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  • On the Path of the Maharajah of BwodpurThe Global Problem of the Color Line in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess
  • Payal K. Patel (bio)

Dark Princess, intermingling, W. E. B. Du Bois, color-line

Which is really Truth—Fact or Fancy? the Dream of the Spirit or the Pain of the Bone?

—W. E. B. Du Bois, “Envoy,” Dark Princess (1928)

I. Narrative Contextualization of Dark Princess: The Color Line in the Texts of Du Bois

At the core of the 1928 W. E. B. Du Bois novel Dark Princess is the concept of the color line. This construct refers to the inherent basic social, political, or economic differences faced by the “darker” races. In Dark Princess, the problem of the color line is explored on both a national and international level and [End Page 119] through an intricate fictional framework that delves into religious, cultural, racial, and environmental symbolism. In the United States of America, segregation and disenfranchisement plagued the black community as Du Bois wrote this novel. Internationally, the stirrings of anticolonialism movements were beginning to form in a number of countries, including Kenya, Vietnam, and, in particular, they were well under way in India. By framing the problem of the color line as a global issue, Du Bois created a singular text for this time period.

The Universal Races Conference

Perhaps the most influential event in Du Bois’s life related to the creation of Dark Princess was his attendance at the First Universal Races Congress held at the University of London in 1911. Other authors have also pointed to this conference as a critical point in Du Bois’s career (Gregg and Kale 2005). According to Gustav Spiller, the honorary organizer of the Congress, “the object of the Congress [was] to discuss, in the light of science and the modern conscience, the general relations subsisting between the peoples of the West and those of the East, between white and so-called coloured peoples, with a view to encouraging between them a fuller understanding, the most friendly feelings, and a heartier cooperation” (Spiller 1911, xiii). The gathering included representatives from India, a nation that would figure into Du Bois’s future work for decades. India was represented by men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Brajendra Nath Seal, a philosopher who addressed the Congress on the subject of human evolutionary genetics (Spiller 1911, 1).

Papers at the conference ranged from “The Problem of Race Equality,” by Spiller himself, to “Climatic Control of Skin-Colour,” to “East and West in India.” Each session had a particular focus, from anthropological and social views of the race issue to political and religious influences on the race problem. The third session, “Conditions of Progress (Special Problems),” examined national case studies that included papers on Turkey, China, and Egypt. Other sessions focused on economics and race and looking to future promotion of friendly interracial relations (Spiller 1911). The conference likely served as an inspiration for the international coalition of darker races portrayed in Dark [End Page 120] Princess. Interactions between the members of the Congress may have also influenced the internal power hierarchy Du Bois refers to as a “color-line within a color-line” in the coalition of darker races in Dark Princess (Du Bois 1928, 16).

Du Bois represented the United States at the Congress. His paper was entitled “The Negro Race in the United States of America” (Du Bois 1911a). Du Bois’s paper traced the origin of most persons of black descent to the slave trade. Combining his skill as a writer with his commitment to historic detail, Du Bois’s paper meticulously reviewed the census counts from 1870 and 1890 to calculate a more accurate representation of the number of mulattoes, or mixed-race people, in the United States. Du Bois was beginning to explore his interest in “intermingling” in this way, through tracing the genealogical and racial decoction of the origins of the American black population. Examining the mortality and birth rates for all U.S. citizens and comparing it to “Negro” mortality and birth rates, Du Bois concluded that “Negro” birth...


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pp. 119-156
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