My title is not entirely accurate since Twain’s wealth allowed him to do what he did, but what he did was not otherwise related to his writing.
Twain met a young black law student at Yale University names Warner T. McGuinn and was very impressed by him, so much so that he wrote to the dean of the law school with an offer to subsidize McGuinn’s education. He had learned that McGuinn worked 3 different jobs to pay his way through Yale. Twain wrote, “I do not believe I would very cheerfully help a white student who would ask a benevolence of a stranger, but I do not feel so about the other color. We have ground the manhood out of them, and the shame is ours, not theirs, and we should pay for it.”
Able to concentrate on his studies, McGuinn graduated first in his class in 1887. He later moved to Baltimore and won a landmark federal housing discrimination case. Perhaps more importantly, he befriended and mentored a young black lawyer who worked down the hall from his office. That lawyer was Thurgood Marshall, and I don’t think I need to explain the profound influence Marshall has had as a civil rights attorney and later as a Supreme Court justice.
I had never heard of that until tonight when I watched an old PBS documentary on Twain, and Googled up some more details after I watched the show.
Good on you, Sam! I knew you hated racism, and you let it show in your writing, but you accomplished more than you ever dreamed by a simple act of personal generosity.
Thanks for sharing that Boyo Jim. I didn’t know that about Twain. Makes me love the guy even more
Not really a Twain fan, but this is sort of thing that would make me reconsider.
The greatness of this man is sometimes an unmistakeable aura, and other times as subtle as the lessons buried within his shining stores.
I’ve seen the PBS show, and have it on DVD. There’s a companion audio edition that I strongly recommend – not only is it longer, and tell his life story in more detail, but there is a set of essays and interviews as well, including one with Hal Holbrook, who’s been playing Twain in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight! for what seems like his entire life (since the mid-1950s, at any rate).
Twain did much more than that, but a lot of it was through his writing. Twain was also a publisher, whose autobiography of Ulysses Grant was a bestseller (and saved Grant’s family from poverty), although his later selections fizzled out. He was an inventor, and backed several ideas that didn’t pan out. Chief among these was the Paige Compositor, which many people see as a folly. But Twain had himself been a typesetter and saw the future in automation – his instincts were right. And the Paige Compositor DID work – it was successfully demonstrated several times (The sole remaining one is at the Twain house in Hartford, Connecticyut). The problem is that is was too complicated and tended to jam and break down. Twain was, at one point, offered a stock collaboration with the makers of the Linotype machine, which succeeded and became the typesetter of choice for newspapers nd other publishers until the ciomputer era. Twain’s problem was that he didn’t take the offer, convinced his machine was superior and woyld win out. He ended up bankrupt.