William Henry Pruitt III
2020-2021: Dorothy Porter & Charles Harris Wesley Fellow
William Henry Pruitt III is a PhD Candidate in African and African American Studies at Harvard University. His primary field is English, and his secondary field is Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. His research explores the dynamics between formal politics, on the one hand, and the informal politics of culture, especially art, on the other. While in residence at the Hutchins Center as a Porter and Wesley Fellow, Pruitt will work on his dissertation, which he has tentatively titled, A Theory of the Black U.S. Presidency.
As early as 1829, when David Walker published the first edition of his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but most likely even earlier, residents of the United States have hypothesized about the significance of a U.S. President who has Black ancestry. This thought-experiment appears in many forms, including novels, short stories, plays, poems, autobiographies, academic books, essays, comics, songs, published transcripts of interviews, filmed interviews, stand-up comedy routines, fictional films, documentaries, and television shows. It has also constituted the campaigns of Black candidates for U.S. President and U.S. Vice-President. And it is built on and advances a wide range of political ideologies.
Pruitt’s dissertation will narrate major developments in the history of this thought-experiment, documenting its causes and effects as well as its repetitions, revisions, silences, and innovations. The concluding chapter of Pruitt's dissertation will compare Barack Obama's Presidency and Kamala Harris' Vice-Presidency, with the hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies and U.S. Vice-Presidencies that preceded theirs. During his Porter Fellowship, Pruitt will write the third chapter of his dissertation, which narrates a history of hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies imagined after the Compromise of 1877 and before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. During his Wesley Fellowship, he will write the fourth chapter of his dissertation, which narrates a history of hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies imagined after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and before Barack Obama's first Presidential inauguration.