July 1902 (Vol. 5, No. 3)

 

 

July 1902 (Vol. 5, No. 3)

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

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Commentary

JoAnn Pavletich
Associate Professor of English, University of Houston-Downtown

This commentary on the July 1902 issue of the Colored American Magazine examines some of the rhetorical and editorial choices by editor Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. These choices point to a deeply radical and intertextual sensibility that encompasses both content and form.

The eighth installment of the Famous Women of the Negro Race series, titled “Educators,” is found in this issue. Ostensibly, it celebrates Adeline Turpen Howard, her daughter Joan Imogen Howard, and their commitment to education. It also voices support for a pedagogy that sounds co-written by Eugene Debs or Upton Sinclair. In language common to socialist/Marxist analysis, Hopkins argues that higher education is a necessity given that “political issues in these years are mainly economic” and thus individuals need to understand the “scientific aspect of individual life” and education should “embrace a clear understanding of the relations between the industrial life of the people and the laws and policy of the government” (208). This period saw widespread socialist activity, and Hopkins certainly would have been aware of it. The question is, to what extent might she have embraced it? This rhetoric asks us to look for a political affiliation not previously recognized by scholars.

Hopkins also uses this article to rebuke the 1900 General Federation of Women’s Clubs’ unwillingness to welcome Mrs. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and other African American women into the exclusively white Federation. She forcefully condemns the condescension and racism of the white women who accepted the discomfort of Southern women as sufficient reason to block black women from membership. We finally return to Miss Howard via a history lesson on black club women and the 1892 “World Congress of Representative Women of All Lands and Imogen Howard’s appointment to the Board of Women Managers of the State of New York, for the Columbian Exposition, the only Negro so honored” (211). Hopkins informs us that Miss Howard is in good company: Fanny Barrier Williams Annie J. Cooper (sic), Fanny Jackson-Coppin and Hallie Q. Brown all “delivered addresses which drew the eyes of the entire world upon them and their race” (211). Hopkins concludes with a passage from Frances E.W. Harper’s speech at that Congress: “American women! What a sublime opportunity to create healthy public sentiment for justice, and to brand lawless cowardice that lynches, burns and tortures humanity! To grapple the evils which threaten the strength and progress of the United States! Have they the grand and holy purpose of uplifting humanity?” (213). Hopkins’s article clearly demonstrates that African American women have that “holy purpose.” White women, however, are just as clearly found wanting in comparison.

The cover of this issue announces “The Negro and the Sunny South, or Prejudice the Problem” by S.C. Cross. (The article had been previewed in the previous issue where we read that it is a “masterly plea for the fair and equal treatment of the Negro race . . . in this so-called ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.’ Considering that it is written by a Southern white man, it is all the more remarkable” [n.p.].) The eleven-page essay is noteworthy for its radical indictment of white dominance. Not unlike Hopkins’s takedown of white women’s racism, this article vigorously insists that when taken apart logically, the “Negro problem,” is, in reality, a white problem. Cross employs fiery abolitionist-like rhetoric to denounce systems and attitudes that keep African Americans in post-Emancipation servitude. It discusses the Southern Methodist Church as “an institution organized to cover the Negro’s body and brain with lash and chain” (196). It also critiques racism amongst white women: “while Caucasian ladies are boldly pleading for their own legacy in Nature’s universe, they forget their colored sister’s dowery in the great estate of man” (200). The author believes that the Negro problem is “fathered and fortified by the prejudice and vengeance of all the vile and vicious passions of the Anglo Saxon race” (195) and ends his emotionally-laden, but still socratic discourse with a denunciation of whiteness: “We now know that there is a Negro Problem; that this problem is Prejudice and Persecution against the blacks; that neither gods nor demons cause this crime; that the Anglo-Saxon is the summit, seat and source of this frightful and imposing wrong” (203). Given financial tensions and editorial challenges at the CAM, in addition to its fraught position as a journal with both a white audience and a black bourgeois audience, this unequivocal denunciation placed just before Hopkins’s own censure of the Women’s Federation contributes to an issue that takes political risks and provides an uncompromising analysis.

Consistent with the unapologetic tone and message of the two previous articles are Chapters VIII, IX, and X from the serialization of Hopkins’s third novel, Winona, Or Negro Life in the South and Southwest—-the novel where Hopkins makes her most explicit critique of white political rule. As I have discussed elsewhere, Hopkins employed, appropriated, or plagiarized at least fifteen authors in this novel.1 Chapter IX is an excellent example of her audacious practice of piecing together multiple passages from several texts to produce a section of her own novel. The majority of the appropriations come from Expiation, a novel by the popular writer Alice French, from which Hopkins takes dialogue for a plantation overseer, his henchmen, and Winona’s male protagonist, Warren Maxwell. Hopkins also inserts passages from a historical romance, The White Islander by Mary Hartwell Catherwood, to depict Winona and Maxwell’s love, and a landscape description from John Fox, Jr.’s tale of Appalachian love and revenge, A Cumberland Vendetta.2 While there is little that we can say with confidence about Hopkins’s motivations for this risky imbrication of texts, it is a a profoundly radical practice that mirrors the radical content of other essays in this issue.

A converse but equally extreme technique appears in Chapter X, which is composed almost entirely of one other text. Hopkins probably found that text in an 1894 issue of Current Literature: A Magazine of Record and Review where it appeared anonymously under the title “In the Hands of the Mob: A Woman’s Story.” It describes the lynching of a miner in Arizona. Below are the beginning and final sections of the appropriated text.

 

“In the Hands of the Mob: A Woman’s Story” Winona, Chapter X
Men were pouring out of the mines as fast as they could come up. The crowds which surged through the streets were rushing on to join them, their faces distorted like demons’ with some evil passion. Tramp, tramp, on they rushed like a dark river, with cries whose horror was indescribable. It was not the voices of human beings, but more like the cries of wild animals, the screaming of enraged hyenas, the snarling of tigers, the angry, inarticulate cries of thousands of wild beasts in infuriated pursuit of their prey, yet with something in it more sinister and blood-curdling, for they were men, and added a human ferocity. . . .
 
When I looked up, to and fro on the white curtain swung the black silhouette of what had been a man. . . .
 
They who speak lightly of a mob have never heard its voice nor seen its work. (436)
Men poured down to the water’s edge as fast as they could come. The crowds which surged through the streets day and night were rushing to the wagon where lay the prisoner, their faces distorted like demons with evil passions.

Tramp, tramp, on they rushed like a dark river, with cries who horror was indescribable. It was not the voices of human beings, but more like the cries of wild animals, the screaming of enraged hyenas, the snarling of tigers, the angry, inarticulate cries of thousands of wild beasts in infuriated pursuit of their prey, yet with a something in it more sinister and blood curdling, for they were men, and added a human ferocity. . . .
 
They who speak or think lightly of a mob have never heard its voice nor seen its horrible work. (187)

 

What should we make of this extraordinary compositional practice? The conversation has just begun, but answers may need to include the prospect of intertextual/intra-issue dialogue. For example, one might propose that these chapters from Winona depict a righteous resistance that complements and reinforces Hopkins’s critique of the Federation of Women’s Clubs and Cross’s polemic. If white women are unwilling to work with black women for benevolent ends, as the behavior of the Federation indicates, and if the Anglo-Saxon race is as degenerate as Cross insists, it is, perhaps, no coincidence that Chapter VIII of Winona contains an argument for armed resistance as a reasonable solution to “the right of defense gainst superior numbers” (180). The antebellum setting of Winona resonates with Cross’s abolitionist rhetoric. The vivid rendering of a violent mob in 1894 Arizona, used in Winona to depict the near-lynching of a white abolitionist in antebellum Missouri, gestures to episodes of contemporary mob violence in Eldorado, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; and Alexandria, Virginia–all discussed in the editorials.

It may be too easy to find meaning in connections that are only circumstantial or coincidental; however, I am willing to venture that these and other possible inter- and intratextual relations signal Hopkins’s deeply creative and complicated consciousness working with and against a surfeit of writing conventions and practices to create a many-layered program of resistance to a racist status quo. Thus, it seems best to proceed with the kind of radical imagination and fierce commitment to racial justice that Hopkins herself used to great advantage. As she says in Winona, “[o]ppression is oppression, whether it enslaves men and women and makes them beasts of burden or shuts your mouth and mine if we utter humane protests . . . If this is treason, make the most of it; there’s one thing certain, unless I am caught napping, they are going to pay dearly for whatever advantage they secure over me” (180).

1. Pavletich, “‘…we are going to take that right:’ Power and Plagiarism in Pauline Hopkins’s Winona.” College Language Association Journal, 2016, vol. 59, no. 2, pp. 115-130. The terms “employed,” “appropriated,” and “plagiarized” are not interchangeable, but they do indicate some of the critical possibilities.

2. For information about Hopkins’s appropriations, the Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins Society offers bibliographies and lists of appropriated passages for three novels at http://www.paulinehopkinssociety.org/inspired-borrowings/.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “In the Hands of the Mob: A Woman’s Story.” San Francisco Argonaut. The Current Literature: A Magazine of Record and Review, Vol XVI, July-December 1894. New York: The Current Literature Publishing Company. Google Books.

Carby, Hazel. “Introduction.” The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Colored American Magazine, June 1902 (Vol.5, No. 2). http://coloredamerican.org/?page_id=758

 

Table of Contents

Miss Hattie Lee, Philadelphia, Pa. [Cover]
On a July Afternoon (Frontispiece)
Love’s Dominating Power (Poem), T. Thomas Fortune
Ithamar, The Land of the Palm, S. E. F. C. C. Hamedoe
Winona (A Serial Story), Pauline E. Hopkins
Henry Oscar Wagoner: A Sketch of His Life
The Negro and the Sunny South; Or, Prejudice the Problem, S. C. Cross
The Loyal Legion of Labor, Prof. Z. W. Mitchell
Famous Women of the Negro Race. VIII. Educators (Concluded), Pauline E. Hopkins
Here and There
The Radiant Summertime (Poem)
Some Interesting Facts, Cyrus Field Adams
The Little Brownskin Boy (Poem), Carrie Singleton
Mrs. William Scott, The Noted Evangelist
William Beckett (A Sketch), Edwin A. Lee
Editorial and Publisher’s Announcements