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Susie Revels Cayton
*Susie Revels Cayton was born on this date in 1870. She was a Black writer, editor, teacher, and community activist.
Susie Sumner Revels was born in Mississippi, the same year her father, Hiram Revels, became the first Black senator in U.S. history. Revels' middle name, "Sumner," was a tribute to Charles Sumner, her father's friend. At age 16, Revels taught school. In 1889 she began studying at Rust College, graduating with honors in 1893 with a degree in "nurse training," and then teaching at the college for three years after graduation. The Revels family connection to Rust College was strong: her father taught theology classes there, and her sisters Ida and Maggie were also alumnae.
Revels met her future husband, Horace Cayton Sr., in Mississippi around 1881, when she was only eleven years old, and Horace was courting her older sister Lillie. After moving to Seattle, Cayton, and a period of long-distance letter writing, she moved there in 1896, living in separate lodgings until they could be married in July of the same year. She had started writing for his Seattle-based newspaper, The Seattle Republican, before leaving Mississippi. She eventually became associate editor in 1900 and continued working. The couple was both light-skinned, which played a role in their early acceptance in Seattle by whites." The Seattle Republican had never exactly been a "black paper" it had been a black-edited Republican paper. As race relations deteriorated, fewer white people wanted to read a black-edited paper, and it never crossed over into being the newspaper specifically of the Black community.
This (and some unsuccessful real estate speculation) led to a general decline in the Cayton's fortunes after 1907, with them selling their house in 1909 (pushed out in part by increasing pressure for residential segregation) and shuttering The Seattle Republican in 1913.
Her charitable work included being a founding member and leader of The Dorcas Club of Seattle, Secretary of the Skid Row Unemployed Council, and Vice President of Seattle's Negro Workers Council. Susie Revels Cayton had five children with Horace Cayton Sr. They had two sons, activists Horace Cayton, Jr. and Revels Cayton. Their daughters were Ruth, Madge, and Lillie. They also adopted their granddaughter, Susan. In 1919, Revels Cayton became a "domestic" as the family experienced economic hardships. In her sixties, she became politically active and joined the Communist Party after being introduced to the organization by her son. She was considered "one of the state's most prominent African American radicals."
She joined the Communist Party in reaction to Depression-era Seattle, believing that only radical political change could address economic inequality. She became friends with activists Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright. Langston Hughes dedicated a poem, Dear Mr. President, to her. Revels Cayton moved to Chicago in 1942, two years after her husband died, to be closer to her children.
She continued advocating for progressive politics and communism to promote equality until she died on July 28, 1943. In 1992 the Cayton Scholarship was established to honor both Susie and Horace Cayton. This scholarship is available to minority students in Washington state pursuing a public relations career. In 2021 Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board designated the house as a historic landmark.