Editorial Board: Editor: George H. Conklin, Emeritus, North Carolina Central University Robert Wortham, Associate Editor, North Carolina Central University Board: Rebecca Adams, UNC-Greensboro Bob Davis, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Catherine Harris, Wake Forest University Ella Keller, Fayetteville State University Ken Land, Duke University Steve McNamee, UNC-Wilmington Miles Simpson, North Carolina Central University William Smith, N.C. State University
Editorial Assistants John W.M. Russell, Technical Consultant
Volume 10, Number 2
Du Bois' The Quest of The Silver
Rashad L. James
North Carolina Central University
"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line" were the words conceived by a man whose calling in life regularly confronted this inherent problem (Du Bois  1995: 54). Yet this calling involved more than acknowledgement or face-to-face opposition, for several before him naturally gravitated towards such an inclination. What distinguishes him from his predecessors is that he devoted his life towards analyzing this inherent problem in revolutionary ways. Employing empirical analysis of social relations, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, was a pioneering figure in the development of sociology, particularly in the sociological study of race (Wortham 2000). Committed to refuting racial myths with empirical truths, Du Bois' calling repudiated the notion of the problem as inherent. Du Bois did not consider race and race relations an inseparable and permanent aspect of society, but rather as social constructions of society (Du Bois  2011). Du Bois' legacy on the sociological study of race includes an array of works across various modes of expression. Empirical studies, the academic and popular press, biography, poetry, and fiction were all employed to introduce audiences to "the Negro problems". It is Du Bois' editorial versatility, particularly his use of fiction, which is the focus of this report. More specifically, this paper seeks to demonstrate how Du Bois used fiction to portray sociological facts on race relations surrounding an African American community during the beginning of the twentieth century through his novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911). The aim of this report is not to simply summarize his novel, but rather put forth the claim that in this particular novel Du Bois showcases his sociology through fiction.
The goal of this report is unique in the sense that it attempts to combine Du Bois' sociological concepts and their interplay with the sociological essence imbedded within The Quest of the Silver Fleece. The outline of this report follows the notion that several aspects ought to be addressed before readers divulge into the claim that Du Bois showcases his sociology through fiction. Therefore, this report begins with dismantling characteristics of society which are perceived as inherent. Du Bois ( 2011) did not agree that race was a biological construct and that race relations during the turn of the twentieth century were natural and fixed but rather were socially constructed. For this reason a brief overview of the social construction of reality is carried out, which will be incorporated within an overview of the sociology of literature and the sociology of the novel in order for readers to embrace the claim that fiction can be used as a means to portray reality and in turn studied sociologically. A summary of the text, in terms of characters, settings, and various other related issues will be discussed. Next, overview of Du Bois' life experiences and his sociological concepts are presented. Lastly and most important, Du Bois' sociological concepts within The Quest of the Silver Fleece will be identified and analyzed to support the claim that Du Bois used sociology through fiction, as well as reasons why Du Bois would use fiction to showcase his sociology.
The Sociology of Literature
Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman (1966) present their theory of the social construction of reality in their book The Social Construction of Reality. Often time individuals in society interpret their experiences and day-to-day interactions as reality. Berger and Luckman (1966) describe how reality is essentially dialectic, composed of an objective and subjective reality. Every individual is born into an objective social structure which is constructed and defined independent of the individual and presented to the individual as an objective reality. However, it is the subjectivity of reality which is often taken for granted by individuals because the objective reality corresponds interchangeably with the subjective reality (Berger and Luckmann). In addition, it is the interplay between the subjective and objective reality which contributes to how society views the world. Hence, society, an individual's identity, and reality are subjectively defined through the process of socialization and internalization. Berger and Luckman (1966) comment on how individual's shared social situations reinforce current constructs and reality. Nonetheless, when shared definitions begin to dismantle and an individual's consciousness is no longer compatible with their social-being, subjective reality faces scrutiny (Berger and Luckmann). For Du Bois and many others during that time period, the color-line and ultimately the social construction of race was becoming an increasingly obsolete social construct which warranted redefining.
The literary form of novel is of particular interest for this report because it is argued that a novel is a potential source of social data. A distinction of a novel from other literary forms is the depiction of human character in a social situation, in which the reader is both entertained and gains a deeper perspicacity of life and social problems from the historical context the novel was written in (Taormina 2008). The novel and its emphasis on man as a social being, is described by Lucien Goldmann ( 1975) in his book Towards a Sociology of the Novel. The essence of the novel as a literary form, as Goldmann ( 1975) explains, is the coalescence of the biography of a given era and a social chronicle reflecting that society. Hence, a novel can reveal the norms, values, and social concepts of a given society. In a sense, a novel can be used by authors to express the ideals in society or used to portray how society ought to be. It is the portrayal of these values and social concepts by the author which is of sociological significance and in turn worthy of sociological inquiry. Goldmann (1980) explains how novels are a historical fact and ultimately cultural creations by stating that the author can begin to create a novel only from within their society and the confines imposed upon the reality of their society. Therefore, the author's consciousness is determined by the historical nature of their being, as well as the historical nature of their being expressed and revealed by their cultural creation, the novel. Likewise the scope of the narrative possibilities available to an author is largely dictated by the objective possibility of their position within a given culture (Goldmann 1980). Simply put, Goldman suggests that novels are forms of cultural creations requiring and reflecting the collective consciousness of social classes or groups. Delineating the subject of the novel away from the individual author and towards the aggregate of the social group in which the author belongs places the novel within the realm of sociological analysis. This report does not try to diminish the significance or genius of the individual author but rather place the author within a totality which makes sociological analysis legitimate. Nevertheless, the values, norms, and social concepts inherent in society largely shape the author and their portrayal of the narrative within almost every novel. Goldmann (1980) exclaims that no human fact can be explained or interpreted when taken from its context, and within the sociology of literature the novel is utilized as a snapshot of society within a particular historical context. Even fictitious accounts such as The Quest of the Silver Fleece can be utilized as sociological data because the values, norms, and social concepts indicative of twentieth century American society are expressed from the perspective of a particular social group by Du Bois' portrayal.
Quest of the Silver Fleece
The Quest of the Silver Fleece takes place in a small rural town in Alabama, within heart of the Southern Black Belt. Similar to other novels, the plot revolves around the triumph of love between the hero and heroine, Blessed Alwyn and Zora. However, their love for one another becomes woven within micro and macro-level social structures and the dependence of these structures on "silver fleece." More specifically the focus is upon the intersection and interdependence of race, education, and economics with the Black Belt's cash-crop, cotton.
The micro and more intimate setting of the novel begins with Blessed Alwyn, a fifteen-year-old Negro from Georgia traveling through the woods of Alabama in search of a Negro school. Along his journey to the school, he stumbles across Zora and at once becomes captivated by the beauty and mystic of the heroine. Instantly they develop a close bond which ultimately spawns into devotion toward one another. Bles displays the characteristics of a noble and earnest young man who greatly values education which stands in contrast to Zora when she is first introduced. Zora is presented as a child of the wilderness. Zora was both ignorant to the ways of the world beyond the swamp and illiterate up until her acquaintance with Bles. Eventually finding his way to the Negro school, Bles convinces Zora to enroll as well. They devise a scheme of harvesting "silver fleece" deep within the swamp and selling it to the local market as a means of raising money for Zora to cover the cost of attending school. What appeared to be an ingenious and placid scheme quickly becomes engulfed within racial, economic, and social relations of rural Alabama, most prominently being centered at the Negro school.
The Negro school
is headed by an aging white New England woman by the name of Ms. Sarah
Smith. Amid pervasive poverty, ignorance, and questionable culture, Ms.
Smith represents a moral light for the poor community she serves. Unwavering
and unfaltering, Ms. Smith is determined to uplift the Negro people through
education. Unlike the pervasive ideology held by other Whites in the South,
who viewed Negroes as intellectually inferior, Ms. Smith insists upon education
for Negroes who she views as anything but inferior. Teamed with a young
White New England Teacher, Miss Mary Taylor, they both grapple over the
issue of the proper education for Negroes, particularly with the Cresswells,
who represent the corrupt White aristocracy.
The larger and more macro-level aspects of the novel were constructed largely by John Taylor, the brother of Miss Mary Taylor. A New England businessman, John Taylor is the mastermind behind the Cresswells' campaign; yet unlike the Cresswells John is primarily interested in making money and not the "Negro Problem" of the South. Proposing a scheme to corner the cotton market of the South, John's plan incorporates the national political arena of Washington D.C., the global stock exchange of Wall Street, Northern philanthropic monies, with raw materials of the South. The implementation of John's plan is practically flawless, and he and the Cresswells greatly enhance their wealth. In other respects, John's plan brought changes to the South in terms of racial and social relations which were unsettling to the Cresswells. In addition to the Cresswells' battle in keeping the Negroes in an inferior social position, they must also figure a way to maintain their social status relative to poor Whites that show signs of experiencing uplift as a result of the economic changes in the south. Nevertheless, the main plot addresses the love relationship between Bles and Zora; a love as delicate and fragile as the budding cotton they planted deep within the swamp, and a love that was everything but free of controversy. Ultimately both hero and heroine evolve toward the aspirations of a people obliging morality, sacrifice, toil, education, and the uplift of the Negro race.
Du Bois' Life and Early Sociological Work
The years of Du Bois' life which are of significance to this report include 1896 to 1911. Du Bois was convinced that racial prejudice was rooted in ignorance and that empirically-based scientific facts concerning race could dispel such ignorance, ultimately reducing prejudice and racism in America (Du Bois  2007;  1996). By 1896, Du Bois not only knew what his life-work was going to be, but he knew how he would go about doing it, utilizing the principles of sociological inquiry. In 1896 Du Bois, investigated the social conditions of Negroes in Philadelphia. Titled The Philadelphia Negro, his study was eventually published in 1899. The significance of this study was that it was a massive sociological work of scientifically derived social facts as to the conditions of the Negroes of Philadelphia (Du Bois  1996). By 1898 Du Bois announced that the subject of his scientific inquiry would be "the study of the Negro problem". Even though Du Bois had superb credentials, the color-line most likely had an effect on his employment avenues. As a result, Du Bois was hired at Atlanta University as a sociology professor and remained until 1910 (Du Bois  2007). Determined to put science into the sociological investigation of the Negro problem, Du Bois implemented year-long studies on the conditions of the Negro while at Atlanta University. Other sociological volumes (1906-1914) were published by Du Bois on the "Negro Problem" covering a wide range of topics including occupation, morality, family, health, and education.
Du Bois' stance
on education is worthy of discussion. Up until 1905 Du Bois stressed the
importance of scientific study of the "Negro problem", by extracting empirical
social truths, and presenting these truths in order to bring about social
change. However, Du Bois began to question the effectiveness of simply
presenting social truths to society in order to bring about social change.
Thus, 1905 can be seen as the beginning of his move from academia toward
social activism, starting with founding the Niagara Movement and the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People. What contributed to
Du Bois' transformation was his stance on education that stood in opposition
to the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Du Bois advocated for liberal
arts education for Negroes, with particular emphasis on the higher learning
of a "Talented Tenth" (Du Bois  2007). In contrast, Washington advocated
vocational education for Negroes as well as urging them to give up the
pursuit of political and civil rights (Du Bois  1995;  2007).
Washington's message was widely accepted by Whites, and as a result Washington
received funding and influence over the national narrative on education
for Negroes. Strong social pressures and reprimands were handed to those
who publicly opposed Washington's message, including Du Bois (Du Bois 
2007). An ideological backlash and social pressures were directed not only
towards Du Bois but also Du Bois' employer, Atlanta University. Due to
such pressures to both Du Bois and Atlanta University resulting from Du
Bois' opposition to Washington, Du Bois believed it was in the best interest
of Atlanta University for him to resign in 1910 (Du Bois  2007).
Sociology Through Fiction
The claim that Du Bois used fiction to showcase his sociology of the "Negro problem" is not something unimaginable. The novel as a literary form focuses on social beings in social situations, and various novels addressing social issues were published, particularly during the latter half of the 19th century and early into the 20th century. However, most of these books were authored by people void of sociological training. Du Bois had accumulated 14 years of empirical data on "the Negro problems" prior to the publication of The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Additionally, there is evidence that Du Bois strived to reach larger audiences to present his finding on "the Negro problems"; one being the 1900 Paris Exhibition, which was reconstructed by Dr. Robert Wortham in 2011 (Wortham  2011), another being the publication of his collection of sociological essays in the 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois realized the benefits of using popular press in order to reach larger audiences. Therefore, it would not be an absurd notion to suggest that Du Bois would use The Quest of the Silver Fleece as a way to get his sociological message out.
Identifying Du Bois' sociological concepts will further support the notion that Du Bois used The Quest of the Silver Fleece as an outlet for his sociology. For Du Bois, the most important aspect of sociological inquiry and social reform was to discover "Truth", and to him nothing was more rooted in ignorance and prejudice than the assumptions about the inferiority of the Negro race (Du Bois  2000; [1902, 1904, 1906, 1910, 1911, 1914] 2000). As early as 1897 Du Bois refuted the notion of race as a biological construct in his sociological essay, The Conservation of Races. In this particular essay Du Bois notes that scientists cannot clearly categorize a person based on skin color, hair texture, head shape, and language. Du Bois went on to argue that racial prejudice is simply the tension that exist among groups of people (Du Bois  2011). "The Negro Race in the United States of America" was published in 1911. In this study Du Bois stated that at least one-third of the Negroes in America had White blood and that there were large traces of Negro blood among the White race (Du Bois  2000). Several studies and articles were published by Du Bois aimed at refuting beliefs such as Social Darwinism and Scientific Racism, which insisted that the inferiority of Negroes was rooted in biological facts.
Lack of inquiry and depth into the "Negro problem" was partly attributed to the "car-window sociologists". In "The Negro as He Really is" Du Bois ( 2011) addressed the issue of the "car-window sociologists" as a person who studies the "Negro problems" from the peripheral yet professes to know and understand the race. The "car-window sociologists" and the belief of race as a biological construct were typified by Temple Bocombe, a character in The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Temple Bocombe is a sociologist, who joined Northern philanthropists as well as the Cresswells as they traveled through the South and eventually to the Negro school. Immediately Temple professed to thoroughly understand the "Negro problems" because he read materials on the matter a week prior to their trip South (Du Bois  2004). Not only does Du Bois portray this character as a "car-window sociologists" but also as a person who holds the belief that race is a biological construct, evident from his comments regarding the children at the Negro school. Bomcombe utilized the head-shape argument, suggesting that the children and in turn the Negro Race possessed small and narrow head-shapes reflecting their lack of intelligence (Du Bois  2004). Du Bois discredited the "head shape" argument in his sociological essay The Conservation of Races published in 1897. Du Bois also discredited the notion of the Negro as a dying race, which was also raised by Bomcombe, in his sociological study The Philadelphia Negro published in 1899 and the 1906 Atlanta University Conference Study on The Health and Physique of the Negro American. Throughout The Quest of the Silver Fleece, Du Bois continually refuted biologically grounded claims of the inferiority Negroes, particularly claims that insisted limited mental capacity.
An aspect of education showcased within The Quest of the Silver Fleece concerns the debate between Du Bois and Washington over the type of education for Negroes. Washington ( 2003) advocated vocational education for Negroes as means of uplift for the race because he felt vocational education provided the necessary skills to make a living. Unlike Washington, Du Bois felt that vocational education provided the skills for the race to become servants and not for social betterment, in other words "to sweep, that Edison may have time to think" (Du Bois  2011: 125). Perhaps the most striking example of the debate over vocational or liberal arts education within this novel comes from the conversation between Ms. Sarah Smith and one of her students. Ms. Smith was confronted by one of her students named Robert. Robert, who is supposed to graduate from the Negro school the following year, confessed to Ms. Smith his apprehensiveness in continuing his education because he believes that there are no occupational opportunities for Negroes with education (Du Bois  2004). Instead Robert wants to "cast his buckets in the South" and begin farming. Disappointed because she had aspirations of Robert going to Atlanta University, Ms. Smith attempts to convince Robert why he ought to pursue higher education by explaining that farming calls for more and not less intelligence for "without intelligence and training and some capital it is nonsense to think you can lead your people out of slavery" (Du Bois  2004: 35). Advocating that occupations such as farming need the knowledge and leadership provided by liberal arts education is outlined by Du Bois' sociological study "The Negro in the Black Belt: Some Social Sketches". Ms. Smith's argument to Robert is similar to the argument presented by Du Bois in his 1898 sociological essay "Careers Open to College-Bred Negroes". The argument in Du Bois' essay is that vocational education and in turn farming is a noble profession, but as long as Negroes are without knowledge of the world outside of laboring, they will continue to be oppressed (Du Bois  2011).
Also in The Quest of the Silver Fleece Du Bois addresses the association between education and the economic system of the Southern Black Belt. The chief antagonists, the Cresswells, and their stance on vocational education were due in large part because of the South's dependency on cheap Negro Labor. This sentiment is reflected in the Cresswells advocacy of vocational education as they posed the question of whether or not the plantation system could be maintained without laborers. The Cresswells responded to the question with a resounding no (Du Bois,  2004). Vocational education was advocated by the Cresswells because it provided Negroes with the skills necessary to be efficient laborers; however the economic system of the Southern Black Belt ensured cheap Negro labor.
Within the Southern Black Belt agricultural economy, debt was used as a means of trapping laborers into a cycle of perpetual toil (Du Bois  2011). Scenes depicted in The Quest of the Silver Fleece essentially portray the crop-lien system, which was prevalent throughout the Southern Black Belt. In his 1901 sociological study, "The Relation of Negroes to the Whites in the South," Du Bois describes the crop-lien system as a system of laws pertaining to mortgages, liens, and minor criminal violations which entrap violators into debt. Du Bois also portrays the crop-lien system as a system in which "the black peon is held down by perpetual debt or petty criminal judgments" often captivating on the ignorance and powerlessness of Negroes (Du Bois and Washington  2001: 94). Even though the crop-lien system was not "slavery," it established a legal mechanism of social control.
Relating to economic structure, one particular sociological concept Du Bois displayed in The Quest of the Silver Fleece was his concept of the "group economy." In a chapter authored by Du Bois included in, The Negro in the South, Du Bois (1907) describes the "group economy" as a "cooperative arrangement of industry and service in a group which tends to make the group a closed economic circle, largely independent of surrounding whites" (Du Bois  2001: 99). Du Bois (1907) noted that several Negro communities in the South were in the process of acquiring a level economic independence, and he pinpointed the "group economy" as a method for Negroes to achieve economic independence and social uplift elsewhere. The "group economy" system was also described as having being based on previous efforts of Negroes to successfully obtain land in the South. The portrayal of "group economy" is presented explicitly in The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Zora's transformation included her inner struggle to find "the way" for her to uplift her people. However, Zora was able to purchase land and initiated a plan towards economic self-sufficiency for the Negro community. Du Bois' portrayal of Zora and her plan for the community is nothing more than a portrayal of the "group economy" concept.
Du Bois had more than theoretical aspects backing his concept of "group economy" and the potential for social uplift and economic self-sufficiency of Negro communities, particularly in Alabama. In 1906 Du Bois published the article "The Economic Future of the Negro". In his article Du Bois (1906) points to Lowndes County, Alabama as an example of what a "group economy" can do for the betterment of the Negro Race. Du Bois also comments, in particular, on the leadership and guidance of the Calhoun School, a Negro school, for its ability in securing land for the Negroes of the community. Lowndes County, Alabama and the Calhoun School are of particular interest to this report because Du Bois' 1906 article was not the first instance of Du Bois commenting on Lowndes County Alabama.
In 1905 Du Bois was contacted by the United States Department of Labor in regards to conducting a sociological study of a Negro community in the Southern Black-Belt. In a copy of the memoranda from the Department of Labor, it was decided that Lowndes County, Alabama would be the ideal location for such a study, and the Calhoun School could provide assistance (U.S. Department of Labor 1905). In 1905 Du Bois receives a letter from head of the Calhoun School, a woman by the name of Charlotte Thorn, welcoming him to the school and expressing her delight in his proposed study (Thorn 1905). Several correspondences between Ms. Thorn and the Department of Labor to Du Bois occurred and by 1906 Du Bois was authorized to conduct a sociological study of the community in Lowndes County, Alabama (Du Bois  2007). Du Bois and his research team resided at the Calhoun School and worked tirelessly to complete a detailed account of African American social and economic conditions in Lowndes County (Du Bois  2007). Du Bois completed and rushed the only copy to Washington D.C. (Du Bois  2007). Based on the memoranda sent to Du Bois in 1905 by the Department of Labor, it suggested to Du Bois that it may be unwise to publish certain facts. However, Du Bois sought to provide an accurate depiction of the condition within the county without yielding to truth. In a letter from Ms. Thorn to Du Bois in 1907, she expressed both her excitement and concern over publication of Du Bois' report, for she feared that an honest assessment of the conditions in Lowndes County would surely expose the negative aspects of the community (Thorn 1907). Unfortunately, Ms. Thorn's and the Department of Labor's concern about certain facts coming to light never came to fruition because Du Bois' study was allegedly destroyed by the Department of Labor (Du Bois  2007).
With all this being said, it is argued by this report that Du Bois utilized The Quest of the Silver Fleece as a means to share some of the findings from the suppressed Lowndes County study. The setting for the Lowndes County study is the rural community of Calhoun, where Du Bois is housed at the Calhoun School. The Calhoun school is of interest because it was founded in 1892 by Ms. Thorn, who was a New England White woman. Ms. Thorn along with another New England White teacher named, Mabel Willingham, operated the school to serve the needs of the poor Negro community (Ellis). The setting depicted in The Quest of the Silver Fleece bears a striking resemblance to the setting of the Lowndes County study, where in both accounts have a Negro school in Alabama headed by a New England woman. The social conditions depicted in The Quest of the Silver Fleece reflect what Du Bois could have observed when he was conducting the Lowndes County study. This report has already highlighted previous sociological writings by Du Bois on the Southern Black Belt. In addition, it appears that in The Quest of the Silver Fleece, Du Bois specifically refers to some of the conditions that existed in Lowndes County at the time his suppressed study was conducted. More specifically, there is evidence of correspondence between Du Bois and Ms. Thorn in reference to the crop-lien system in Lowndes County (Thorn 1907). The crop-lien system, as already indicated, was the economic system employed by the Cresswells in order to entrap cheap Negro Labor. Additionally Du Bois' indication of Lowndes County as a successful example of "group economy", which was due in large part to the guidance of the Calhoun School, is a close reflection of the success of "group economy" depicted in The Quest of the Silver Fleece.
The purpose of this essay was to demonstrate how Du Bois used fiction to portray sociological facts on race relations impacting an African American community at the beginning of the twentieth century as portrayed by his novel The Quest of the Silver Fleece. It is argued that the African American community depicted in The Quest of the Silver Fleece reflects conditions that were present in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1906. Du Bois therefore utilized fiction to display his sociological findings for the suppressed Lowndes County study. Some may read this report and still hold reservations as to the claim that The Quest of the Silver Fleece reflects what ought to have been present in the Lowndes County study. However, few can deny the sociological accuracy of the living conditions characterized of the Southern Black Belt as portrayed by Du Bois in The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Additionally, some may read this report and wonder why we ought to care about a study which was allegedly suppressed over 100 years ago and its connection with The Quest of the Silver Fleece, as argued by this report. If the claims of this report are valid The Quest of the Silver Fleece ought to be viewed as sociological work, containing elements independent of literary criticism. This would not only showcase the transdisciplinary nature of Du Bois' empirical work, but also redefine our understanding of American sociology and further reinforce Du Bois' status as a founding figure of American Sociology. In any event, it is an irrefutable fact that a sociological study of "the Negro Problems" was authorized in 1905, conducted, finalized, and eventually suppressed. Any attempt aimed at correcting the maltreatment of "Truth" is an attempt of rectifying a wrongdoing, which is the implicit purpose of this report. In the end Du Bois took advantage of alternative publication outlets to introduce audiences to "the Negro problems" and demonstrate why the problem of the twentieth century was the problem of the color line.
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