The United States of America, 1964. It was the year after Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech, which reminded Americans that they had defaulted on the “promissory note” on equality for the White man and his Black brother. The US was in the middle of a human rights movement; civil rights workers had disappeared from Jessup County and Mississippi was burning. The Last Innocent Year threatened to be erased as the Black ghetto riots began.
It was in this environment that Irving Wallace wrote The Man. Already a bestseller with The Chapman Report (revelations on the American woman’s sexual revolution in the Sixties), Wallace tried to go where no American had gone before. He gave Americans a Black Head of State. The Man, a euphemism for a coloured man, was Douglas Dilman, the President pro tempore of the US Senate, a Black elected to the office, a damned show of damning racism.
Skin colour as the definition is portrayed by Dilman’s son, who thinks his uplift was a thought process: a White inside a Black body.
November 5, 2008: Wallace couldn’t have known that 44 years on, there’d be an African-American President-elect. He couldn’t have known that ‘The Man’, a Barack Obama, would rise out of Chicago, Illinois, the very place where Wallace was born.Wallace’s ‘Man’ was an accidental President — fourth in the line for taking over the Oval Office by dint of circumstances — haunted, and then hounded out of office by his own complexities and those of a society that refused to even pretend to not discriminate.
On Wednesday morning, Wallace’s fictional account of a Black man entering the White House transformed into reality that was only a plot 44 years ago.