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Chase, William Calvin(1854–1921) - Journalist, newspaper editor, publisher, political activist, Early Years, Chronology

washington bee american african

William Calvin Chase is perhaps most noted for his accomplishments as the editor and publisher of a successful nineteenth-century African American newspaper, the Washington Bee . August Meier aptly points out in his 1963 book, Negro Thought in America, 1880–1915 , that the historical importance of Chase and his newspaper is the insight they provide historians of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century protest era. Additionally, the Washington Bee is a rich source for information about the African American community both within the nation’s capital and elsewhere in the country. The Bee chronicled the political, cultural, and educational goals and achievements of the African American population. During the height of the newspaper’s circulation, Washington D.C. was the center of African American political power.

Early Years

Chase’s father was a prominent blacksmith from Maryland. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1835, and by 1839 he had purchased a three-story brick home at 1109 L Street N.W. The home served as his residence and workplace and was the birthplace of his six children, including William Calvin Chase. William Chase Sr. met and married Lucinda Seaton shortly after purchasing the home. Lucinda Seaton (Chase) moved to Washington from Alexandria, Virginia. She belonged to one of the most wealthy and prestigious families in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Lucinda and William Sr. were early members of the newly established Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. The church was established in 1841 and the Chase family joined in 1844.

Tragically William Chase Sr. died in 1863, leaving Lucinda to raise their six children alone. Lucinda Chase reared and educated all six children as a single mother. She continued to serve the church, which attracted some of the most notable members of Washington’s African American community. To her credit three of her five daughters became educators. As for William, his mother’s influence on his life was equally clear.

Chase first attended John F. Cook School located in the basement of the Fifteenth Street Church. His teacher, John F. Cook, received his education at Oberlin College, which was founded by abolitionists. The impact that the school’s teaching had on Chase as a young child remained with him into his adult life. Chase also attended an all white school in Methuen, Massachusetts. Upon his return to Washington, Chase enrolled in Howard University Preparatory Division. Shortly after leaving Howard, he began working towards a career in journalism, politics, and law. His background alone, as a freeborn educated African American living in one of the socially prominent areas of the country, provided opportunities for him that were not shared by his largely enslaved, poor, and uneducated counterparts. Thus, he was able to become involved in journalism. He found that working for the black press provided leadership opportunities as well as exposure into the business world. Before joining the Washington Bee , Chase worked for the Boston Observer , the Boston Cooperator , and the Washington Plain Dealer .

Although he returned to Howard and enrolled in the law school in 1883–84, Chase did not complete the law degree. While a student at Howard University, Chase married Arabella V McCabe, a Virginia native who had moved to Washington with her parents in 1871. After Chase left Howard he continued reading law and successfully passed the exam and was admitted to the bar in Virginia as well as Washington, D.C. in 1889. Chase was able to establish a law practice located at 503 D Street, NW. Nannie Helen Burroughs, black educator and leader of Baptist women, served as his first law clerk for several years.

Chronology

1854 Born in Washington, D.C. on February 2

1863 Father dies

1875 Begins early career as journalist

1882 Becomes editor of the Washington Bee

1883 Marries Arabella V. McCabe of Virginia

1883–84 Attends Howard University School of Law

1889 Begins law practice

1893 Mother dies

1900 Becomes national delegate for the Republican National Convention

1912 Elected second times as national delegate for the Republican National Convention

1921 Becomes member of the Washington branch of the NAACP

1921 Dies in Washington, D.C. on January 3Z

Political Activism and the Washington Bee

For its forty years the Washington Bee ‘s motto read “Honey for Friends, Stings for Enemies.” The line sums up Chase’s approach as an editor, politician, and critic. Chase became the editor of the Washington Bee two months after its founding, and he remained the editor and publisher for the next forty years. Initially the Washington Bee ‘s office was in Chase’s parent’s home. The Bee began as a four-page weekly paper. Between 1895 and 1922 the paper was broadened to eight pages only to provide greater opportunity for advertisement. Chase’s primary concern for the paper rested on political and social events in the nation and in the District of Columbia. In a 1914 editorial Chase proclaimed that African American newspapers respected the tradition of protest that had been espoused in the earliest press and remained a value in the early twentieth century. He credited the protest tradition with influencing the contemporary organizations of the day, such as the NAACP.

More importantly, Chase used his paper to raise the nation’s awareness about racial violence, such as lynching and race riots. He was very critical of the federal government for its tacit consent to such violence. Although Chase was member of the Republican Party and used his newspaper to support the Republican agenda of the day, he did not hesitate to “sting” political leaders who were also a part of the party. From 1888 to 1920, Chase repeatedly sought to be a national delegate for the Republican National Convention. He was successful in 1900 and in 1912. In keeping with his philosophy, he continued to criticize the government for refusing to uphold the Fifteenth Amendment. He used the front pages of the newspaper to bring attention to race riots in Hemphill, Texas in 1908; Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911; East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917; and Washington, D.C. in 1919. Chase criticized President Woodrow Wilson and his administration for expanding segregation in federal offices.

Through the Bee Chase also launched attacks against certain African American organizations, intellectuals, and political leaders. He was critical of organizations such as the Afro-American League, the Afro-American Council, the Niagara Movement, and the NAACP. Chase believed many of these organizations were elitist and failed to represent most African Americans. He criticized Booker T. Washington for his accommodating views. Chase was unimpressed with journalist T. Thomas Fortune’s leadership of the Afro-American League and the Council. Chase also opposed W. E. B. Dubois’s leadership of the Niagara Movement (1905–10) and of the NAACP during its early years. In his last year as editor, however, Chase became a member of the Washington branch of the NAACP, and the NAACP in turn placed advertisements in the Washington Bee . The financial support silenced the Bee for awhile, particularly during the short-lived period of the Niagara Movement.

Chase also objected to back-to-Africa movements. Neither Edward Blyden nor Henry McNeil Turner received any favor from Chase for their back-to-Africa ideology. On the issue of Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association, Chase and the Washington Bee remained silent. Perhaps in light of the wide appeal of Garvey and his organization, Chase believed his criticism would have been ineffective. Since Chase considered himself a race man and advocate for the masses he avoided losing favor with the very group he claimed to support.

Washington Bee Makes Final Run

A thorough examination of William Calvin Chase and the Washington Bee offers a detailed account of the African American middle-class urban community at the beginning of the twentieth century. Chase was criticized as self-interested, but he was willing to protest against violence and discrimination suffered by African Americans. Chase used the press to express his opinions regarding issues that mattered most to the African American community.

The Washington Bee was published weekly from 1882 to 1922. During this period it was the oldest black secular newspaper in the United States with continuous publication. Chase served as its editor until his death in 1921. Even in his final hour Chase worked on his last editorial for the news. He was found dead at his desk on January 3, 1921. Following his death, his son attempted to keep the newspaper afloat. For one year he successfully managed to operate the newspaper. The Washington Bee ceased publication in 1922.

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