The Black, White, and Invisible Empires of Sutton E. Griggs and Thomas Dixon Jr.
|Type||Appeared in Conference without Proceedings|
|MU Faculty or unit|
|Description||This paper compares the "Imperium in Imperio" that Sutton E. Griggs imagined in his 1899 novel of that title with the “nation inside a nation” that preoccupied Thomas Dixon Jr., author of The Reconstruction Trilogy on which D.W. Griffith based The Birth of a Nation. The concept of nations within nations had been brought to bear on race questions decades before these two Baptist preachers turned to fiction-writing to probe it further. But the Jim Crow regime had raised the prospect of permanent African-American exclusion, while white supremacists claimed that even that would be inadequate to the long-term task of safeguarding the “Anglo-Saxon race.” For both Griggs and Dixon, this conflict exposed a constitutional vacuum, an absence of legitimate authority that left one racial group at the other’s mercy. And in fictions that are, in striking ways, each other’s photo-negative reverse, both imagine the beleaguered “citizens” of the race-nation reasserting agency by reconstituting the missing institutional forms in secret. Griggs’ clandestine underground is the “Imperium,” an entire parallel but hidden U.S. government exclusively of and for African-Americans, and Dixon’s is, notoriously, the “Invisible Empire” or Ku Klux Klan, a conspiracy of nighttime faux tribunals and paramilitary police. Both movements claim not just local but world-historical aims, yet both also finally self-destruct, and for similar reasons: As Hannah Arendt and others would later explain, citizenship is a feature of “the political way” and presumes a (public) polity, which cannot be constructed secretly without recapitulating the evils it was meant to address.|