Cover image for Black Judas : William Hannibal Thomas and The American Negro
Black Judas : William Hannibal Thomas and The American Negro
Smith, John David, 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Athens : University of Georgia Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxvi, 386 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
E185.97.T545 S55 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A compelling story of racial self-hatred in America and of a black man who became a pariah among his own people.

Author Notes

John David Smith is Graduate Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at North Carolina State University

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

William Hannibal Thomas is one of the most scandalous figures in African American history--the author of The American Negro, a book that virulently denigrated blacks and fed racist stereotypes in the early 1900s. Smith, in this well-researched book, chronicles the life of an ambitious black man of mixed racial heritage. Smith reveals Thomas' life as more than that of a tragic mulatto by detailing his dramatic evolution from intolerant critic of black freedmen to "patient constructive supporter" to "intensely negative and morose" Judas. Smith also highlights the more progressive phases of Thomas' life: service in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War and authorship of proposals for the betterment of the freed slaves. Smith details the physical and emotional deterioration that led Thomas, an occasional lawyer, preacher, and opportunist, to scathingly denounce blacks and provoke rebuke by some of the most prominent black leaders of the time. Although Smith cautions against the temptation to psychoanalyze historic figures, he shows Thomas as a man deeply troubled by racism who ended up essentially writing his autobiography in one of the most hated books of the century. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Smith (history, North Carolina State Univ.; An Old Creed for the New South) seeks to explain why an African American would write one of the most racist books ever published. Previous historians have avoided a study of William Hannibal Thomas (1843-1935) owing to insufficient biographical documentation, the unscientific underpinnings of his research, and his checkered career. As preacher, teacher, lawyer, trial justice, state legislator, and journalist, this native Ohioan had championed the freedman's cause in the post-Civil War years. By the mid-1890s, however, he was attacking members of his race, propounding racial inferiority, and demanding a complete and radical redemption of black America guided by his racist tome, The American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He May Become (1901). Shunned by the black community after its publication and in constant pain from an old Civil War wound, he led a solitary life until his death at age 92. The author successfully portrays Thomas as a "reformer-gone-wrong," a self-hater whose book was more autobiographical than anything else. Smith's occasionally excessive detail and use of statistics can be distracting. Recommended for African American collections and academic libraries.ÄJohn Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In Black Judas Smith examines a contradiction. William Hannibal Thomas was by birth and identified himself as a "mulatto," or as he preferred to call himself, a "colored American." Thomas served with the Union army in the Civil War, losing an arm in 1865. During Reconstruction he was briefly a member of the South Carolina legislature and was variously a lawyer, financial agent, and minister. Yet this same William Thomas in 1901 wrote a book entitled The American Negro, in which he condemned Negroes as inferior, degraded, and sensuous. Thomas even suggested that black men frequently carried on incestuous relationships with their stepdaughters, with the full knowledge and consent of their wives. He characterized blacks as criminals and rapists who lusted after white women, and urged that black rapists be castrated and exterminated. Smith attempts to explain Thomas's amazing transformation from war hero to severe critic of the black race. He felt unjustly rejected by the white world and blamed this rejection on the "depraved" behavior of blacks rather than on the prejudice of many whites. The sad story of a tormented man consumed by self-hatred. All levels. W. Glasker; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction--An African American Enigmap. xix
Chapter 1 Student, Servant, Soldierp. 1
Chapter 2 Questions of Characterp. 38
Chapter 3 Missed Opportunities and Unresolved Allegationsp. 67
Chapter 4 Lawyer and Legislator in South Carolinap. 93
Chapter 5 U.S. Consul and Racial Reformerp. 127
Chapter 6 Author of The American Negrop. 162
Chapter 7 A Man Without a Racep. 191
Chapter 8 I Am Alone in the Worldp. 235
Epilogue--A Tragic Mulatto and a Tragic Negrop. 262
Appendix 1 The Multiple William H. Thomasesp. 279
Appendix 2 Circular Letter From the Committee on Morals and Religion for 1901, Hampton Negro Conferencep. 287
Notesp. 289
Indexp. 369