Of the Coming of Grace: African American Utopian Fiction, the Black Woman Intellectual, and Lillian B. Jones Horace’s Five Generations Hence
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Of the Coming of Grace African American Utopian Fiction, the Black Woman Intellectual, and Lillian B. Jones Horace’s Five Generations Hence M. Giulia Fabi I want to write realistically but constructively.—Lillian B. Horace Included by Carol Farley Kessler in the second edition of her anthology Daring to Dream: Utopian Fiction by United States Women before 1950 (1995),1 and now reprinted in its entirety by Karen Kossie-­ Chernyshev in the present volume, Lillian B. Jones Horace’s Five Generations Hence (1916; hereafter FGH) belongs to the growing body of pre-­ Harlem Renaissance novels that have gained scholarly attention as part of the tradition of African American utopian fiction.2 Novelists like Pauline E. Hopkins, Sutton E.Griggs, Frances E.W. Harper, Edward A. Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Horace were drawn to utopian fiction as a widely popular genre that sanctioned the political import of imagining alternative societies and provided an established literary context for comprehensive socio-­ political analysis.3 In this essay I will argue that in Five Generations Hence Horace centered on the insurgent point of view of segregated African American men and women and articulated a groundbreaking dual utopian project of emigration and female empowerment that defamiliarized and challenged the prevailing white supremacist and masculinist discourses of her time. At first reading, the voluntary emigration that within five generations would effect a “final exodus of the Negro to Africa” (FGH, 49) represents the dominant utopian agenda of Five Generations Hence.4 Published in 1916, the year after the death of Bishop Turner (who is credited as “the foremost agitator for African emigration” at the turn into the 164 M. Giulia Fabi twentieth century),5 and the same year that Marcus Garvey arrived in the United States from Jamaica, Five Generations Hence is historically positioned after the heyday of nineteenth-­ century emigrationism and before Garvey’s rise to fame, in a period when back-­ to-­ Africa movements were being kept alive at a more local level, including in Horace’s own native state of Texas, by such figures as Chief Alfred C. Sam.6 In order to broaden the relevance of her utopian project, Horace chooses a different historical setting for her novel. As she makes clear in its very first line, Five Generations Hence opens in 1899, at the end of a most active decade of emigrationist fervor when “African fever reached its peak”7 in response to the institutionalization of segregation, economic subjugation , and political disfranchisement of African Americans. Distancing herself from the earlier tradition of the American Colonization Society, from the transplantation plans of anteceding female utopian writers like Mary Griffith (whose 1836 Three Hundred Years Hence is evoked by Horace in the very title of her own novel),8 as well as from contemporaneous proposals of deportation by the likes of Thomas Dixon Jr., Horace describes her own back-­ to-­ Africa utopia, emphasizing that there will not be “a wholesale exodus like the moving of an Indian reservation but an individual departing, an acquiring of property in that unexplored land and the building of a new nation upon the ruins of the old” (FGH, 49). Protagonist Grace Noble’s vision of an African utopia reads: I saw a people, a black people, tilling the soil with a song of real joy upon their lips. I saw a civilization like to the white man’s about us today but in his place stood another of a different hue. I beheld beautifully paved streets, handsome houses beautified and adorned, and before the doors sported dusky boys and girls. I seemed to be able to penetrate the very walls of business establishments and see that men and women of color were commercially engaged one with the other (FGH, 49). However, while it is mentioned repeatedly, Horace’s emigrationist project is sketched briefly and it remains only vaguely outlined. Her references to a possible African destination always mention the continent as a whole, and her comments on African geography and history are notably less precise than those provided, for instance, by her contemporary Pauline E. Hopkins in her utopian novel Of One Blood 165 Of the Coming of Grace (1902–03).9 Africa is passionately but generically presented as a motherland that mourns and waits for the return of her children who were taken by slave traders. In the only African episode that Violet Gray, one of the two central female characters, describes in any detail in her letters to the novel’s protagonist...