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Contemp. Publications "TALMA GORDON" FIRST CRITICAL EDITION

Section Summary:

The release of “Talma Gordon'' was within the pages of The Colored American Magazine, in the October 1900 edition. The Colored American was published from 1900 to 1909, the magazine worked to support and target the African American population by providing a space to showcase and promote the developing field of African American literature, and to give that community strength. The most prolific writer during its four years of publication was Pauline Hopkins herself, whose contributions to the magazine included short stories, biographical essays, editorials, and three serial novels (Dahn and Sweeney). The Colored American claimed a peak circulation of more than 17,000 which made it the largest for an African American magazine at that time until the NAACP’s Crisis overtook it (Dahn and Sweeney). It is estimated that despite its target audience, approximately one third of the magazine’s audience was white, which both showed how far the magazine reached, but also would go on to kill it, as Hopkins and others were pressed to be less aggressive and strong with their stances on political issues involving race, which was much of what the magazine was based on. In 1904 Pauline Hopkins severed her connection to the magazine due to health issues, and for its remaining five years in publication The Colored American became much more relaxed in its use of political issues, became very centrist and nonoffensive, turning off many readers until it ceased production in 1909. W.E.D. Dubois is quoted as saying that the magazine became “so conciliatory, innocuous, uninteresting that it died a peaceful death almost unnoticed by the public” (Dubois qtd. In Dahn and Sweeney).

In the remainder of this section The Colored American October 1900 will be explored, to see what was published in the same issue as the incredible story that is “Talma Gordon”. Interesting articles for the readers include “Famous Men of the Negro Race” giving biographical information of notable people of color, “Helpful Thoughts for Young Men” and “Help and Suggestions for Young Women” which, as the name suggests, give helpful tips for the younger readers of the magazine, as well as other more longform works. Another mystery story in the form of “The Stress of Impulse” by Maitland Leroy Osborne is published, telling a fascinating kidnapping and love triangle story. “The Tyranny of the South” gives a heart wrenching description of inequality present in southern states, while immediately after the sweet love story of “Thrown in Favor” by Charles Steward is presented, showing just how varied The Colored American’s articles could be. Finally, some of the advertisements present in the end of the magazine are presented, giving a glimpse of all The Colored America issue that included “Talma Gordon” Had to offer.

“Famous Men of the Negro Race”

The first section of the magazine after a brief introduction is “Famous Men of the Negro Race”, a brief section with the goal of informing readers of all the incredible breakthroughs made by African Americans in all fields, both of the time of publication and the past. The section is also written by Pauline Hopkins. Appearing here are the well known names of Frederick Douglass the famous ex-slave writer, and Booker T. Washington who The American calls “the most famous colored man now living”(The Colored American). There are also lesser known figures mentioned, such as Charles Lenox Remond, who “Though never a slave, had all the difficulties of caste to surmount. A brilliant orator, he earned a place in anti-slavery history worthy a monument, as well as extended biography” or Sergeant WM. H. Carney, “Famous sergeant of the 54th Massachusetts, first colored regiment organized in free states, Colonel Robert G. Shaw, commanding. His bravery in planting the regimental flag on the works of Fort Wagner has made him renowned in history”. While the full text of this section is not presented, this opening shows the respect and honor the magazine provided to these men, some of whom at the time were not given their spotlight anywhere else.

“Helpful Thoughts for Young Men” and “Help and Suggestions for Young Women”

These sections again are not archived in their full text, but their introductions give an idea of their goals in helping young African Americans to feel empowered and able to achieve their dreams. Interestingly, the introduction for young men is roughly double the length of that for young women, showing how even in this magazine helping marginalized groups, men and women were not treated equally. Even the names of these two sections displays this difference, with the male section being called the less assertive and more congenial “helpful thoughts” while the female section is called “help and suggestions” implying that they are more in need of help. That being said, this could also be in reference to the fact that these women had to deal with both the marginalization of being African American as well as the sexism of being a woman, meaning that they did have more to deal with and needed more help and attention. Either way, both of these sections provided support for young people of color who most likely were not getting support anywhere else.

“The Stress of Impulse” chapter 9-11 by Maitland Leroy Osborne

Onto some of the other stories published around “Talma Gordon”, the first of which directly follows it. Written by Maitland Leroy Orborne, “The Stress of Impulse” was the first serial novel published within The Colored American (Wallinger). As such, this edition of the magazine only contains chapters 9-11, giving a brief synopsis of the early chapters to catch new readers up. The synopsis describes the story as the adventures of Robert Dolloff, a detective investigating a robbery who falls in love and marries Marie Chartier. They continue together on Dolloff’s investigation until Chartier sees James Fairfax, her husband who was thought to be dead and is also revealed to be the robber Dolloff is investigating. The story picks up in this edition just after Chartier is abducted by Fairfax.

In the chapters presented, Dolloff receives a letter from Chartier which was “nervous and incoherent”(297) and combined with her absence from their room left him on the hunt to find her. He spend weeks exploring the city looking for her, slowly draining himself. In the next chapter he meets The Colonel, a strange man from the south who seems to have information Dolloff needs. The Colonel sends Dolloff to the mountains where, after more days of searching there, he finally finds Chartier and Fairfax, giving him “the fierce light of love and hate— love, not yet extinguished, for the woman he had believed his wife; hate, deep and bitter, for the scoundrel who had cursed her life”(308), leaving the story to be continued. What is interesting about this story is how it doesn't ever directly refer to African Americans, showing that while the magazine serves to showcase the writing of people of color, they are not limited by their race in terms of the breadth of their content. This riveting detective story shares many similarities with “Talma Gordon” outside of this lack of racial commentary, such as mystery, love, and treachery.

“The Tyranny of the South” by Robert W. Carter

Another article published within this issue of The Colored American is Robert W. Carter’s “The Tyranny of the South”. It is a short article, but within it Carter tears down the heinous practices in the south that discriminated against the African American population in those areas. His main point can be seen when Carter claims “The appreciation of freedom and the spirit of right and of justice to all men so prevalent in the North, is what gave the death-blow to slavery in the South”(315). For all of the hard working people of color in the south reading this, it must have been an incredible breath of fresh air, knowing that there were other people in the world who understood their struggles and the immoral cruelty occurring in the south, a sentiment that would slowly take route until the civil rights movement reached its peak nearly half a century later.

“Thrown in Favor” by Charles Steward

The last fictional work published in this issue of The Colored American is Charles Steward’s “Thrown in Favor”, a sweet story of the main character Paul Gifford who discovers Fanny injured on the side of the road after a small bike accident and takes her home on his bike, beginning their Romeo and Juliet Relationship. Fanny’s father is very protective and while he appreciated Paul’s actions, he forbids Fanny to spend time away from the house after her accident, leading to her sneaking out to visit Paul. The squire of Fanny’s estate who guards the house sees the two of them returning one day, and challenges Paul to a wrestling match at the instruction of Fanny’s father. Once Paul beats the squire twice, Fanny’s father comes out and accepts Paul as a man worthy of his daughter, asking “ And, er, Paul, so you like my daughter, eh? She’s a fine girl now, ain’t she? Do you love her? and you’d knock a man down for her, would you, that is, er, under strong provoca­tion?”(327). After this, he offers Paul a position at his law office and they all live happily ever after. It is fascinating that a magazine as divisive and politically poignant ends on such a jovial and heartwarming note, but one cannot blame the editors for placing this last, and leaving the certainly jaded and worn down readers with something to make them smile.

Advertisements

The last section of the magazine to note is the ad page, as it gives much insight into the needs of the reader base, as well as the products the producers of the magazine think their readers would be willing to buy. There are small interesting ads involving music lessons or medical services, but perhaps the most interesting is the first advertisement shown: Ozono, the king of all hair dressings. Ozono is advertised as being able to straighten “Knotty, Nappy, Kinky, Troublesome, Refractory Hair”(XV). Even in this magazine claiming to be an advocate for the equality and empowerment of American people, it is saying that traditional African American hair is an issue, a weakness, one that must be fixed. In the center of the ad is a picture of a woman before and after using the product, first frowning with traditional curly hair, then smiling with longer, more Anglo-Saxon looking hair. Even this magazine of African American empowerment was not above playing off and taking advantage of the weaknesses and insecurities.

Bibliography

Dahn, Eurie, and Hanna Wallinger. “History.” The Digital Colored American Magazine, 26 June 2020, coloredamerican.org/?page_id=70.

Hopkins, Pauline et al. The Colored American, October 1900 edition

Wallinger, Hannah. “Maitland Leroy Osborne: A Biographical Sketch.” The Digital Colored American Magazine, 20 Feb. 2019, coloredamerican.org/?page_id=1703.