This Valentine’s Day, I paid homage to W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1924 novel, “Dark Princess,” because it highlights the least talked about subject then and now: Black love.

Two activities converged for me during COVID-19: when not officiating funerals, I read romance novels and took long walks along the Charles River, thinking about W. E. B. Du Bois as a romantic.

During my morning constitutional, I intentionally passed 20 Flagg Street, where sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, resided from 1890 to 1893 while a doctoral student because of the university’s segregation housing policy prohibiting blacks in the dorms. Since 1994, thanks to then Mayor Reeves (the first gay and black mayor of Cambridge), the house is part of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, and the Cambridge Historical Commission placed a marker on the front yard to commemorate Du Bois’s life.

During COVID, I happened upon a romantic novel by Du Bois titled, “Dark Princess, A Romance Novel.” I was in disbelief. Du Bois said of his body of works, “Dark Princess, A Romance Novel” was his favorite. Because the book was on sale on Amazon as a Kindle ebook for $2.99, I thought to myself, what did I have to lose? Moreover, the thought of Du Bois having written a romance novel didn’t fit the image of the man I learned about in college.

Born three years after the American Civil War in 1868 and died one day before the historic March on Washington in August 1963, Du Bois is known as one of last century’s preeminent scholars on African American life. Known as Willie to family and friends, Du Bois spent his formative years in the Berkshire community of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, approximately a 2-1/2 hour drive from Boston. I wonder if it was during his time in Great Barrington, with less than thirty African American families, that the seed of his concept of “double consciousness” began to take root when he depicted his 1903 seminal and autoethnographic text, “The Souls of Black Folk,”

“Dark Princess” was written in 1924 during the Harlem Renaissance. This cultural and artistic movement promoted black America’s causes, hopes, dreams, and genius through its black intellectuals, musicians, writers, poets, and artists, like Langston Hughes, Zoe Neal Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson.

Dark Princess” was Du Bois’s effort to showcase black love while illustrating his concept of the “problem of the color line” at home and abroad and the need for solidarity across races. While the book shows that Black and Brown lives globally are constantly challenged, it also highlights we must find time for joy, love, and celebration as a radical act of liberation.

The protagonist, Matthew Townes, an aspiring obstetrician student, is told because he’s African American, he’ll not be permitted to treat white patients, bringing the opportunity to complete his studies to a halt. With shattered dreams, Townes goes to Berlin, where he meets Kautilya, a Southeast Asian princess who’s the daughter of the Maharaja of Bvodfur. While Kautilya educates Townes about the racial struggles all people of color confront globally against white supremacy, a romance blooms between them, and they marry.

African American life in the U.S. is primarily depicted as a struggle devoid of romantic love rather than a radical act of living, liberation, and loving families. Under the tyranny of colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, and simple everyday life, how do we have time for romance? Or a softer racial spin on the subject, I’ve been asked, as a people who are so fixated on freedom, do we have the capacity for romantic love? Also, bombarded by the iconography of negative images and racial tropes on multimedia platforms of black woman as emasculating females, mammy, and welfare mothers, black men “super-predators,” pimps, and roving phalluses, the perception is Black people don’t engage in romance - we have sex. We make babies.

Du Bois concludes the novel with the birth of Townes’s son, showing that love exists in black and interracial families, both taboo topics until Mildred Loving (Loving v. Virginia, 1967), who’s often overlooked in the pantheon of African American trailblazers celebrated in February during Black History Month. Loving gained notoriety when the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Her crime was this country’s racial and gender obsession - interracial marriage. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” the same year Du Bois’s novel appeared.

Loving understood the interconnection of struggles and supported the same-sex marriage fight. Today, we are free to marry who we want. Black LGBTAI+ couples, thanks to Du Bois, who led the way with his novel, and Loving, who challenged the law, illustrated what black love and families look like.

In 2023, as a “Love letter to Black Families,” an Atlanta-based black couple was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s, “The Brownies’s Book,” with their version. Between 1920 and 1921, the book was a monthly magazine, Du Bois depicted as for “Children of the Sun … designed for all children, but especially for ours.” Du Bois wanted black children to hear positive stories and see positive images of themselves while growing up during the Jim Crow era.

Similarly, the now husband and wife duo of Charly Palmer and Karida L. Brown saw the need for an expanded book version. At that time, the two were working on “The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families,” and a romance was blossoming between Brown and Palmer.

We want the book on the coffee table of every Black family across the country and around the world. It’s a love letter to Black families. We want Black families to know they are loved.”

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

member and Columnist, The Reverend

Irene Monroe is an ordained minister,

motivational speaker and she speaks for

a sector of society that is frequently

invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly

Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on

WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio

and a weekly Friday segment “The Take”

on New England Channel NEWS (NECN).

She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a

syndicated religion columnist. Her

columns appear in cities across the

country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also

she writes a column in the Boston home

LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and

Cambridge Chronicle. A native of

Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated

from Wellesley College and Union

Theological Seminary at Columbia

University, and served as a pastor at an

African-American church in New Jersey

before coming to Harvard Divinity School

to do her doctorate. She has received the

Harvard University Certificate of

Distinction in Teaching several times

while being the head teaching fellow of

the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister

in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is

the author of the best seller, THE GOOD

BOOK. She appears in the film For the

Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the

Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an

Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s

coming out story is profiled in “CRISIS:

40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social,

and Religious Pain and Trauma of

Growing up Gay in America" and in

"Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston

Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50

Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled

twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living

Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for

her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the

Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's

research library on the history of women

in America. Her website is

irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev.

Monroe and BC.

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