August 23 - There's (Usually) No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

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On August 23, 1900, Paul Laurence Dunbar appeared in a New York City courthouse to face the man accused of robbing him several days earlier.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, who was recently drugged and robbed of a gold watch, a gold toothpick, and a diamond ring, appeared in the Jefferson Market Court this morning against Walter Ricks, a Negro, twenty-one years old, who is suspected by Dunbar of stealing the articles.  Ricks was held for trial.

"A Negro Poet's Lesson."  The Evening Post (New York, New York).  August 23, 1900.  Page 2.

Dunbar explained to Magistrate Hogan that he met Ricks in the saloon.  He said Ricks spoke to him and they drank together.  Dunbar said he was going out to see the rioting.  The opportunity to study life in one of its abnormal phases was strong, and he was about to start, when Ricks told him not to go.  Dunbar told the magistrate that Ricks said:  "You'd better not go.  You're too valuable a man to the colored people to endanger yourself."  The flattery proved effective, and Dunbar remained and drank with Ricks.  Dunbar deplored the whole thing.  He said somewhat sadly:  "I am not a preacher, but I think my life ought to be a kind of sermon, and I ought to be more circumspect.  I never met Ricks before.  Hereafter, I look with suspicion on anybody who flatters me."

"Paul L. Dunbar's Lesson."  The Utica Observer (Utica, New York).  August 24, 1900.  Page 4.

In his statement, Paul referred to a race riot taking place on the west side of New York after a Black man killed a white police officer.

For four hours last night Eighth Avenue was a scene of the wildest disorder that this city has witnessed in years.  The hard feeling between the white people and the negroes in that district, which has been smoldering for many years and which received fresh fuel by the death of Policeman Thorpe, who was shot last Sunday by a negro, burst forth last night into a race riot which was not subdued until the reserve force of four police precincts, numbering in all over 100 men, were called to the scene and succeeded in clearing the streets by a liberal use of their night sticks.  Every car passing up or down Eighth Avenue between the hours of 8 and 11 was stopped by the crowd and every negro on board was dragged out, hustled about, and beaten.

"Race Riot on West Side."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  August 16, 1900.  Page 1.

The story about Paul being robbed was widely circulated in the press, and he received a great deal of unflattering publicity.

The fact that diamonds were taken from Paul Laurence Dunbar the other night when some unfeeling person gave him knockout drops will be regarded by many as further proof that the young man is no poet.

"Oatmeal and Mackerel."  The Buffalo Express (Buffalo, New York).  August 22, 1900.  Page 4.

When Paul Laurence Dunbar appeared in court the other day against the man who had relieved him of his diamonds and other jewels in a saloon, he remarked:  "I am no preacher, but I think my life ought to be a kind of a sermon and I ought to be more circumspect."  He certainly would lose fewer diamonds and things if he followed out this motion in practice, whatever else he would accomplish.

"Oatmeal and Mackerel."  The Buffalo Express (Buffalo, New York).  August 25, 1900.  Page 4.