August 1901 (Vol. 3, No. 4, Midsummer Fiction Number)

 

 

August 1901 (Vol. 3, No. 4, Midsummer Fiction Number)

Source: James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

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Note: A single Pullman train ticket was found inserted in the Beinecke’s copy of this issue of the Colored American. This ticket was digitized along with the magazine issue and has been incorporated into this PDF after page 303.

Commentary

John Cullen Gruesser
Professor of English, Kean University

The August 1901 issue of the Colored American Magazine (CAM) features three contributions by Pauline Hopkins: the short story “A Dash for Liberty” (included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature), “Senator Blanche K. Bruce,” an installment of her biographical series Famous Men of the Negro Race, and three chapters of her serial novel Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice (attributed to Sarah A. Allen, one of at least two pen names Hopkins used in CAM). It also includes short fiction by Georgia F. Stewart, Edward Elmore Brock, and the pseudonymous A. Gude Deekun; ethnographic accounts of Manila by Charles Steward (whose father and brother also wrote about the Philippines for CAM) and Zanzibar by S. E. F. C. C. Hamedoe; a rendering of the flight of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt by Charles Winslow Hall; and articles on African American social and political organizations in Philadelphia and Chicago by Mrs. N. F. Mossell and Albreta Moore-Smith. Before emphasizing the magazine’s “remarkable growth” and promising to offer its readers “the very best and latest that the race has produced” in the coming year, the Editorial and Publisher’s Announcements that conclude the issue proudly–and aptly–state, “This magazine has from the start demonstrated the fact that as a whole the race fully appreciate our efforts.”

Pauline Hopkins believed that it was up to African American authors to exploit the didactic, propagandistic, and artistic potential lying “dormant” in their history. In “A Dash for Liberty,” she evokes the “fire and romance” of the 1841 revolt on the slave ship Creole, an exodus led by Madison Washington, whom she strategically renames Madison Monroe.1 In doing so, she not only recasts this historical incident so that it resonates with the turn-of-the-twentieth-century challenges facing African Americans but also rewrites nineteenth-century literary versions of the Creole rebellion by Frederick Douglass (i.e. The Heroic Slave), William Wells Brown, and Lydia Maria Child to produce her own brand of sophisticated and politically engaged fiction. “A Dash for Liberty” can thus be read as Hopkins’s declaration of independence from both the white historical record and earlier writing by African American and white abolitionist authors. In it she implicitly contends that black America will only be fully free when its women no longer suffer exploitation and that a unified response by and for African American men and women is needed to combat the lynchings, sexual oppression, and disenfranchisement campaigns directed against them.2

Seeking to inspire US whites and blacks to re-commit themselves to the principle of freedom and justice for all while underscoring the contrast between the era of Frederick Douglass and the era of Booker T. Washington, Hopkins embarked on an ambitious neo-abolitionist project at CAM. In her Famous Men of the Negro Race and Famous Women of the Negro Race series, published in twenty-three installments between November 1900 and October 1902, she argues that from the 1830s through the 1860s, there were white people who took risks and made personal sacrifices for the ideals on which the United States was founded. During the same period, black heroes and heroines emerged–abolitionists, Underground Railroad conductors, literary artists, and soldiers. However, as she states in the final paragraph of “Senator Blanche K. Bruce,” “The South must be regenerated. We thought this had been done, but awaken in the dawn of the twentieth century, alas, to mourn our error.” Worse still, the Party of Lincoln has abandoned US blacks, sacrificing principle for wealth and power, white clubwomen have drawn the color line against their black sisters, African Americans have allowed themselves to be bribed by whites, and a “Judas” (i.e. Washington) has appeared on the scene, making a deal with a southern-led white power structure to keep the race in submission and stifle agitation.3 Thus, because a new form of bondage has been imposed on African Americans, conditions in the new century demand a level of courageous commitment comparable to abolitionism.

Sharing the theme of southern perfidy with “A Dash for Liberty” and “Senator Blanche K. Bruce,” Hagar’s Daughter has the distinction of being the first African American detective novel (featuring the young, black female sleuth Venus Johnson).4 It also signifies on Jane Eyre, thereby anticipating Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston’s female bildungsroman about a character named Janie) and Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys’s counter-discursive postcolonial rewriting of Charlotte Bronte’s canonical text).5 Exposed as a mixed-race woman and a slave, Hagar Sargeant becomes a kind of madwoman in the attic; however, rather than serving as a doppelgänger for the heroine and then dying dramatically, she improbably survives a leap with her baby girl into the Potomac River and later serves as a double for the protagonist, her daughter Jewel. The conclusion indicates that, just as Rochester cannot undo his first marriage or successfully keep it a secret, the United States cannot deny or cover up the legacies of slavery during the post-Reconstruction era, which include widespread miscegenation as a result of sexual exploitation, discrimination against people of African descent, and unchecked greed and immorality on the part of unrepentant white southerners. The combination of Bertha Mason’s humbling of Rochester and her death makes his marriage to Jane possible in the final section of Bronte’s novel. In contrast, Hagar’s Daughter does not end happily because the sins of the past have been neither fully acknowledged nor expiated.6

1. The phrase “fire and romance” and the word “dormant” derive from Pauline Hopkins’s Preface to Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South. 1900. New York: Oxford UP, 1988, 14.
2. See John Cullen Gruesser, “Taking Liberties: Pauline Hopkins’s Recasting of the Creole Rebellion,” The Unruly Voice: Rediscovering Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, ed. John Cullen Gruesser, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996, 98-118.
3. Hopkins compares Washington to Judas in “Charles Lenox Remond,” the May 1901 installment of Famous Men of the Negro Race, 39.
4. See Gruesser, Race, Gender and Empire in American Detective Fiction, Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2013, 121-26.
5. See my unpublished invited lecture “A ‘Familiar Strangeness’: Zora Neale Hurston and the African American Grotesque,” https://www.academia.edu/31118234/A_Familiar_Strangeness_Zora_Neale_Hurston_and_the_African_American_Grotesque.
6. See my unpublished conference paper “The Mixed-Race Woman in the Attic: Pauline Hopkins’s African American Gothic in Hagar’s Daughter,” https://www.academia.edu/32402714/Pauline_Hopkinss_Mixed-Race_Woman_in_the_Attic.


Table of Contents

Miss Grace Littlepage, Mrs. John Saunders, Philadelphia, PA. [Cover]
“With a Cry Jewel Staggered to Her Feet” (illustration for Hagar’s Daughter), J. Alexandre Skeete (Frontispiece)
A Dash for Liberty, Pauline E. Hopkins
Manila and its Opportunities, Charles Steward
Famous Men of the Negro Race — X. Senator Blanche K. Bruce, Pauline E. Hopkins
Hagar’s Daughter (Serial) [Part VI, Chs. 17-19], Sarah A. Allen [pseud. Pauline E. Hopkins]
The Wooing of Pastor Cummings, Georgia F. Stewart
A Summer Episode, Edward Elmore Brock
Fascinating Bible Stories — IX. Moses and Aaron (Part II), Charles Winslow Hall
The National Afro-American Council, Mrs. N. F. Mossell
Chicago Notes, Albreta Moore-Smith
A Stolen Patrol, A. Gude Deekun
Seyyid Barghash Bin Said, S. E. F. C. C. Hamedoe
Here and There
Editorial and Publisher’s Announcements