1905: Black Author Writes Science Fiction Novel About Race

In 1906, Robert Gilbert Wells, an African American author and publisher in Buxton, Iowa ran ads soliciting agents to sell his new book, “Anthropology Applied to the American White Man and Negro.” The ad placed in the March 3, 1906 issue of the Richmond Planet provided a summary of the book:

 

AGENTS WANTED.

To Sell the New Book that is Attracting Wide Spread Attention From all Classes.

 

A new book written by a young Negro, R. G. Wells, raised in Jefferson county, Louisville, Ga.

This book is entitled Anthropology, Applied to the American Negro and White Man. It is illustrated with fifty plain practical pictures, describing two men conversing with each other.

Mr. Jones, an ex-slave holder and Sam, an ex-slave, both speaking before millions and millions of people upon the two races, on the subject matter and mind that composes the two men.

This book is handsomely bound in cloth and morocco. Cloth $1.50, Morocco $1.75. It contains 301 pages and 48 different subjects.

R.G. WELLS & CO. BOOK CONCE
R.G. Wells & Co. Book Concern,
Buxton, Iowa
Buxton author R.G. Wells' 1906 book ad

Who was R.G. Wells?

Little is known about Wells. According to the Introduction to his book, he was born April 2, 1865 near Louisville, Georgia. He thirsted for education, attending school for stints of two months, two weeks, and then six months, all the while, “plowing, rolling logs, picking cotton, splitting rails, and every other kind of work” to help his father raise six children after his mother died.

When he turned 20, he left home and worked in exchange for education. By 22, he’d obtained a teaching certification, was teaching 105 students, and made $25.00/month, exclaiming, “Now just think, I have never received over $6.00 per month for my labor.”

By 25 or so, he had married, opened a school in Kansas City, Missouri (which his wife managed), and was 98 pages into “Anthropology Applied to the White Man and Negro”. Referring to the book, he stated, “With that little tract I have entered some of the largest schools in this country to lecture. In fact my lectures for eight years was with the white people, since I found the white schools more accessible than my own color, in most cases anyhow.” (Hmmm. Interesting …)

What is “Anthropology” about?

Augmented with photographs and cutouts from photographs, “Anthropology Applied to the American White Man and Negro” handles race through conversations between Sam and Mr. Jones, though other characters such as Boss and even the author—as Bob Wells—and his wife, come and go.

The characters discuss mixed schools and mixed marriages, racism and mob law and colonization, as well as notable African Americans such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and more. After much debating, “Sam has become convinced that Mr. Jones is too polished a gentleman not to be a Negro” and changes Mr. Jones into a black man. But a naïve Mr. Jones quickly discovers the harsh realities of being black.

In the Introduction, Wells states that the idea for the book arose from his lectures on phrenology, physiology, and anthropology. At the end, he promises “Mr. Jones’ Answers to his Brother’s Conversation” will be available in a second volume, but no record of a second book can be found.

Here’s the online version of “Anthropology Applied to the American White Man and Negro“.

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