Rudolph Fisher

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Rudolph Fisher

Rudolph Fisher (May 9, 1897 Washington, DC - December 26, 1934) was an African-American physician, radiologist, novelist, short story writer, dramatist, musician, and orator. His father was John Wesley Fisher, a clergyman, his mother was Glendora Williamson Fisher, and he had two siblings. Fisher married Jane Ryder, a school teacher from Washington, D.C. in 1925, and they had one son, Hugh, who was born in 1926 and was also nick named "The New Negro" as a tribute to the Harlem renaissance.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Washington, DC in the late nineteenth century, Fisher grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. Fisher was one of three children born to parents Reverend John Wesley Fisher and Glendora Fisher.

His father was John W. Fisher, a Baptist pastor, and his mother was Glendora Williamson Fisher.  Rudolph was the youngest of three children.

He had met Jane Ryder who was a public school teacher. Fisher and Ryder married within a year in 1925.  They had one child, a son named Hugh, born in 1926.[2]

School and Career[edit]

Fisher graduated from Classical High School in 1915 with honors and further went to Brown university where he studied English and Biology.[3] He later attended medical school at Howard University in Washington D.C, graduating in 1924.

After graduating from Brown, Fisher took part in a Manhattan based program titled "Four Negro Commencement Speakers" where he read his Brown commencement speech "The emancipation of Science." At Howard Medical School, he studied Roentgenology.

Fisher was successful in both literature and medical field. During 1920s, he wrote some articles in medical journals. He mainly worked on ultraviolet rays on viruses research. He was a head researcher in Manhattan's International Hospital. Also, he opened his own private practice while he was writing his novels, poetry, and articles.[4] His experience in the medical field helped him to get ideas for his writing on mystery, for it helped to illustrate human body.[5]

Fisher started his career by contributing to his articles and to journals ,such as "National Association for the Advanced of Colored People's (NAACP)"[6] and "The Crisis"[7]. His first contribution to magazines was "The Crisis"[8]

His internship at Freedman's Hope hospital was when Fisher wrote his first short story, "The City of Refuge".[9] He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Brown in 1919, where he delivered the valedictory address, and received a Master of Arts a year later. He came to New York City in 1925 to take up a fellowship at College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, during which time he published two scientific articles of his research on treating Bacteriophage viruses with ultraviolet light.

Fisher's first novel was "The Walls of Jericho"[10] (1928). It is set in Harlem. Fisher cast all black people in the novel. He published "The Conjure-Man Dies" (1932), which is the sequel of "The Wall of Jericho". It is the first mystery that was written by a black American. Also, his most famous short story is "The City of Refuge"(1925).[11][12]

After his fellowship ended, he had a private practice on Long Island. In 1930, Fisher became superintendent of International Hospital, a black-owned private hospital on Seventh Avenue in Harlem, but the hospital went bankrupt in October 1931.Fisher died after unsuccessful abdominal surgery in 1934 at the age of 37. buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The BronxNew York City

Participation in Pan-Africanism[edit]

Throughout his career, Fisher had an interest in Pan- Africanism, which is a movement that aims to encourage and strengthen unity of all African-Americans. It started in 1900.[13]

Rudolph Fisher supported Pan-African congress participants promoted colonized Africans to elect their own governments in order to gain of political power as a necessary prerequisite for complete social, economic and political emancipation. [14][15]

Unlike Marcom X, Marcus Garvey, and W.E. B. DuBois who tried to put the stereotypes of black exoticism in Pan-African[16], Rudolph Fisher worked on articulating the broader struggle for black labor privilege, women's empowerment and gay rights. [17]

Novels and Short stories[edit]

Fisher's first novel "Walls of Jericho" came out in 1928. He was inspired by a friend's challenge to write this novel treating both the upper and lower classes of black Harlem equally. This novel presents a vision that African American men and women can both get ahead in life if they come together and form a bond against centuries of oppression. He then went on in 1932 to write "The Conjure Man Dies", the first novel with a black detective as well as the first detective novel with only black characters. This novel was also set in Harlem.[18] His novel was publicized by Convici-Friede making him the second African American to write a detective novel in the United States. He also wrote two short stories, the first of the two "City of Refuge", appeared in the Atlantic Monthly of February 1925, and the second, "Vestiges" both appeared in Alain Locke's anthology. These two short stories accurately depicted life and events during the Harlem Renaissance. Fisher's last published work, "Miss Cynthie" appeared in story magazine in 1933. It was a short story about a Southern migrant grandmother, Miss Cynthie. She arrived in Harlem to meet her successful grandson. She was a hard-working and religious woman who had raised her grandson in the South. She expected him to have established himself as a member of the black professional society. What she did not know was that his success emerged from being an entertainer in a theater which she viewed to be a sinful place. Although she is against what he does, she comes to realize that he has developed into an honest young man. Other short stories written by Rudolph Fisher are, High Yaller in 1926, Blades of Steel in 1927, Ringtail, The South still lingers on, Fire by night, The promise land The Caucasian storms Harlem in 1927 and Common meter in 1930.[19]

As Oliver Henry states, "Fisher writes about black people in a manner which expresses their kinship with other peoples. He underscores and highlights the fundamental human condition of black Americans. … He captures the historically induced unique qualities of black people; but, and perhaps even more importantly, he writes of them basically as people.”[20]

Principal works[edit]

City of Refuge and another short story, Vestiges, were included in Alain Locke's anthology, The New Negro.

"City of Refuge"[edit]

Rudolph Fisher's story "City of Refuge" is centered around a Southern black man named King Solomon Gillis and his migration to Harlem, New York from North Carolina to escape lynching. Gillis is amazed by the opportunity and freedom he sees when he first arrives to Harlem. Gillis meets a man named Uggam who helps him settle in to Harlem and gets him a “job”. Fisher presents the idea of a migrant’s adjustment to the city during “Negro Harlem” and the race relations along the way. The story concludes with Gillis being duped by Uggam into selling “medicine” (drugs) for him and gets ratted on, leading him to being arrested. [21]

An interpretation of the themes explored in this short story are similar to what is found in Alain Locke's anthology: The New Negro; transformation and self-expression. In comparison, Gillis transitions by the end of the story because when he first arrives to Harlem, “city of refuge”, Gillis sees Harlem as a place of hope and freedom. He wanted to have the chance to achieve liberation and be set free from social and political restrictions from the place he originally came from. Instead, Gillis’ experience with Harlem mirrors the South during the time as the beliefs of race and status fill the assumptions that the people of the city contain. 

In 1991, a collection of Fisher's short fiction, City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher, was published by the University of Missouri Press.


Short Stories[edit]

"The City of Refuges" Atlantic Monthly (February 1925): 178-87

"The South Lingers On" Survey Graphic (March 1925): 644-47

"Vestige" The New Negro (March 1925):[edit]

"Ringtail" Atlantic Monthly (May 1925): 625-60

"High Yaller" The Crisis (October 1925): 281-86

"The Promised Land" Atlantic Monthly (January 1927): 183-192

"The Backslider" McClure's (August 1927): 16-17, 101-104

"Blades of Steel" Atlantic Monthly (August 1927): 183-192

"Fire by Night" McClure's (December 1927): 64-67, 98-102

"Common Meter" Baltimore Afro- American (February 1930):

"Dust" Opportunity (February 1931): 46-47

"Ezkiel" Junior Red Cross News (March 1932): 151-153

"Ezkiel Learns" Junior Cross News (February 1933): 123-125

"Guardian of the Law" Opportunity (March 1933): 82-85, 90

"Miss Cynthie" Story (June 1933):3-15

"John Archer's Nose" Metropolitan Magazine (January 1935): 10-87


"The Wall of Jericho" (1928)

The Conjure Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem. (1932)


"Action of Ultraviolet Light upon Bacteriophage and Filterable Viruses." Proceeding of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine 23. (1926): 408-412

"The Caucasian Storms Harlem." American Mercury 11 (1927): 393-398

"The Resistance of Different Concentrations of a Bacteriophage of Ultraviolet Rays." Journal of Infection Diseases 40 (1927): 399-403


"The rhythm persisted, the unfaltering common meter of blues, but the blueness itself, the sorrow, the despair, began to give way to hope."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rudolf fisher, Renaissance Man". African American registry. 
  2. ^ Chander, Harish (2000). "Rudolph Fisher". African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook: 161. 
  3. ^ Marcia, John. "Fisher, Rudolph (1897–1934) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". 
  4. ^ Thompson, Clifford (June 2003). "The Mystery Man of the Harlem Renaissance: Novelist Rudolph Fisher was a forerunner of Walter Mosley". Black Issues Book Review. 5: 63. 
  5. ^ Brown, Julie (Fall 1992). "Renaissance?". African American Review. 26: 524. 
  6. ^ "NAACP". 2017. Retrieved NAACP.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help); External link in |website= (help)
  7. ^ DuBois, W.E.B. "The Crisis".  External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ DuBois, W.E.B (December 1934). The Crisis. 41: 377  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "Rudolph Fisher facts, information, pictures | articles about Rudolph Fisher". 
  10. ^ Fisher, Rudolph (1994). The Wall of Jericho. Michigan: University of Michigan Press. p. 3. ISBN 0472065653. 
  11. ^ Gosselin, Adrienne (January 1999). "The Psychology of Uncertainty: (Re)Inscribing Indeterminacy in Rudolph Fisher's The Conjure-Man Dies". Other Voices. 1. 
  12. ^ Mirmotahari, Emad (September 2012). "Mapping Race: The Discourse of Blackness in Rudolph Fisher's Walls of Jericho.". Journal of American American Studies. 16: 574–587. 
  13. ^ Sherwood, Marika (2012). "Introduction". Origins of Pan-Africanism: 7. 
  14. ^ "The Harlem Renaissance & Jazz" (PDF). Retrieved 2017. May 18.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. ^ "The Harlem Renaissance". Retrieved 2017. May 18.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  16. ^ "W.E.B. DuBois". Retrieved 2017. May 18.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  17. ^ Kalaidjian, Walter B. (1993). American Culture Between the Wars: Revisionary Modernism & Postmodern Critique. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0231082797. 
  18. ^ "Rudolph Fisher | American writer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-05-18. 
  19. ^ "Rudolph Fisher facts, information, pictures | articles about Rudolph Fisher". Retrieved 2017-05-18. 
  20. ^ "Rudolph Fisher - The Black Renaissance in Washington, DC". Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  21. ^ Locke, Alain (1999). The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Touchstone. 
  22. ^ Chander, Harish (2000). "Rudolph Fisher". African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook: 167–168.