Forgeries since the eighteenth century have often proved an irresistible tool for the propagation of racial and cultural stereotypes. By attributing their works to different authors, forgers concealed their own identities, freeing themselves to express prejudicial views while shielded from calumny and blame. Despite their deceptive authorship, many of these texts produced very real and sometimes disastrous social consequences. Although forgers often created documents for the sake of spreading racial and ethnic propaganda—perhaps nowhere more than in the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a text that espoused a vast Zionist plot for global domination—others attempted to fashion altogether different, even emancipatory identities through their forgeries.
Baltimore’s own “Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola” proclaimed himself an “African Savage” and a “Black-Jewish Prince,” a forged identity that allowed him to escape some of the limitations of the Jim Crow South by transforming himself into a minor celebrity who toured the country weighing the merits of “savagery versus civilization.” Forged works of literature and history from the past three centuries pro- vide a remarkably rich record of the various ways, sometime pernicious, occasionally redemptive, that we construct images of ourselves and of “the other.”