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“If you’re president and you need a control factor in the economy and you need to sell this factor, you can’t sell Harlem and Watts but you can sell self-preservation, a new environment. We’re going to increase defense budgets as long as those bastards in Russia are ahead of us. The American people understand this.”

—Samuel F. Downer, LTV Aerospace1

In February 1956, EC Comics’ incredible science fiction #33 reprinted writer Al Feldstein’s and artist Joe Orlando’s “Judgment Day!” (April 1953), which chronicles the visit of Tarlton, an astronaut from Earth to the “planet of mechanical life,” Cybrinia.2 As Cybrinia’s unnamed representative shows Tarlton evidence of the planet’s democracy, technological advances, notable strides in architecture, and efficient factory operations, Tarlton notices that while orange and blue robots populate Cybrinia, only the orange robots are allowed to be workers in a plant to create more orange robots. Tarlton is advised that he would have to “go over to Blue Town on the South Side of the city” to observe similar activities at the blue robot plant. These blue robots are relegated to the margins of society and treated as inferior, though the blue and orange robots are actually identical in every way except for their sheathing colors. Because of the orange robots’ biases and the structural manner in which they restrict the rights and [End Page 409] mobility of the blue robots, Tarlton decides that Cybrinia has not advanced enough to gain entrance into the Galactic Republic. When the orange leader asks Tarlton if there is hope for Cybrinia, Tarlton counters, “Of course there’s hope for you, my friend. For a while, on Earth, it looked like there was no hope! But when mankind on Earth learned to live together, real progress first began. The universe was suddenly ours.”3

There is, however, a kicker to Al Feldstein’s racial allegory: the comic’s final panel reveals Tarlton, who has removed his space helmet, to be a black astronaut. The ending is meant to be provocative, given that the comic was published just before (and reprinted after) the passage of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the continuing national protests for racial equality: the comic clearly was an allegory of pre-civil rights American society and a scathing commentary on mid-century American racism. This is undoubtedly why the Comics Code Authority, which was established to regulate content that defied purported societal mores and subject matter that might lead to the delinquency of American youth, was displeased with the conclusion to “Judgment Day!” In its 1953 review of the political possibilities of the comics genre, the black American newspaper, The Chicago Defender, had proclaimed that “comics have greater mass appeal than most other types of literature and their influence, particularly upon young minds, is infinite.”4 Exceeding his legal authority, the Code Authority’s administrator, Judge Charles Murphy, bristled at the progressive impact comics could have, and in this politicized context he ordered EC Comics to change the race of the “Judgment Day!” astronaut before the comic was reprinted. Feldstein recounts the scene between himself, Bill Gaines (EC Comics’ publisher and coeditor), and Murphy:

So [Judge Murphy] said it can’t be a Black [person]. So I said, “For God’s sakes, Judge Murphy, that’s the whole point of the Goddamn story!” So he said, “No, it can’t be a Black.” Bill [Gaines] just called him up [later] and raised the roof, and finally they said, “Well, you gotta take the perspiration off.” I had the stars glistening in the perspiration on his Black skin. Bill said, “Fuck you,” and he hung up.5

“Judgment Day!” was reprinted unchanged by EC Comics. [End Page 410]

Politically and conceptually, this was a portentous choice, for it anticipated the ways in which the emergent space race would offer a ready allegory for U.S. race relations in the Civil Rights Era. But it also discloses the political exigency of black speculative arts during this period. Feldstein’s and Orlando’s decision to draw Tartlon as a glistening intellect exceeds the gesture of disclosing his race; it underscores the black astronaut’s mobility and superior morality. To this extent, “Judgment Day!” points to a longstanding radical tradition in which black Americans insisted on control over their bodies and futures. As I will discuss in what follows, post-1965 works of black cultural production accelerated this project by seeking new technologies and imaginative forms for the speculative work of self-determination. In particular, black speculation also involved engagement with the actual modes of flight being promoted in 1960s U.S. political culture—namely, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program, whose Project Apollo became a national priority on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would put a man on the moon before the decade was over.6

Long before technological advancements in air and space flight, black people took up flight literally and tropologically in order to reject American dispossession and domestic forms of terrorism. Rejecting forced travel toward unknown futures, captive Africans propelled themselves from slave ships and into the Atlantic in hopes of returning home spiritually; despite certain bodily injury or even death if caught, enslaved people ran toward free states and Canada to escape the violence and inhumanity of plantation life; in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, major colonization and repatriation projects piqued the interest of newly free but not fully liberated black Americans who believed that establishing separate colonies in places such as Central America, South America, and Africa was the key to realizing liberty. After World War I, soldiers, artists, and everyday people took literal flights and went into exile throughout Europe, Africa, and South America to escape violence and racism in the U.S. and their own social alienation, and black Americans also traversed the nation during several migratory waves during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in search of a true chance at liberty.

Black arts reflected this longstanding desire to fly to new and free territories, encoding flight in the plots of futurist and fantastic narratives throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.7 Martin Delany’s 1857 novel Blake, or [End Page 411]

Figure 1. The first and last pages of Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando’s “Judgment Day!” <br/><br/>(©2016 William M. Gaines Estate, Courtesy Fantagraphics Books.)
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Figure 1.

The first and last pages of Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando’s “Judgment Day!”

(©2016 William M. Gaines Estate, Courtesy Fantagraphics Books.)

[End Page 413]

the Huts of America imagines Cuban and American slaves forging revolutions; Edward A. Johnson’s 1904 novel Light Ahead for the Negro chronicles the time travel of a black American man into a socialist American future in which racism does not exist; and W. E. B. Du Bois’ 1920 short story “The Comet” traces the aftermath of a comet hitting the earth and killing everyone except a black man and wealthy white woman, who relate with one another in ways that would have been unlikely before the destruction. It should come as no surprise that the majestic spectacle of space flight in the 1950s and 1960s ultimately awed but also frustrated black Americans, prompting them to imagine new possibilities for alternate worlds and existences but also to grapple openly with the U.S. government’s enormous financial commitment to winning the space race as the civil rights movement played out in the background and many black Americans languished in impoverished communities throughout the nation.

Post-1965 black speculative fiction reimagined the possibilities of space travel and its iconography, and this reimagining was presaged by a series of unexpectedly progressive 1950s fictional stories in which black and white writers envisioned space as a pristine, utopic place for dispossessed individuals to colonize and live freely.8 Specifically, Ray Bradbury’s short story “Way in the Middle of the Air,” which appeared in The Martian Chronicles in 1950, and Bradbury’s sequel “On the Other Foot,” which was published in Illustrated Man in 1951, demonstrate how some white writers addressed this significant moment of racial progressivism as well as illustrate the limitations of their fantastic, hypothetical narrative correctives for American racial inequality. In the post-1965 era, black fantastic, speculative cultural production—including neo-slave narratives, science fiction, and Afro-futurist projects—emerged as a genre that underscored the demand for political sovereignty by people of African descent, modified master narratives to center on long-silenced black histories, and allowed the construction of more imaginative interpretations of—and oftentimes radical reactions to—social issues.9 Black Americans, then, responded to the space race politically, refiguring the utility of space exploration and thereby democratizing the promises of actual and figurative flights. What emerges as Afro-speculative thought, to be sure, includes not only allegorical and narratological inventions, but also political modes for negotiating racial marginalization in American society that would inevitably read as “subversive” of white majority rule. [End Page 414]


Ray Bradbury clearly possessed little faith that America would deal adequately with the consequences of its centuries-long oppression of marginalized groups in the fifty years between his life in 1950 and the “futuristic” 2003 setting of his story “Way in the Middle of the Air.” Titled after a Negro spiritual that references the biblical prophet Ezekiel and the coming day in which the world will “reel and rock” when God returns in judgment, Ray Bradbury’s “Way in the Middle of the Air” is a satirical chronicle of a white community’s emotional near-collapse in response to pending mass black flight out of the South, to Mars.10 The story opens with a discussion between white men at a hardware store in an unnamed southern town as they express their disbelief that the “niggers” somehow executed a plan to make a permanent exodus to Mars without giving notice to their employers.11 The narrative continues as the angriest of the men, Samuel Teece, the hardware store proprietor who is comically rattled by the possibility of a sudden societal power shift, tries to convince the neo-exodusters that their plan to ascend into space is too dangerous because big-eyed alien monsters like the ones featured on futurist magazines will “jump up and suck marrow from [their] bones.”12 In line with the philosophies that had undergirded expansive historical black emigrationist schemes, such as the Garveyism of the 1920s, Teece’s employee, Belter, responds that he is not worried about the possibility of dying; physical death was more attractive than continuing in a state of living death.

And it is this distinction that befuddles Teece and his counterparts as they attempt to understand why black people would desire to leave American society. As the men “sat with sour water in their mouths,” one of them ponders aloud about what he perceives to be the black migrants’ ungratefulness for America’s racial progress: “I can’t figure why they left now. With things lookin’ up. I mean, every day they got more rights. What they want, anyway? Here’s the poll tax gone, and more and more states passin’ anti-lynchin’ bills, and all kinds of equal rights. What more they want? They make almost as good money as a white man, but there they go.”13 Bradbury plays on the men’s failure to comprehend why their notion of progress is rejected. Teece, for instance, attempts to forestall the imaginative and actual flight of his workers by reminding them that they are indebted to him and are under his authority. He soon realizes that one of his workers, nicknamed Silly, has been operating in trickster mode, [End Page 415] when Silly covertly reveals that he knew that under the cover of darkness, Teece physically tortured black people and that Silly considered black flight to Mars a way to strip Teece of his power. Silly’s quip about Teece’s nighttime activity causes Teece to recall the adrenaline rush he feels in the lead up to his creation of grim lynching spectacles:

a gun in his hand, laughing to himself, his heart racing like a ten year-old’s, driving off down the summer-night road, a ring of hemp rope coiled on the car floor, fresh shell boxes making every man’s coat look bunchy. How many nights over the years, how many nights of the wind rushing in the car, flopping their hair over their mean eyes, roaring, as they picked a tree, a good strong tree, and rapped on a shanty door!14

Feeling defeated after the black community takes flight to Mars, the men quietly glance at their now useless shotguns, bullets, and lynching rope, when Teece suddenly raises his shoe in the air, declaring peculiarly that he has indeed triumphed given the fact that Silly still called him “Mister” Teece before he departed.

Critiquing this conclusion, Paul Youngquist argues that “Bradbury’s black émigrés get lost in space, absorbed into the emptiness between worlds,” a fate that is grounded in the “ideological superstructure of cosmic liberalism.”15 He asks what instead might be the ends of a new representation of black space as place, which leads him to assert a compelling argument regarding how artists such as Sun Ra and Amiri Baraka disrupt mainstream science fiction writers’ tendency to utilize blackness solely as a “transparency” or “medium for pure ideation and representation, the pervasive trace of social relations that such a conception of space arises to occlude.”16 Youngquist is certainly correct about the radical ways in which black American artists have reimagined space and blackness in cultural production. But it must be clarified that Bradbury does not quite leave the émigrés to “disappear into black space” as Youngquist maintains.17 While the reader remains unaware of what happens after the black Americans ascend into self-imposed exile, the radicality of their speculative flight remains intact, as the white supremacy from which Teece and his counterparts benefit is neutralized by the black Americans’ absence.

Bradbury implicitly heeds Youngquist’s request for a speculative black future in a later story. The fate of black space travelers to Mars and the roots of Teece’s [End Page 416] racial arrogance are more fully unearthed, I would argue, in a story aptly entitled “The Other Foot” (1951), which is told from the perspective of the black community on Mars and whose conclusion is perhaps more worthy of Youngquist’s critique. Although the settings and the named characters of “Way in the Middle of the Air” and “The Other Foot” do not correlate exactly, the latter story offers a sequel of sorts to the former. “The Other Foot” is set twenty years after the black Americans have established an equitable new world—a veritable black planet—on Mars, a planet on which they, upon stepping off of their rocket, “drew a solid breath” for the first time.18 The action begins on Mars with the settler colonists, who hear news that another rocket—this time filled with white people—is coming their way from America. The story’s protagonist, Willie Johnson, argues with his wife Hattie about the pending arrival of white people on Mars, questioning, “What right they got coming up here this late? Why don’t they leave us in peace? Why didn’t they blow themselves up on that old world and let us be?”19 Determined to get even with white people for lynching his father and shooting his mother, Willie states that the “shoe’s on the other foot,” and he determinedly attempts to restructure the black settler town to imitate the segregated facilities found in the Jim Crow era of the American South.20 Harriet pleads with Willie to be more accepting and open to forgiveness, but he instead forms a “welcoming committee” that rushes to assist Willie in erecting signs to indicate that facilities are racially segregated. He also forges a militia and fashions nooses in anticipation of simulated or intended lynchings.

When the Americans arrive, however, their posture is deferential rather than defiant, astonishing the settler community. A lone old white man exits the rocket and pleas for the black community’s assistance, telling them that World War III has occurred and that everything on Earth will be radioactive for at least a century. He asks them to consider using their rockets to rescue those who remain, including the Chinese, Indian, and Russian survivors, as the Americans had

ruined it all. And when we finished with the big cities we went to the little cities and atom-bombed and burned them . . . like the fools that we were and the fools that we are. Killed millions and only 500,000 left in the world. . . . We deserve anything you want to do to us, but don’t shut us out. . . . We’ll come here and we’ll work for you and do the things you did for us—clean your houses, cook your meals, shine your [End Page 417] shoes, and humble ourselves in the sight of God for the things we have done over the centuries to ourselves, to others, to you.21

The visitor goes on to list the names of the towns they destroyed, focusing specifically on the South, which compels some of the black Martians to reminisce about their old lives. Armed with the knowledge that the southern “hard men” (such as Teece from “Way in the Middle of the Air”) had been eradicated, Willie drops his lynching rope, and he and others unload their guns and run through the streets, tearing down the segregation signs that they had erected. He presumes that because the old man has shown regret, the white Americans and the black Martians can live together on Mars as equals.

Bradbury certainly took narrative risks by offering such an ostensibly progressive stance on race in the contentious 1950s, as it appeared that he was committed to mocking the irrationality of segregation and racist beliefs that held that white people were innately superior to their black counterparts.22 “Way in the Middle of the Air” ends with the black community in full control of their mobility; their covert resistance is made evident in the final moments just before their flight is set to commence. The logical progression for any science fiction true to the genre would have been to explore the new world that black people were able to build on Mars. Yet rather than speculate in this manner, Bradbury corrects Willie’s distrust and commitment to preserving a secure black planet by presenting an idealized narrative of desegregation based on a new, post-apocalyptic covenant of humility and shared responsibility. Bradbury fashions Willie as a hot-tempered reactionary who has to be manipulated psychologically and neutralized philosophically by his wife Hattie, a one-dimensional character who from the outset recalls the mammy figure—Bradbury may have named her after Hattie McDaniel, the actress who plays Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1940)—and who is curiously committed to upholding the old U.S. order. And while Bradbury’s representation of black people might ultimately appear progressive for the saintly sense of morality they exhibit (particularly in comparison to the racist white community in each story), the question remains for the reader whether the community has made a wise decision.

In fact, because of the speed with which Willie is convinced of the Americans’ sincerity, Bradbury’s tone seems propitiatory. The American representative’s apology is met almost immediately with acceptance and grace because the exhausted old man prostrates himself humbly before the black community and [End Page 418] states that he would understand it if the Americans cannot be forgiven for their sins against humanity. Bradbury’s plot becomes a morality tale, focusing squarely on resolving Willie’s desire for an “eye for an eye” structure of violent reciprocity. Black Afro-speculative authors of the 1960s, by contrast, likely would have framed Willie’s initial reaction as a justified political response to a traumatic history as well as a demonstration of his fear that twenty years of liberty and peace could be coming to an abrupt end. Willie utters the final lines of the “The Other Foot” after the white Americans’ eager, though questionable, admission of guilt (but nonapology) for their history of oppressing black people, opening the door for their survival and sponsored passage to Mars: “Seems like for the first time today I really seen the white man—I really seen him clear.”23 Bradbury might have chosen to begin Willie’s reflection with “seems” to lend a sense of authenticity to Willie’s persistent southern lilt, but for this reader, “seems” works here to indicate instability in thought and the possibility that what has been seen and heard from the white American visitor is truly a farce. The morality tale works admirably to disavow the underpinnings of white supremacy by suggesting the possibility for interactions between racial groups that are based on mutual recognition and “clear sight” rather than either historical reciprocity or “colorblindness.” But in doing so it also dispels the necessity of a black radical philosophy of resistance to the dehumanizing political ideology it speculatively disarticulates: the “eye for an eye” logic still operates here. In spite of its Martian setting, Bradbury seems unable or unwilling to explore the possibility of black life unfettered from its contemporary American contexts; the story forecloses the black community’s revolutionary rejection of whiteness in favor of a liberal, neocolonial, melting-pot sensibility—what we would refer to today as a desire for wholesale assimilation or post-raciality.24

To be sure, Bradbury’s short story series and Feldstein and Orlando’s “Judgment Day!” all work politically to lampoon and dislocate segregation and supremacist ideologies. Yet these artists promulgate the idealistic dream of integration: that American multiracial harmony can be as simple as all citizens “learning to live together” and freeing themselves of the history of national historical trauma. The slight fissures and slippages in satiric voice throughout their narratives (particularly in the conclusion to Bradbury’s series) foreshadow the subsequent disagreements between various American political factions regarding the need for, and relations between, extensive societal reconstructions and exploratory scientific projects that would arise beginning in the 1950s: civil [End Page 419] rights and the desegregation of the South, effective racial assimilation, and the exploration of space.


Hyper-aware of its standing on the international stage, the U.S. government entered the space race in the late 1950s determined to bolster the narrative of American exceptionalism through scientific advancement. At the 1960 Democratic National Convention, John F. Kennedy spoke of how America could address its numerous social ills; space exploration symbolized this hopeful future.25 In the period between 1959–69, Congress earmarked somewhere between $20 and $25.4 billion to support the Apollo Program, which saw tremendous scientific advancements and significant job creation in related technology fields.26 In the midst of the Civil Rights Era, NASA seemed eager to whitewash the Apollo Program, both in terms of its stated utopian goals and in terms of its stated “colorblind” and merit-based technological employment opportunities.27 The contradictory restrictions placed on black mobility and flight in the midst of this promising period for the nation are staggering. A radical contingent of black American artists and activists responded by engaging speculatively to critique and protest the stark omission of rectification for racial injustices from the project of furthering American progress.

For example, when the first black American astronaut, Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., was assigned to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1966, he downplayed a journalist’s question as to whether his appointment signaled a major shift in race relations. “This is nothing dramatic,” he stated. “It’s just a normal progression.”28 Yet if the spectacle of “normal progression” created by Lawrence’s position intimated that racial equality might be truly at hand, the spectacle would be a brief one. As activist H. Rap Brown quipped, “They gave Negroes an astronaut, but I bet they lose that nigger in space.”29 And ironically, if tragically, Lawrence never made it to orbit. In 1967, he crashed his F-104D Starfighter jet in the California desert in the final two weeks of his training. After Lawrence’s death, his sister in-law, Lorne Cress, noted in an Ebony magazine interview that while Lawrence was not a political revolutionary, he recognized and felt the racial disparities in American society.30 Cress went on to reveal that Lawrence had even found some humor and truth in H. Rap Brown’s joke about [End Page 420] him, given the lack of care that the nation had theretofore shown for black lives. Ultimately, Cress explained, Lawrence found it “imperative that black people keep pace in the often overlooked area of the sciences” as a means by which to become upwardly mobile and economically competitive.31 The year after Lawrence’s death, Brown observed during a speech at the Black Panthers’ “Free Huey Rally,” “We’re not making progress. We tend to equate progress with concessions. We can no longer make that mistake. You see, when they gave us that nigger astronaut, you say we were making progress, but I told you they were going to lose him in space. He didn’t get that far.”32

The apparent complicity of the media in promulgating the myth that an overwhelming majority of Americans were enthusiastic about NASA’s explorations and the race to the moon belied various polls that found that many Americans were either against or unsure about the significance of space flight and scientific exploration until the height of the program in the summer of 1969.33 In an October 1969 editorial entitled “Smalltalk: The Lunacy in That Lunar Trip,” Stephen Minot responded to the fanfare that remained after the moon landing: “As the Times headline said, ‘All the World’s in the Moon’s Grip.’ Getting back to earth may seem less dramatic and it certainly will be psychologically more difficult than it was for our astronauts. But until we do, we will be spinning in a moral vacuum.”34 The fact remained that while Minot and a contingent of other vocal non-black critics openly opposed what they viewed as excessive spending for the space program, many black Americans bristled at the jingoism that compelled the nation’s rivalry with the Soviet Union before, during, and after the moon landing. They complained about the billions of dollars and the brainpower exerted to support such a project as many of its citizens struggled in the ghettoes of major city centers and throughout the South.35 In an editorial printed in The Chicago Defender on August 2, 1969, Frank Stanley noted, “What I like most about the moon landing achievement is that it demonstrates what we can do as a group of people, if we become human enough, dedicated enough, and determined enough. Now we must turn this know-how, this power, this national enthusiasm, confidence, and determination to our greatest inner-problem—American racism.”36

Contradicting the optimism of Stanley’s editorial, artwork such as Ollie Harrington’s Daily World cartoon from June 1969 (published roughly a month before the moon landing) did not display any confidence in aerospace [End Page 421] technology or in a future moon landing as demonstrations of the U.S. capacity for “turning” to the “problem” of racism. Rather, Harrington’s cartoon depicts a disturbing image of frail, starving children with distended bellies and tattered clothing. A young boy reaches as far as his arm will stretch, but rockets block his access to sustenance.

Figure 2. Untitled by Ollie Harrington, Daily World, June 1969. (Reprinted with permission of Dr. Helma Harrington.)
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Figure 2.

Untitled by Ollie Harrington, Daily World, June 1969. (Reprinted with permission of Dr. Helma Harrington.)

[End Page 422]

Political responses to NASA spending and U.S. space policies also resulted in protests at the site of shuttle launches. Notably, for example, civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy, then president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led a group of 150 black Americans to the John F. Kennedy Space Center the day before the scheduled launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969. The protesters carried signs that read, “Billions for Space, Pennies for Hunger,” “Moonshots Breed Malnutrition,” and “Rockets or Rickets.”37 Abernathy noted, “I have not come to Cape Kennedy merely to experience the thrill of this launching. I am here on behalf of the people of the 51st state of hunger.”38 In their meeting with Dr. Thomas O. Paine, the third administrator of NASA, the protesters were assured that if it were the case that halting the rocket launch would end hunger immediately, NASA would do so. Paine justified current expenditures, however, with a long-term prognostication: in the end, science itself would end poverty.39 He continued, “I want you to hitch your wagon to our rocket and tell the people the NASA program is an example of what this country can do.”40

In 1971, the SCLC returned to protest the Apollo 14 moon flight, marching from Titusville to the Kennedy Space Center to draw attention to wage inequality. Hosea Williams of the SCLC clarified that while the majority of the estimated two hundred protesters did not want to downplay NASA’s successes, they were in fact “protesting our country’s inability to choose humane priorities.”41 Williams detailed their complaints regarding the federal government’s priorities: “Our country is spending $30-billion to bring men back from the moon to get some moon rocks for Vice President Agnew to hand out to heads of state. Agnew should be going around passing out loaves of bread to poor people.”42 Twenty maids were invited to sit in a special VIP area to watch the launch, but ended up corralled into a viewing area far from the prime seating, a disrespectful gesture to which Williams responded, “We got a little upset because the National Aeronautics and Space Administration tricked us. I thought the launch was beautiful. The most magnificent sight I’ve seen in my whole life.”43 Joseph Hammonds, an SCLC member, saw things differently: [End Page 423] “America is sending lazy white boys to the moon because all they’re doing is looking for moon rocks. If there was work to be done, they’d send a nigger. There is probably a nigger messing with the moon rocks when they get back because the whites are afraid of radiation.”44 The space race, to be sure, led some black Americans to understand more fully the imperatives of their social movements and the import of developing a more radical political stance.


Black artists also weighed in on the political significance of the U.S. space program. Gil Scott-Heron, for instance, engaged in wordplay about ascension and flight in his spoken-word critique of the space race, “Whitey on the Moon.” Accompanied by a conga drummer and a small but vocal audience for the 1970 live recording of the piece on his first album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, Scott-Heron articulates his frustration with the U.S. government’s priorities:

Taxes takin’ my whole damn checkThe junkies make me a nervous wreckThe price of food is goin’ upAnd as if all that crap wasn’t enoughA rat done bit my sister NellWith Whitey on the moon.

Her face and arms began to swellAnd Whitey’s on the moon.

With all that money I made last yearFor Whitey on the moonHow come I ain’t got no money here?Hmm, Whitey’s on the moon.

You know I just about had my fillOf Whitey on the moonI think I’ll send these doctor billsairmail special

(To Whitey on the moon).45

Consistent with earlier works of Afro-speculation, “Whitey on the Moon” underscores the significance of black life in the midst of its deliberate exclusion from reparative governmental policies. Scott-Heron’s sardonic reading of the [End Page 424] U.S. government’s focus on the space race figures the moon—and, by extension, outer-space politics—as a type of neo-colonialism. Scott-Heron refuses to connect space exploration to the futurist, democratic ideals promoted in Bradbury’s stories or in NASA promises to help solve pervasive societal ills. The “whitey on the moon” refrain reinforces the psychic and physical distance of the astronauts from the unlivable conditions in which Scott-Heron, his sister, and other Americans suffered. Scott-Heron thus proposes that the American government’s ethics were adrift.

Similarly, Black Arts Movement visual artist Faith Ringgold, who had long used her paintings to represent black American culture, created a powerful piece that encapsulated her critical reading of the space program in her 1969 Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger, from her Black Light series.

Figure 3. “Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger” (1969). Black Light series. Oil on canvas. Faith Ringgold © 1969. <br/><br/>(Reprinted with permission of Faith Ringgold &amp; Courtesy ACA Collection: Artist.)
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Figure 3.

“Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger” (1969). Black Light series. Oil on canvas. Faith Ringgold © 1969.

(Reprinted with permission of Faith Ringgold & Courtesy ACA Collection: Artist.)

[End Page 425]

In reaction to the internationally-anticipated victorious moment at which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would plant an American flag on the moon, Ringgold’s flag not only distorts the colors and design of the American flag, but also incorporates the embedded message “die nigger,” a demand which, Ringgold implies, is woven into the nation’s very fabric. The reference is a direct nod to H. Rap Brown’s observation that black people were literally perishing while scientific exploration flourished; it also reinforces Bradbury’s significant but more muted point that black (social) death was essential to the foundations of white supremacy. Ringgold describes the series as follows: “In 1967 I had begun to explore the idea of a new palette, a way of expressing on canvas the new ‘black is beautiful’ sense of ourselves . . . I was now committed to ‘black light’ and subtle color nuances and compositions based on my interest in African rhythm, pattern, and repetition.”46 Guided by this Africanist sensibility, Ringgold refused to use white paint and worked instead with varying shades of black tinted with color pigments, which allowed her to conceal the words within the stars and stripes of the flag.

Amiri Baraka renders explicit this imperative to break with the formal as well as ideological logic of white supremacy latent in U.S. celebrations of scientific and technological prowess. In his 1970 essay “Technology and Ethos,” he argues that in order to realize freedom, black Americans should reconfigure how they understand the functions of technology and science:

Machines, the entire technology of the West, is just that, the technology of the West. [. . .] Political power is also the power to create—not only what you will—but to be freed to go where ever [sic] you can go—(mentally and physically as well). [. . .] Think of yourself, Black creator, freed of european [sic] restraint which first means the restraint of self-determined mind development. [. . .] To imagine—to think—to energize!!! [. . .] What are the Black purposes of space travel?47

Baraka articulates a desire for a form of black technology that would offer everyday people psychological, rather than simply material, ascension over their social circumstances. Rooted in centuries of black striving and resistance, his speculative proposition for “self-determined mind development” directly subverts the national obsession with space flight and global scientific prestige. Unlike the technology of the West, black technology “must be spiritually oriented because it must aspire to raise man’s spirituality and expand man’s consciousness. It [End Page 426] must begin by being ‘humanistic’ though the white boy has yet to achieve this. Witness a technology that kills both plants & animals, poisons the air & degenerates or enslaves man.”48 Baraka posits that speculative cultural production is not just an “imaginary” or a rhetorical proposition of social and political possibility expressed in cultural production, but a technology in its own right whose very deployment already exercises a form of ideological and spiritual engagement. Baraka affirms the Black Arts tradition that art is an apparatus that may serve sensory, aesthetic, and narrative purposes but that also operates as a tool by which to represent and ultimately free black lives.

Importantly, black fantastic and speculative cultural production (including neo-slave narratives, science fiction, and Afro-futurist projects) has subsequently emerged as a liberating, exploratory genre of the kind that Baraka envisioned. As Hélène Christol notes,

Modernist and postmodernist interest in “a zone of hesitation, a frontier between this world and the world next door” in the irruption of the absurd and the emergence of surrealist struggles “to destroy the barriers between the rational and the irrational in literature,” marks the emergence of the fantastic as a dominant mode in recent literatures, developing dialogical, interrogative, and unfinished styles of discourse as well as a strong political, social, and ethical thrust.49

Revolutionary-minded black writers began utilizing speculative methods to craft fantastic stories of exile that argued for the living of life, too, in a speculative fashion. This meant destabilizing what Richard Iton describes as “the conventional notions of the political, the public sphere, and civil society that depend on the exclusion of blacks and other nonwhites from meaningful participation and their ongoing reconstitution as raw material for the naturalization of modern arrangements.”50 These creative artists thus transgressed social and aesthetic expectations by engaging imaginatively with the political and bringing to the fore the rootedness of racism and other intersecting forms of oppression in the United States.

For instance, Douglas Turner Ward’s 1965 play, Day of Absence: A Satirical Fantasy, is a parody of the South’s racism that very much echoes Bradbury’s “Way in the Middle of the Air,” but the black people in Ward’s piece maintain a radical, group-centered stance regarding their ability to take flight.51 [End Page 427] The production notes to Day of Absence specify that the costumes and miseen-scène be rendered in patriotic American colors; Day of Absence acts as a “reverse minstrel show” in that it is advised that most of the characters should ideally be black actors in whiteface, though the clever directions allow for “insipid” white actors in whiteface, if necessary.52 The play opens with two white men, Clem and Luke, sitting outside a store when they suddenly feel as if something is amiss: they realize that none of the passersby are black people. The place of the exiles’ relocation, however, is never disclosed, and their travel is a wholly covert action. The entire town quickly dissolves into disarray in reaction to the black community’s disappearance into the unknown. Their reactions border on the absurd: white people panic; the telephone exchange becomes chaotic as everyone attempts to report the missing black community; babies cry and cannot be calmed because their black nannies are not there; production in the town is halted because the labor force is absent; and some individuals who had held important roles in the town are missing, and it is later revealed that they were passing racially. In a news interview with the aptly-named white supremacist character Clan, an announcer notes the irony of the white community’s frenzied reaction to the unannounced black flight:


But from your oft-expressed views, Mr. Clan, shouldn’t you and your followers be delighted at the turn of events? After all—isn’t it one of the main polices of your society to drive the Negroes away? Drive ’em back where they came from?


DRIVVE, BOY! DRIIIIVVVE! That’s right! . . . When we say so and not befo’. Ain’t supposed to do nothing ’til we tell ’em. Got to stay put until we exercise out God-given right to tell ’em when to git!


But why argue if they’ve merely jumped the gun? Why not rejoice at this premature purging of undesirables?


The time ain’t ripe yet, boy. . . . The time ain’t ripe yet.53

Like Samuel Teece from Bradbury’s “Way in the Middle of the Air,” the town’s mayor, R. E. Lee, desires control over black bodies and implores black people to stay or to come back. In a desperate televised plea, the mayor begins by appealing to the exemplary kinship between the races that once characterized his town. Mayor Lee recalls his mammy fondly and oddly attempts to appeal to individual workers by gesturing toward the objects with which they worked. Perhaps cognizant that he is not making a good case for the black community’s [End Page 428] return and/or disgusted because he has humiliated himself before the international audience to which his groveling is transmitted, Mayor Lee fails to sustain his feigned humility. He issues a threat to the so-called fugitives: “You better off under our control and you know it! . . . We’ll track you to the end of the earth, beyond the galaxy, across the stars! We’ll capture you and chastise you with all the vengeance we command!” (54–55).

Whereas Bradbury’s Black Martians series parodies the backwardness of the racially contentious South, Day of Absence goes further to implicate the United States as a whole. Rather than reproducing the conventions of regional burlesque in the name of critique, for instance, Ward’s play indicts the federal government for designating the town a disaster area and for sending in the National Guard in reaction to the black migration. A riot ensues at the conclusion of the play, destroying the town and gravely injuring the mayor, which recalls the worldwide destruction that the elderly spokesperson described to the Black Martians in Bradbury’s “The Other Foot.” Ward’s play closes with Clem and Luke sitting in front of the store where the play began, but they remain in a trance-like state until Rastus, one of the theretofore missing black people, reappears. They immediately begin to interrogate Rastus, but his answers indicate to them that he does not comprehend what they are asking him. From the audience’s perspective, however, Rastus is clearly pretending to be ignorant and acting as if he were just a shuffling, dim-witted minstrel-like character. He responds to their query about where he went the previous day: “Don’t rightly know, Mr. Luke. I didn’t know I had skipped a day.—But that jist goes to show you how time kin fly, don’t it, Mr. Luke . . . . Uuh, uuh, uuh. . . .”54

Herein lies the significant, speculative departure that Ward makes from Bradbury’s progressive but restricted political vision in the Black Martians series. The stage direction for Rastus’ exit from the stage reads, “He starts shuffling off, scratching head, a flicker of a smile playing across his lips. Clem and Luke gaze dumbfounded as he disappears.”55 Ward does not qualify “disappears,” but it is evident that the black community maintains the unfettered ability to take flight on its own. Rastus’s sly smile belies the affect connoted by his posture and gestures and suggests that the Black community’s mystical flight and the white citizens’ subsequent collapse will forever haunt the town. Ward is able to resist the forced, moralistic unification narrative that concludes Bradbury’s “The Other Foot” by arming the black community with a revolutionary, speculative [End Page 429] technology that will allow them to assert their mobility at any time: the capacity to travel to psychological and alternative worlds and to engage with the white community on their own terms.

More recently, Derrick Bell—a critical race theorist, legal scholar, and fiction writer—flipped the emigration/exile narrative to issue a warning to black Americans who refuse to utilize speculation as a technology by which to subvert their social marginalization. As with the other artists discussed here, Bell reflects on the absurdity of racism in its everyday as well as structural iterations. He likewise mocks conservative and progressive cowardice in the short story “The Space Traders.” The story, which appeared in his allegorical text Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, was adapted for film by Reginald Hudlin and Trey Ellis as part of HBO’s 1994 “Cosmic Slop” series. “The Space Traders” is a satirical, sobering examination of the fungibility of post-millennial black bodies, though Bell reserves his most substantial critique for the black community.56 The story opens as an alien race with one thousand ships lands in the United States on January 1, 2000. The aliens propose a trade: they will offer treasures that would solve the nation’s self-inflicted economic and environmental predicaments in exchange for the black American population. “The Space Traders” explores the U.S. government’s response to the offer as well as the average American citizen’s reaction to such a slavery-adjacent event. As the president of the United States and his all-white cabinet work to render the trade palatable to the American majority, they fail to inquire about what the Space Traders have planned for the black community.

The hero of the story turns out to be a George Schuyleresque black conservative named Gleason Golightly. Stunned by the manner in which his conservative compatriots turned on him when he expressed his disagreements with the trade—revealing them to be not only flippant, but racist and avaricious as well—Golightly elects to speak before the progressive Anti-Trade Coalition without sharing the administration’s deceitful message that was designed to trick black Americans into consenting to their sale and exile. Given Gleason’s previous propensity to rally against leftist interests, the Coalition members refuse to listen to him, though he has what turns out to be a belated moment of clarity about the racial harm that the trade would bring. Seemingly unmoved by the crowd’s heckling of him as an Uncle Tom and enemy to true progress, Golightly continues his appeal, [End Page 430]

A major, perhaps the principal, motivation for racism in this country is the deeply held belief that black people should not have anything that white people don’t have. [. . .]

Rather than resisting the Space Traders’ offer, let us circulate widely the rumor that the Space Traders, aware of our long fruitless struggle on this planet, are arranging to transport us to a land of milk and honey—a virtual paradise. [. . .] Can we not expect such whites—notwithstanding even the impressive benefits offered by the Space Traders—to go all out to prevent blacks from gaining access to an extraterrestrial New Jerusalem? [. . .] [O]ur “milk and honey” story will inspire whites to institute such litigation on the grounds that limiting the Space Traders’ offer to black people is unconstitutional discrimination against whites!57

Golightly’s epiphany here is a speculative idea that might have been more acceptable to the Coalition had Golightly aligned himself earlier with their causes. Instead, Golightly is rendered a failed trickster, as the Coalition members, whom he would need to assist him in spreading the falsehood about the aliens’ designs, remain suspicious of his motives and refuse to engage in untruths that go against their religious beliefs.

In Bell’s story, black Americans are sent into planetary exile to spaces unknown on January 17, 2000: “There was no escape, no alternative. Heads bowed, arms now linked by slender chains, black people left the New World as their forebears had arrived.”58 Bell ironically sets Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as the date of exile not only to demonstrate the end of the hard-fought observation of the civil rights icon and the neutralization of the long historical movement in which King was an integral part, but also to mark the abrupt redisruption of black life. In fear, the “inductees” glance back with hopes that their liberty will be restored. Because of their refusal to think speculatively, they imprudently participate in their own reduction to the status of chattel upon which their new leaders’ wills likely would be done. Unlike their enslaved ancestors’ well-documented and radical forms of resistance during the Middle Passage and on slave plantations, these exiles march ill-equipped into a planetary abyss. In the final chapter of Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Bell issues a pointed caution to black Americans, calling for the fashioning of a speculative “philosophy that both matches the unique dangers we face, and enables us [End Page 431] to recognize in those dangers opportunities for committed living and humane service.”59

Bell also focuses on the conceit of speculation and exile in “The Afrolantica Awakening,” a short fantasy story that appears several chapters before “The Space Traders.” In “The Afrolantica Awakening,” Bell crafts a fantastic story about black American emigration to a landmass that rises up numinously nine hundred miles due east of South Carolina.60 Afrolantica, the pristine island, piques the interest of the U.S. government and other potential colonizing agents. However, the only persons capable of breathing on Afrolantica are black Americans. Explorers outfitted in innovative gear that had at one time allowed them to travel to the moon and to investigate the depths of the sea were baffled by their inability to respire on Afrolantica, explaining that it was “like trying to breathe under the burdens of all the world.”61 Regardless of their stance on emigration, black Americans felt racial pride in the fact that Afrolantica existed as a place solely habitable by them, and thousands sailed away on the Fourth of July. As their ships approached Afrolantica, the landmass that had thrived for a year began to sink into the sea. Rather than grieving at the sight of their imagined promised land disappearing before them, however,

They felt deep satisfaction—sober now, to be sure—in having gotten this far in their enterprise, in having accomplished it together. . . . Blacks discovered that they themselves actually possessed the qualities of liberation they had hoped to realize on their new homeland. Feeling this was, they all agreed, an Afrolantica Awakening, a liberation—not of place, but of mind. One returning black settler spoke for all: “It was worth it just to try looking for something better, even if we didn’t find it.”62

As these examples show, Afro-speculation is grounded in years of proto-speculative acts inspired by futurist works created by black artists and motivated by white progressive cultural producers and scientific programs such as NASA in the 1950s–70s whose political visions were nonetheless astigmatic. Afro-speculation attempts to rescue black humanity from oppressive structural systems by defying this very astigmatism; it invents cultural forms and apparatuses that seek not to correct America’s political vision but to formalize black defiance. As Hélène Christol reminds us about the fantastic as it appears in [End Page 432] cultural production, “[It] is not only a matter of themes, figures, or supernatural creatures. More basically, it reflects a fracture or a scandal that affects a system imprisoned in absolute rule. ‘The fantastic indicates a rupture in recognized order, the irruption of the inadmissible in the midst of the unalterable everyday legality,’ like a crack in the spatial time continuum that serves as a framework to ordinary experience.”63 Black Americans responded to the U.S. space race politically but also figuratively, creating art forms that recast the promise of flight not as a reflection on technology but as a reflection on technologies of power. Afro-speculation teaches us that the promises of flight and exile lie not just in the possibilities of physical movement. Rather, Afro-speculation demands a shift in political mindset, the actuation of a fantastic philosophy and technology of subversion for negotiating the past, present, and future.

Michelle D. Commander

michelle d. commander is Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is the author of Afro-Atlantic Flights: Speculative Returns and the Black Fantastic (Duke University Press, 2017) as well as articles and reviews in publications such as American Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The African American National Biography, and Hurricane Katrina: Response and Responsibilities (2005). She was the recipient of a 2012–13 Fulbright Lecturer/Researcher Fellowship at the University of Ghana.


1. Quoted in Bernard D. Nossiter, “Arms Firms See Postwar Spurt: Leaders Show Little Interest in Applying Skills to Domestic Ills,” Washington Post 8 (December 1968). Nossiter found that LTV Aerospace and the other arms firms covered in this story were highly profitable, and their largest accounts were with the Department of Defense and NASA. Though brusque, Downer’s observation was correct—the project of assisting impoverished Black communities did not appeal to the average American as much as did winning wars and the space race.

2. Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando, “Judgment Day!” 1953. Reprinted in Judgment Day and Other Stories (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2014), 29.

3. Ibid., 35.

4. “Comics and Propaganda,” The Chicago Defender, February 7, 1953.

5. As quoted in Digby Diehl’s Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 95.

6. See Steve Garber and Roger Launius, “A Brief History of NASA,” NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration,

7. See Michelle D. Commander, Afro-Atlantic Flight: Speculative Returns and the Black Fantastic (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). The book examines how selected post-1965 [End Page 433] black American cultural production is situated alongside multilayered narratives that are performed by a cast of actual traveling characters, including black American tourists and expatriates, tour industries, traditional spiritual faith leaders and healers, and market vendors located in Ghana; Bahia, Brazil; and the U.S. South.

8. To further my point, I turn to De Witt Douglass Kilgore’s argument in “Difference Engine: Aliens, Robots, and Other Racial Matters in the History of Science Fiction,” Science Fiction Studies 37, no. 1 (March 2010): “The racial history of science fiction, therefore, is confined neither to Afrofuturism nor to the production of its black artists; it is also a legacy of its dead (and living) white writers” (17).

9. On the neo-slave narrative, see Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, Neo-slave Narratives: Studies in the Social Logic of a Literary Form (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999). On Afrofuturism, see the special issue of Social Text titled “Afrofuturism” and edited by Alondra Nelson, published as Book #71 (2002) by Duke University Press.

10. It should also be noted that some critics read the biblical book of Ezekiel as evidence that alien life and even UFOs exist. Ezekiel writes about his visions of a “wheel in the middle of a wheel” and heavenly chariots containing angelic beings. For an extensive explanation of this alternative reading, see Accessed 16 May 2016.

11. Ray Bradbury. “Way in the Middle of the Air,” in The Martian Chronicles (1950). Reprinted New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012, 119–21.

12. Ibid., 124.

13. Ibid., 128.

14. Ibid., 132.

15. Paul Youngquist. “The Space Machine: Baraka and Science Fiction,” African American Review 37, nos. 2–3 (Summer-Autumn 2003): 335–36.

16. Ibid., 336.

17. “The Space Machine,” 335.

18. Ray Bradbury, “The Other Foot,” in The Illustrated Man (New York: Double Day, 1951), 31.

19. Ibid., 29.

20. Ibid., 29–30.

21. Ibid., 34–36.

22. Early on, science fiction rarely published Black American writers or engaged with the subject of race directly, making Bradbury’s seeming progressivism even more surprising for his time. Samuel Delany offers a fascinating reflection on this in his essay “Racism in SF,” published in The New York Review of Science Fiction 120 (August 1998). Bradbury’s political outlook has been under debate for some time, as recently noted by Jeremy Stahl, “Ray Bradbury, Tea Party Icon,”, June 6, 2012 1:51 pm, [End Page 434]

23. Bradbury, “The Other Foot,” 38.

24. Youngquist refers to Bradbury’s conclusion of “Way in the Middle of the Air” as a “neocolonial fantasy” (335). I view that designation as an apt assessment of Bradbury’s entire Black Martians series.

25. “[W]e stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats. . . . Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.” From John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, “1960 Democratic National Convention, 15 July 1960,” online transcript,

26. Arnold W. Frutkin. “The United States Space Program and Its International Significance,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 366 (July 1966): 91.

27. Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (New York: William Morrow, 2016) chronicles the little-known role that black women mathematicians played in the space race, and has been produced into a feature film of the same name to be released in 2017. For further background on NASA’s struggle to fully commit to desegregation, see Edward Burks’ “Huntsville, Ala., Spurning Racism: Space City Puts Economics Ahead of Segregation,” New York Times, May 23, 1965, Web; “Racism in NASA,” Chicago Defender (Daily Edition), October 31, 1972, Web; “Space Program’s Top Black Administrator Fired,” Black Panther 10, no. 6 (1973): 7; and Austin Scott, “Senators Eye NASA EEO Goals,” Washington Post, January 25, 1974, Web.

28. “A Farewell to an Astronaut,” Ebony Magazine February (1968): 91.

29. H. Rap Brown, Die Nigger Die!: A Political Autobiography (1969), rpt. (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2002), 140.

30. “A Farewell to an Astronaut,” 91–92, 94.

31. Ibid., 94.

32. The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Sound Recording Project, “The Black Panther Party,” “H. Rap Brown, Free Huey Rally,” February 1968,

33. For an analysis of the shifts in American attitudes toward NASA from the 1960s through the 1990s, see Roger D. Launius, “Perceptions of Apollo: Myth, Nostalgia, Memory or All of the Above?” Space Policy 19, no. 3 (2003): 163–75.

34. Stephen Minot, “Smalltalk: The Lunacy in That Lunar Trip,” The North American Review 254, no. 3 (Fall 1969): 5.

35. See Richard R. Nelson’s compelling book-length essay The Moon and the Ghetto: An Essay on Public Policy Analysis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977).

36. Frank Stanley, “Being Frank about People, Places, Problems,” Chicago Defender, August 2, 1969. [End Page 435]

37. “SCLC in Space Parley,” Chicago Daily, July 16, 1969, Web.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

42. “Poor People Protest ‘Moon Rocks,’” St. Petersburg Independent (Evening-Independent), February 1, 1971, Web.

43. Ibid.

44. “Poor People Protest ‘Moon Rocks.’”

45. A recording of this as well as discussion of opposition to the space program can be found at Alexis C. Madrigal, “Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program,” The Atlantic (September 12, 2012),

46. Faith Ringgold, We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 162.

47. Amiri Baraka, “Technology & Ethos,” in his Kawaida Studies: The New Nationalism (Chicago: Third World Press, 1972), 30–32.

48. Ibid., 32.

49. Hélène Christol, “The African American Concept of the Fantastic as Middle Passage,” in Black Imagination and the Middle Passage, ed. Maria Diedrich, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Carl Pedersen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 164–65. Christol quotes Neil Cornwell’s The Literary Fantastic: From Gothic to Postmodernism (New York: Harvester Weatsheaf, 1990), 151.

50. Richard Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 17. Mark Bould also offers a useful chronicle of what he calls Black Power science fiction in “Come Alive by Saying No: An Introduction to Black Power SF,” Science Fiction Studies 34, no. 2 (July 2007): 220–40.

51. Henry Dumas’ short story “Fon” also speculatively imagines the American South, utilizing the warrior figure from the mythology of West Africa’s Fon people to counter the South’s structural racism and imminent forms of domestic terrorism. “Fon” was published originally in 1968 in Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal’s edited volume Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2007), 455–66.

52. Day of Absence, in Happy Ending and Day of Absence: Two Plays by Douglas Turner Ward (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998), 29.

53. Ibid., 47.

54. Ibid., 57.

55. Ibid.

56. Julie Moody-Freeman examines “generational shift” in the politics that inform the differences between Bell’s original story and Ellis’s and Hudlin’s televised adaptation in [End Page 436] her study “Earthling Dreams in Black and White: Space, Representation and U.S. Racial Politics in ‘The Space Traders,’” African Identities 7, no. 2 (May 2009): 193–208.

57. Derrick Bell, “The Space Traders,” Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 175–76.

58. Ibid., 194.

59. Ibid., 195.

60. Derrick Bell, “The Afrolantica Awakening,” Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 32–46.

61. Ibid., 33–34.

62. Ibid., 45–46.

63. Christol, “The African American Concept,” 166. Here, Christol quotes from René Caillois’ Au Coeur du Fantastique (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), 161. [End Page 437]

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