September 16 - This Blessed Plot, This Earth, This Realm

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On September 16, 1897, an essay by Paul Laurence Dunbar was published in which he described how he was treated better overseas than in the United States.  Paul had recently been to England for a recital tour and to find an English publisher for his book Lyrics of Lowly Life.

To be sure, it is a great thing to have been accepted upon the basis of worth alone;  to have found a people who do not assert color as a badge of degradation.  It is a good thing to have been accepted upon terms of equality in excellent English families.  Merit is not discouraged there on account of color, neither is it taken for granted because one is black.

"England as Seen by a Black Man," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The Independent (New York, New York).  September 16, 1897.  Page 4.

Paul wrote several essays about his experiences in England, strongly motivated by a need for money, since the trip was financially unsuccessful.  In a letter to a friend, Paul admitted that he wrote articles for "yellow journals" (or low-quality newspapers) in order to receive a "golden eagle" (a $10 gold coin).

I am still in the "impression" business for the sake of my financial health and the satisfaction of the yellow journals.  This rush for London impressions seems to me a very disgusting thing and I am only sorry that I am not in a position to resist the demands made upon me.  A golden eagle is a great corrector of the artistic sense.  When one is just over the first flush of youthful enthusiasm and beyond the first glow of youthful dreaming, how sordid and cynical and commercial we grow.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Dr. F., August 7, 1897.  "Unpublished Letters of Paul Laurence Dunbar to a Friend," The Crisis (New York, New York).  June, 1920.  Page 73.

Paul's articles often focused on how Black people were treated in England compared to the U. S.

In London a dark face is "the observed of all observers."  It is gazed at not only with curiosity, but with amusement.  The small boys look unconscious as they approach, and then suddenly cry, "Blackie," and scuttle away.  Men, apparently intelligent and at least of the middle class, are no better.  They do not cry out, but they take pains to let one know that they are greatly amused.  But there is compensation in all things.  If they laugh at me openly, their very laughter fills me with secret amusement, which I sell at so much a line.

"London Notes."  Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts).  May 4, 1897.  Page 9.

America is so unmistakably a great country, and her citizens are so inordinately proud of her, that it is hard for any American, white or black, to admit the existence of many National faults that are perfectly patent to the critical foreigner.  You see, six months in English life had altered my way of seeing things.  It is good to feel one's self fully a man for awhile, but it makes the subsequent rebuffs harder to bear.  After the courtesy of the English attendant, it is rather unpleasant to be thrown where the humblest office boy feels it his right to be insolent, or at least brusque and indifferent to a dark caller.

"Treatment of the Negro," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  New York Tribune Illustrated Supplement (New York, New York).  August 29, 1897.  Page 6.

Folks who say that there is no color line in England are all wrong.  There is a very decided color line over there, but, ridiculous as it may seem, the Negro is on the inside of it.  The English regard us with an interest or curiosity that is almost oppressive.  Everywhere in England I found people on railroad trains, on omnibuses, and in shops making advances toward acquaintanceship.  They almost quarreled with one another in their anxiety to point out places of interest.  It was a somewhat embarrassing experience, I can assure you.  England is a very nice place to visit, but I am glad that I am American.  There is a great deal to be done here.

"Dunbar on London Ways."  The Sun (New York, New York).  September 5, 1897.  Page 5.