William Simmons’s “Men of Markis a trove of information about significant Black men and has served my purposes on several occasions for this column, including the entry for William Calvin Chase.

Chase, the man of the moment from the U.S. Treasury, was born free in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 1854, four years after the dreaded passing of the Fugitive Slave Act. He was one of five siblings whose father, William H. Chase, an expert blacksmith, was shot and killed in his shop in 1863. The children were left to be raised by their mother, Lucinda Seaton. 

After his father’s sudden death, William was forced to leave the private school he attended and help his mother. He began selling newspapers, which brought him into contact with various newspaper reporters and editors. He was 11 when he was hired to sell hats for Holley & Brother in Methuen, Massachusetts, although it’s not clear how this arrangement affected his relocation. But he was soon back in the nation’s capital and resumed selling newspapers. 

Chase continued his education at the Howard University Model School B, and then on to the university proper. While a student, he worked as a clerk in the Government Printing Office, a position he held for two years. When he was passed over for a higher position because he was Black, he quit the job and filed charges against the public printer, Almon M. Clapp. The outcome of that lawsuit is unknown. 

In 1875, Chase became the Washington correspondent for the Boston Observer, which went out of business four years later. Later, he was employed by the Washington Plain Dealer and began seeking a political appointment. 

William contacted Frederick Douglass, then U.S. marshal, who had made overtures to employ him in his office. When Clapp heard of this, he contacted Douglass and asked him to block any possible appointment, which Douglass did. This prompted Chase to launch a campaign attacking him, but they later set aside their differences. Chase was hired as a writer for the Argus, edited by Charles N. Otey, and when Otey retired, Chase became the editor. 

There were some bitter encounters between William and the managing editor and by 1882, he had moved on to the Washington Bee. He would hold this position until his death in 1921. 

Throughout his tenure with the Bee, Chase continued to seek a public appointment. After Douglass became the Recorder of Deeds for D.C., he was assigned a clerk in Douglass’s office. Even so, Chase resumed his nettlesome writing, criticizing George Washington Williams’s book History of the Negro Race and businessman Robert Purvis — attacks that assured his notoriety. 

Editing the Bee and working for Douglass apparently did not interfere with Chase’s dreams for higher education, and by 1883, he was attending Howard University Law School. 

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Three years later, he married Arabella McCabe and they had two children, both of whom later worked at the Bee. His attendance at the school, did not lead to a law degree, but he continued to study the law privately. He was admitted to the bar in Virginia and Washington, D.C., in 1889 and practiced law thereafter in D.C. His background and credentials served him well and he was soon playing a pivotal role in the Republican Party and was named as a District of Columbia delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1900 and 1912. 

There was, as we might expect, a vital link between Chase’s work in the Republican Party and editing the Bee, where his editorials were charged with ferocity against the retrenchment of white nationalism and the countless lynchings of Black Americans. He was also outspoken against Booker T. Washington and what Chase saw as his compromising of Black aspirations. 

By this time, Chase was a leader of the Colored Press Association, an organization of Black journalists. His opposition to Washington’s policies changed after the leader began funneling resources to the paper, which he needed to keep it afloat. When Washington sought to remove certain political appointees from the Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft administrations and spy on W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement, William was unwaveringly aligned with the purposes.

Chase also was in and out of court on a variety of charges, including a libel suit against him, and in the last days of his life, attempted to forge an alliance with the NAACP. On January 3, 1921, he was found slumped at his desk in his newspaper office, having died of a heart attack. Within a year, the paper was no longer in circulation. 

Chase was honored by the D.C. City Council in 2006, specifically for the role he played in the preservation of Douglass’s residence at Cedar Hill.

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