On September 14, 1897, Victoria Earle Matthews publicly scolded Paul Laurence Dunbar for an essay he had written about African Americans in the Tenderloin, a New York City district known for gambling, drinking and other vices.
The pessimistic view expressed by Mr. Paul Laurence Dunbar in "The Negroes of the Tenderloin" opens up a new source of danger to the struggling Afro-American not heretofore emphasized -- the proposition to restrict the constant influx of Southern Negroes to the metropolis. Why do not writers like Mr. Dunbar make the same effort to show the world the struggles, the heart-rending sacrifices of the honest, hard-working progressive black! The stranger in America sees little in the daily prints to tell him that there is a class not represented by the "Tenderloin Negro," a class steadily advancing in the homely virtues and the respect of their fellow men. The remedy for the evils complained of by Mr. Dunbar is not in driving the unfortunates back into worse condition, but in the awakening of the better class of Afro-Americans to their responsibility to apply some remedy which will render such a condition as exists in the Tenderloin impossible.
"The Negroes of New York," by Victoria Earle Matthews. The Sun (New York, New York). September 14, 1897. Page 6.
Matthews referred to Paul's essay "The Negroes of the Tenderloin" that had appeared several days earlier in the same newspaper.
One looks at the crowds of idle, shiftless Negroes that throng these districts and the question must arise, what is to be done with them, what is to be done for them, if they are to be prevented from inoculating our civilization with the poison of their lives? In these seemingly careless, guffawing crowds lies a terrible menace to our institutions.
I look on it all, and, though I feel fear for our civilization, I must confess that the strongest emotion in my heart is pity for the poor people themselves and for their children. They are my brothers, and what touches them touches me. What course is open to them save one of shame and crime? Their highest ideal is a search for pleasure, and they think they have found it when they indulge in vice.
"The Negroes of the Tenderloin," by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Sun (New York, New York). September 4, 1897. Page 6.
Victoria Earle Matthews knew Paul personally, and she played an important role in his relationship with Alice Ruth Moore. Earlier in 1897, Matthews hosted a party where Paul and Alice met in person for the first time and became engaged. Matthews was the founder of the White Rose Mission, an inner-city shelter and school, where she attempted to help the Black New Yorkers that Paul described in his essay. Paul's fiancée Alice taught kindergarten at the Mission. Shortly after Matthews' critical comments appeared in the paper, Paul gave a poetry recitation for the benefit of the White Rose Mission.
Paul Laurence Dunbar will read for the White Rose Mission at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ on Tuesday evening next. He will be assisted by the Misses Julia Ellen Lewis and Alice Ruth Moore, Mme. V. A. Montgomery, Henry Jackson and others.
"News of the Churches." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York, New York). September 18, 1897. Page 3.
Paul Laurence Dunbar read selections from his own works last evening in the Concord Baptist Church. It was Mr. Dunbar's first appearance on the platform in this city and on being introduced to his audience he was given the warmest kind of welcome. The church was crowded. The entertainment was given for the benefit of the White Rose Mission, of which Mrs. Victoria Earle Matthews is the Brooklyn representative.
"Paul Dunbar's Reading." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York, New York). September 22, 1897. Page 7.
Soon after Paul's reading to benefit the Mission, Matthews published another essay that referred to him in kinder terms.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet-novelist, is a most romantic character. At an early age his mind turned to poetry. He frequently wrote verses, but few considered them seriously. Not to be daunted, he determined to publish them in book form. In time he published a second book of verse, working hard the while at real laborious occupations. Finally, when he least expected it, two of the leading litterateurs and critics of America recognized almost simultaneously the literary merit of his published poetry. He has written poems sufficient to fill another volume, for which a large publishing house here entered a bid some time ago. He has completed a novel, "The Uncalled," which has been accepted by Dodd, Mead & Company, and will soon be on the market. It shows what might be done by persistent effort and an unshakable determination to grasp every opportunity offered by this age of educational advantages for the highest perfection in a special line of development.
"Three Interesting Young People," by Victoria Earle Matthews. Southwestern Christian Advocate (New Orleans, Louisiana). October 21, 1897. Page 9.