Imperium in Imperio is a novel that focuses on the problem of race in America. Sutton Griggs portrays the tale of a radical yet secret movement, told by two contemporaries. This is the first major political novel written by an African-American. The main characters of the novel confront the torment and conflict of their time. Griggs deploys his characters to illustrate the climate of the day. He touches on such issues as miscegenation, Jim Crow, the political exploitation of the Black man, and the lack of protection of freed slaves (Griggs 8).
The novel was published in 1899, during the heat of the Post-Bellum period. At this point in time Blacks had only experienced thirty four years of freedom. The Reconstruction era marked the further deconstruction of the Black man (Armah 176). Associations such as the Freedman's Bureau and other philanthropists assisted free men in integrating into society. On the contrary, Black codes were established by the city and state, in order to deny Blacks from the franchise of capitalism. Brutal terrorism was employed to enforce the Black codes and perpetuate free labor.
Lynching was supported by Federal Government through non-sanctions of lynch mobs. Such atrocities kept Black people in check for generations. These brutal acts of terrorism reaffirmed white authority, white identity, and solidified the white community.
The novel begins in 1867 in Northwestern Virginia. Imperium in Imperio is a story of racial uplift. It is told through they eyes of two Black men who wish to uplift their race during the turbulence of Reconstruction. They aspire to encourage their entire race, using the crutch of education as their support. These two individuals are Bernard Belgrave and Belton Piedmont.
Both characters experience the duality of American liberty, yet they see the issue of race through different lenses. In a time when civil rights relied on the color of your skin, the odds were not in Belton's favor. As a result of his skin tone, he was submersed in racism, which would have a serious affect on his life. Although Bernard was also Black, his life was less bound to torment than that of a dark skinned man. His light skin appearance worked to his benefit and was also to his disadvantage. Both Belton and Bernard were well educated, yet pursued two polar opposite political views. Their upbringing will illustrate and explain why they adopted such opposite perspectives.
Although Bernard was favored in school, Belton never envied him. Belton became accustomed to being treated with cruelty and injustice. He performed above and beyond his expectations, in order to disprove those who didn't believe in him. He used the hatred of white people to fuel his passion to convince and teach the white people of the "New Negro." By applying his talents he constantly impressed and convinced Whites that Negroes could have intellectual prowess. Both Bernard and Belton lived their lives in this...