Travel is FATAL to Prejudice: The Transformation of Samuel Clemons to Mark Twain

My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Hartford, CT last month to attend the wedding of the daughter of a dear friend.  Neither of us had ever visited Hartford before, so we investigated things to do during our one free day before the wedding.  We discovered that, among other things, Hartford had been the home of two of the most consequential authors in the history of the United States, especially during the 19th century leading up to the civil war and into Reconstruction.  Hartford was home to both Harriet-Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.  Most people know that Harriet Beecher Stowe was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin the book that President Abraham Lincoln felt was one of the most impactful in rallying Northern Americans, especially white Christian women, to the Abolitionist Movement, creating the support to elect Lincoln and to fight and win the Civil War itself with the objective of abolishing slavery in America forever.  However, few people know the impact that Mark Twain’s writings had on the the psyche of Americans on the topic of race, as well as his own personal transformation from Confederate Army volunteer to become, in my opinion, one of the most ardent and impactful Anti-Racist of his time.


The Homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain are literally right next to each other and both have been transformed into museums. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and House incudes the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center which focuses on bringing the community together to further civil rights, and, in fact, was hosting a Block Party in it’s courtyard the day we visited to celebrate Harriet Beecher Stowe’s birthday and  the start of Juneteenth week.  It also includes the Harriet Beecher Stowe house, and what was interesting about touring the house was that our guide encouraged discussion as a tour group regarding deep social and racially conscious topics like what parallels can you identify between what was happening in the mid-1800’s leading up to the civil war and what is happening now. This is very unique and sparked some very interesting conversations and was the first time I have experienced this on a museum tour, but aligned with the Harriet Beecher Stowe center’s mission.  Click here to learn more about the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center:


But the Mark Twain House and Museum tour had so much more to see, experience and learn about.  The museum itself is large and has multiple floors and exhibits hi-lighting the life of Mark Twain, his successes and failures, the people who were important to him and his transformation from grandson of slave owners, volunteer in the Confederate Army and avid supporter of Imperialism, to ardent abolitionist, anti-Imperialist and outspoken political, social and moral satirist many times focusing on the sad plight of black Americans especially in the post Civil War South and the blame and accountability that he felt the white majority owned to fix it. The more I learned about Mark Twain, the more I realized how utterly human he was, lots of failures and mistakes and missteps especially in business and money management, but also how much his life illustrates that all of us can transform, no matter where we come from, what we look like, what our social standing is, etc. if we are humble enough to keep learning, keep growing and confident enough in ourselves to simply change and stand up, speak out and take action. Here are some examples of the experiences he went through during his transformative journey:

  • Volunteered for the Confederacy but left after two weeks when his unit was disbanded.  He then later after traveling and seeing firsthand the sinister evil of slavery, transformed into and adamant and outspoken supporter of the abolition of slavery and full emancipation of the slaves.  In fact he once wrote that the abolition of slavery would “not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also”.
  • Achieved acclaim after the publishing of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, which includes racially insensitive characterization of Native Americans, but in later years, writes about the injustices committed against indigenous peoples in America and around the world, after traveling internationally and seeing them being subjugated, brutalized and wronged by European and American Imperialism.
  • Began writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1878 but stops. Then during traveling to the south in 1882, he saw the failings of reconstruction, the black sharecroppers locked in virtual slavery, the denial of voting and demeaning of men and was driven to no only finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but to re-make it into a sharp and  caustic commentary to wake up white America to face the cruel, debilitating and deadly condition that most black Americans faced. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is viewed by many scholars as the first American Literary classic, but was and still is still controversial. In some states it is required reading in grade school, but in other states it is banned from all K-12 schools.
  • In the mid- to late-1800’s, Twain was a staunch supporter of Imperialism and the American annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. But by the turn of the century, after traveling around many parts of the world, he transformed to an even stauncher anti-imperialist, serving as the vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League until his death, as he saw ad realized that Imperialism was another form of subjugation and racism and publicly criticized United States President Theodore Roosevelt for Imperialist motives for the Philippine-American War. He was also one of the strongest critics and voices against the European countries’s Imperialist colonization of Africa, especially King Leopold II of Belgium whose greed was responsible for the misery, disfigurement, torture and death of millions of people in the so called Free Congo State, and of whom Twain wrote “The Royal Palace of Belgium is still what is has been for 14 years, the den of wild beasts, as King Leopold II, who for the sake of money mutilates, murders, half a million friendless and helpless poor natives of the Congolese state every year and does it by silent consent of all the Christian Powers.”
  • After traveling around the United States and witnessing the subjugation of women, Twain became and outspoken supporter of women’s causes, most notably suffrage and education. He spoke out publicly demanding women receive the right to vote including his “Votes for Women” speech in 1901.  He befriended Helen Keller and helped support her college education and influenced the Legislature of the State of Connecticut to grant a pension to Prudence Crandall who ran the first school for black girls in the United States.
  • Twain was a vocal opponent of the post Civil War South. He stood up, spoke out and took action regarding what he saw during his travels through the South in 1882 mentioned earlier – the racism and injustices, the sharecroppers locked in virtual slavery, the denial of voting, the demeaning of men and all the other terrible things that were happening to black people with no legal recourse.  He later wrote a letter to Yale University to help ensure the admittance of young black student named Warner T. McGuinn who was admitted and graduated from Yale, and eventually became a successful lawyer, a leader in the NAACP and was a key mentor to the first future black Supreme Court Justice, the honorable Thurgood Marshall.  In the letter to Yale, Twain said “We have ground the manhood out of them (black people) and the shame is our’s, not their’s and WE should pay for it”
  • Mark Twain was also outspoken on the ultimate sickness and cancer of America – the subjugation, racism and discriminational of non-whites with no rights for justice or legal recourse, whether black, indigenous or Chinese, commenting that “I have seen Chinamen abused and maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded nature … but I never saw a Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him”


Samuel Clemons proved almost 150 years ago that anyone can transform to anti-racist and anti-hate if the choose to. He stood up, spoke out and took action to spread anti-racism not only in the United States, but Internationally.  He was NOT a performative ally like many today but a TRUE ANTI-Racist ALLY committed to being an anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-misogynist.  By the way, to learn more about the difference between performative allies and TRUE ANTI-Racist ALLIES, listen to The ARCC of Change Podcast Season 1 Episode 11 titledEducating Yourself About Anti-Racism Part 4: True Allies sacrifice their privilege to be Anti-Racist!”, which profiles three great men, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and John Brown, who also, over 150 years ago, Illustrated what sacrificing privilege to be TRUE ANTI-Racist ALLIES is all about.  Click here to listen:


Mark Twain developed the courage and confidence to never be afraid to tell it like is, in harsh blunt terms, not caring what others thought of him. In the museum we saw the display that talked about how he liked writing with what he called his “pen warmed in hell” and the display with him wearing his famous all-white “dontcareadamnsuit”. One of the last things we saw when we were leaving the museum, was his quote encapsulating his belief that as an individual you must always strive to grow and learn, and not just book knowledge, but knowledge about different people, places and cultures to stamp out the ignorance and prejudice that stunts growth.  Because as you are exposed to more and more differences, your world transforms and opens up for the betterment of you and the world and you realize that learning and valuing our differences also facilitates us learning and valuing the fact that at the core we are all the same.  Twain wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  My wife and I bought travel luggage tags and t-shirts with the shortened versions of the quote “TRAVEL is FATAL to prejudice”.  

Mark Twain proved that transformation is possible, and reminds us that there is H.O.P.E. (How Optimistic People Endure) that we can create a world free of racism and hate.

Click here to learn more about the Mark Twain House and Museum:

Photo credit: Copyright © 2023 Donzel A. Leggett All Rights Reserved.