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Of course science fiction did it first…


Of course science fiction did it first…

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Of course science fiction did it first…


Published on November 6, 2008


“Rosa sat so Martin could march, Martin marched so Barack could run, Barack ran so our children can fly.”

Everybody seems to be quoting this without attribution, and I’d love to know who wrote it. The thing that struck me about it was how very science-fictional it felt. It’s got the ring to it of something from a future history book, or one of those oracular poems with deep special meanings you sometimes run across in fantasy. I hope everyone’s children can fly, but we’d better get working on the spaceships.

The real world is deeply excited today because the US has elected its first black president. In science fiction, however, black presidents of the US aren’t anything new.

James Nicoll has an article on his livejournal today about how Obama can do better than some SFnal black presidents.

I’ve thought of a couple more.

In Terry Bisson’s splendid Fire on the Mountain, an alternate history in which a very different Civil War ended up with very different results, both halves of the resulting US have had a whole pile of black presidents before they get to Mars in the 1950s. It alternates between the diary of a freed slave in the different Civil War and the present-day events concerning his grand-daughter during the Mars landings. It’s perfectly balanced, a little gem that’s enjoyable as a story and that really makes you think.

Then there’s Heinlein’s “Over the Rainbow” in Expanded Universe. There’s a pessimistic and an optimistic future sketched out. In the optimistic one, Heinlein has a black female Vice-President step into the Presidency and set the world to rights.

Anyone else like to expand the list?

About the Author

Jo Walton


Jo Walton is the author of fifteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Among Others two essay collections, a collection of short stories, and several poetry collections. She has a new essay collection Trace Elements, with Ada Palmer, coming soon. She has a Patreon ( for her poetry, and the fact that people support it constantly restores her faith in human nature. She lives in Montreal, Canada, and Florence, Italy, reads a lot, and blogs about it here. It sometimes worries her that this is so exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.
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