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CR: The New Centennial Review 6.3 (2007) 57-90

W. E. B. Du Bois and the Fourth Dimension
Nicole A. Waligora-Davis
Cornell University

When democracy fails for one group in the United States it fails for the nation, and when it fails for the United States it fails for the world. A disenfranchised group compels the disenfranchisement of other groups.

—W. E. B. Du Bois, "Negro Citizen"

America is teaching the world . . . that ability and capacity for culture is not the hereditary monopoly of a few, but the widespread possibility for the majority of mankind if only they have a decent chance in life.

—W. E. B. Du Bois, Dark Princess

On November 4, 1947, Rosa Lee Ingram, an African American woman, was arrested, along with several of her sons, after having killed her white neighbor, John Ethron Stratford, in Ellaville, Georgia during a dispute over livestock (Martin 1985, 252). Recounting Stratford's promised and realized threat during her murder trial—"I am going to kill the negroes this morning"—the transcript of Rosa Lee Ingram's testimony within the [End Page 57] appellate record is as truncated as her day-long trial was summarily short (Ingram v. State 1948). The Georgia Supreme Court's redaction of the Ingrams' case to a single paragraph of Rosa Lee's testimony, in contradistinction to the preserved pages of circumstantial prosecutorial evidence and trial testimonies, gestures toward the raced and gendered coordinates predicating the outcome of the trial, the appellate, and the parole process. Ingram's edited testimony points to the complexities of this case. A case seemingly hinging on the definition of murder versus self-defense, the Ingrams' judicial proceeding cites the malfeasance effected through race, gender, and their conjunction within the economic and social systems of the South.

A widowed mother of 12 children, Rosa Lee Ingram, like the deceased, was a sharecropper (Martin 1985, 252). Their properties abutted one another, and her livestock trekked onto Stratford's leased land, a trespass that provoked his ire that morning. Having taken seriously her neighbor's admonishment, Ingram abandoned her own fieldwork in pursuit of a mule; it was a chase that left her confronted with the armed and angered Stratford. By her account, armed with rifle and knife, Stratford pointed his gun sights at her and threatened to "kill the negroes this morning" (Ingram v. State 1948). And while the sheriff claimed that she accused Stratford of shooting her "between the eyes" (Ingram v. State 1948), Mrs. Ingram's testimony and injuries demonstrated Stratford's assault with a rifle butt. Managing to wrestle the gun from him, she beat and killed him. That the competing trial testimonies disagree on the members of the Ingram family responsible for Stratford's death and question the degree of this mother's injuries at the hand of Stratford matter less for my consideration here than the ways in which this event engages a democracy deferred and revisioned. The Ingrams' case history serves as a staging ground for mapping W. E. B. Du Bois's "fourth dimension" (Aptheker 1985, 255)—his vision for a new world whose blueprint finds its fullest articulation in the aftermath of two world wars. The cartographic imperative and economic reforms underwriting this political philosophy and social plan remember the centrality of both the politically marginalized and the colonized "colored world" to global democracy. [End Page 58]

Their case led to more than a decade of political protest and civil rights agitation. Featured as a platform item by the Communist party (New York Times, August 7, 1948), the Ingrams' judicial proceedings inspired the Women's Committee for Equal Justice, a Communist-based women's group led by Mary Church Terrell (Martin 1985, 261, 264), and compelled the drafting of a UN petition on these defendants' behalf. Their murder trial tracks a stubborn and resilient black violence. The strategic ambiguity captured in my use of the term "black violence" seeks to capture a semantic range inflected not simply in...


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