we go along with the killing, just as with other people” (Jackson 149). As literary critic Yu-Fang Cho argues in Uncoupling American Empire (2013), his message stresses the inherent patriotism and the fitness for military duty of the colored troops but it also displays the “‘color-blindness’ as well as outright indifference to its violent consequences” of the black soldiers (55).1 The letter is accompanied by the portrait of the highly decorated and very dignified soldier. This letter from a patriotic African American soldier is situated before a reprint from the New Orleans Times-Democrat about the savage beating and torture of a black man in New Orleans. This report is not signed but it is followed by the editor’s note about the necessity of the “Colored Race uniting for self-protection.” The most political piece is Robert W. Carter’s “Shall the Fifteenth Amendment Be Repealed?” Carter, who is profiled in the May 1901 issue as an activist in New York politics and the attendant of a retired New York physician (Elliott 48, 65), speaks out, without doubt and hesitation, in favor of the Amendment because it advances “right, justice, intelligence, civilization and the advancement of Christianity” (172). Charles Winslow Hall, a white military historian and author of adventure books, calls the Republican Party to account for turning its back on the cause of liberty, selling out for gain and profit, promoting unmitigated racism and imperialism, and for having been made “the mouthpiece and handmaid of human arrogance and greed” (176). The party has abandoned and betrayed African Americans. The Democratic Party, Hall argues, stands for a cause against imperialism and for the settlement of political, social, and industrial matters. Although, he says, it is not his “province to tell the men of another race how to vote” (178), this is exactly what he does. In Jackson’s letter, the Times-Democrat article, and Carter and Hall’s essays, the magazine negotiates, as it does frequently, the ground between American patriotism, protest against racial injustice, and political instruction in the interest of the African American people.
The August issue features two stories by young African American female writers and the first installment of a serial novel and a sketch by Maitland Leroy Osborne, a writer whose identity can now be revealed as indisputably white.
Later the wife of Edward Spencer, Anne Bethel Scales became the very renowned Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer (1882-1975). She taught school in Elkhorn and Maybeury, W. VA from 1899-1901.2 Her two-part “Beth’s Story,” which begins in the August issue, is about two young college seniors in 1899. The young women meet in the Park to discuss Paul Dunbar’s first novel Uncalled, but the conversation shifts to the relationship between beautiful Louise and a sinister dark stranger who mystifies and mesmerizes her. Louise asks her best friend Beth for help. The presence of a villain with a magnetic force on the heroine bears some resemblance to Osborne’s Stress of Impulse and some of Pauline Hopkins’s fiction.
In Angelina Grimké’s “Black Is, As Black Does,” a female guide, “one of the lovers of God,” shows the narrator a dream vision of divine judgment in black and white (161). A poor, desolate, foully murdered black man is acquitted of his sins and clad in a shining white robe, while the white man responsible for his murder has to stagger from the judgment bar as a condemned sinner. The story thus envisions a utopian type of better world, the land where people are taken care of and justice is spoken. But it is obviously only a dream. Angelina W. Grimké (1880-1958), the daughter of Archibald Grimké, was a journalist, poet, playwright, and teacher. Both young writers (Spencer was 18 and Grimkè was 20 years old in 1900) show great promise and prove the mission of the magazine to encourage young talents, which later became more pronounced when Pauline Hopkins became the magazine’s literary editor.
While Scales’s and Grimké’s fiction include some African American topics, Osborne’s serial can be put into the categories of adventure, detective, and local color fiction. Osborne lived from 1871 to 1960 and in 1900 he was registered in Middlesex, MA, as a journalist. Between July 1899 and October 1914 he wrote for the Boston-based National Magazine, an illustrated monthly that covered local and national issues and was affiliated with the Republican Party position. Maitland Leroy Osborne (the name sometimes being spelled as Maitland L. or Maitland Le Roy and Osborn without the closing “e”) also published as O.S. Borne. The very first issue of the magazine contains Osborne’s story “A Wild Mountain Rose,” a tale about the growing attachment between an undercover revenue agent who is supposed to track down a gang of moonshiners in Georgia and the beautiful daughter of the head of this gang. The same issue also features O.S. Borne’s “The Doctor’s Great Discovery,” a vaguely Gothic and supernatural story about a doctor who dedicates himself to the task of discovering and administering to himself an elixir of life and eternal youth. Osborne’s most prominent work of fiction published in the Colored American Magazine is his six-part serial novel The Stress of Impulse, which starts in August 1900 and runs until January 1901. The novel opens with a railroad wreck injuring a young detective named Roger Dolloff, who is on his way from Chicago to San Francisco to investigate the disappearance of a large amount of money from the First National Bank. Dolloff is nursed back to health by a mysterious young woman with glorious black hair that “shone like burnished ebony” and who hides a disreputable first marriage from him (134). The action follows Dolloff’s increasingly dramatic pursuit of the bank robber from Chicago to San Francisco and Panama, across the Andes to the Southern part of the US, and then on to Liverpool, London, and Amsterdam, finally ending in a village in New England. With a plot of murder, robbery, pursuit, kidnapping, mistaken identities, and mysterious encounters the serial reflects the nation’s overseas involvement and the variety of its local color; it does not, however, concern topics of specific interest to African Americans.
Although virtually unknown today, Osborne obviously possessed some local fame and was willing to contribute to a new publishing venture. This can be seen as a tribute to white readers and, on a practical level, the most likely reason to include these and other stories was to maximize circulation. On a different level, one can see Osborne as a writer who challenged racist politics because he knew he was writing for a “colored” magazine. There is no biographical information about Osborne in the magazine (nor about Hall or any other white writer) and it is unknown whether contemporary readers knew of his racial affiliation. Later readers, as Thomas Otten demonstrates, simply assumed he was an unknown black writer. Otten argues that Osborne’s “Doctor’s Great Discovery,” Pauline Hopkins’s “A Mystery Within Us” (both appearing in the first issue of the new magazine), and Angelina Grimke’s “Black Is, As Black Does” “renegotiate representations of identity” (234). The last contribution of Osborne in the Colored American Magazine appears in the January 1901 issue. It is not yet clear whether or why Osborne decided for himself that other publishing opportunities were more appropriate, yet he never denied, to all appearances, this period in his life, referring to The Stress of Impulse and listing a publication in the black Richmond Planet in Pipe Dreams, his 1908 collection of poetry. There is one other white author who published both in the National Magazine and the Colored American Magazine. Author and public speaker Frank Putnam was a prolific poet, essay and fiction writer for the National Magazine in the period between 1899 and 1915. In the June 1900 issue of the Colored American Magazine he published a critical essay about the upcoming McKinley election, “The Negro’s Part in National Problems.” Since the National Magazine was obviously pro-McKinley, Putnam, maybe similar to Charles Winslow Hall, must have decided that a “colored” magazine and its rather Republican-critical stance was a more appropriate place for this essay.3
1. Lois Brown sees in these military news the “welcome coverage of African American military men” whose profiles reinforced the magazine’s claims for “true American democracy and social justice” (269).↩
2. See Keith Clark’s entry on Scales in Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States, ed. by Cathy N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin (New York: OUP, 1995), rpt. at http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/spencer/about.htm; and Brucella Wiggins Jordan, “Anne Spencer,” The West Virginia Encyclopedia , http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/530 ↩
3. See also Gatewood on Putnam (235) and on the 1900 election (222-60).↩
Brown, Lois. Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution. U North Carolina P, 2008.
Cho, Yu-Fang. Uncoupling American Empire: Cultural Politics of Deviance and Unequal Difference, 1890 – 1910. SUNY Press, 2013.
Elliott, R. S. “The Story of Our Magazine.” The Colored American Magazine, vol. 3, no. 1, May 1901, pp. 43-77. The Digital Colored American Magazine, http://coloredamerican.org/?page_id=252
Gatewood, Willard B., Jr. Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden, 1898-1903. U Illinois P, 1975.
Otten, Thomas J. “Pauline Hopkins and the Hidden Self of Race.” English Literary History, vol. 59, no.1, Spring 1992, pp. 227-56.
Putnam, Frank. “The Negro’s Part in National Problems.” The Colored American Magazine, vol. 1, no. 2, June 1900, pp. 69-79. The Digital Colored American Magazine, http://coloredamerican.org/?page_id=685
Table of Contents
Miss Mamie Williams [Cover]
Portrait, Johnson and Dean (Frontispiece)
Portrait, Miss Eva E. Gay (Frontispiece)
The Stress of Impulse [Serial] [Part I, Chs. 1-4], Maitland Leroy Osborne
The Fall of the Bastile, Morris Lewis
Young Men’s Congressional Club Mock Trial
From Our Friends in the Far East
Portrait, Capt. W.H. Jackson
Portrait, Mrs. Olivia Ward Bush
First Colored Judge in Kentucky–Isaac Black Selected
Beth’s Triumph, A Two-Part Story (Part I), Anne Bethel Scales
Black is, as Black Does (A Dream), Angelina W. Grimké
Putnam’s Wolf Den, O. S. Borne
Portrait, W. Henry Thomas
Leo Gowongo’s Tricks
Shall the Fifteenth Amendment be Repealed?, Robert W. Carter
The Old or the New Faith, Which?, Charles Winslow Hall
Once Better Than Never
Penal Sentence, T. H. Johnson, M.D.
Portrait, Madam Perkins of Boston, Mass.
Portrait, Hon. Archibald Grimke
Here and There
Editorial and Publisher’s Announcements