W. E. B. DuBois, Anthropometric Science, and the Limits of Racial Uplift
Abstract

This essay recovers a lost scientific study by W.E.B. DuBois, "Negro Labor in Lowndes County," through readings of his 1911 novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece. DuBois's study of the predominantly-black Lowndes County sought to refute the dominant belief in blacks' mental and physical inferiority—sometimes called the "retrogression hypothesis"—by amassing extensive empirical evidence of black American vitality and health through anthropometric research. In the wake of the U.S. government's destruction of his 500-page Lowndes County study, DuBois would undertake Quest in the effort to circulate his scientific findings through the medium of popular domestic fiction. Against retrogressionist claims that the black "race is undoubtedly dying out," as seen in their "diminished brain capacity," Quest highlights the findings of DuBois's fieldwork in the rural south, with the Lowndes study's empirical data furnishing the details and incidents of the novel's depiction of a flourishing utopian community. Deftly employing the conventions of domestic and plantation fiction, DuBois's fictional account of the dramas of sharecropping and sexual morality offers a powerful refutation of the claims of racialist brain science, as well as providing an alternative venue for DuBois's controversial findings in the wake of his thwarted efforts to gain a foothold in professional scientific culture.