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7. Horace R. Cayton, Sr., Autobiographical Writings

The Caytons have been a prominent African American family in Seattle since the late 19th century. Horace R. Cayton was born a slave in Mississippi in 1859. He attended college and then moved to Seattle in 1889. After working on two different newspapers, Cayton founded the Seattle Republican in 1894 and served as its publisher until 1913. Cayton was loyal to the Republican Party because under Lincoln it had freed the slaves; that he operated The Seattle Republican as a partisan venue made it little different from most newspapers of the period. What was unusual about the paper was that it served and attracted white as well as black readers, and at one point had the second largest circulation in Seattle. Horace Cayton and his wife Susie Revels Cayton became the most prominent African American couple in the city. They were convinced that their positive experience in Seattle was a message that other African Americans should heed:

The colored people of this country should make a bold strike for freedom, the freedom which is denied them in the South. Here in the Northwest we are striking out in every direction. Negroes in this town have become small businessmen or skilled mechanics and live a good life. Their children are getting educations and will be able to stand up and compete with other men. Here the race is to the swiftest, and here the American dream is being won….[H]ere democracy is being worked out. We are the new frontier, and thousands of Negroes come to this part of the country and stand up like men and compete with their white brothers.” (This passage was preserved by Horace Cayton, Jr., writing in the 1960s, who recalled his father saying the words to Booker T. Washington in 1909 [Cayton 1970: 20]. It does not come directly from Horace, Sr.’s writings.)

This view of local race relations—Seattle offering better opportunities for blacks than existed in most other places—gains support from other accounts (Taylor 1994; Henry 2001).

If Horace Cayton, Sr.’s initial experiences in Seattle proved encouraging, the period after 1910 or so dashed many of the hopes he and others had had for the Northwest. Jim Crow laws became more entrenched in Seattle, just as they did around the country, and people of color encountered greater discrimination. African Americans found themselves increasingly segregated in Seattle’s neighborhoods. Perhaps they had more opportunities for education, home ownership, and employment than they would have had in most other American cities, but divisions between the races increased. Partly because Cayton’s white readers became less sympathetic to the Seattle Republican’s coverage of race relations, the newspaper folded in 1913.  The publisher started another paper, Cayton’s Weekly, in 1916, but it did not survive beyond 1921. It was in this latter newspaper that Horace Cayton published reminiscences of his early experiences in Seattle, including the recollection reproduced here. Cayton passed away in 1940.

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