Sadipe Okukenu
Created by John E. Bruce (1856-1924)

"Do you mean to tell me that that nigger is a detective,
and that you are going to put him on this case, Mr. Hunter?"

-- opening lines of The Black Sleuth

SADIPE OKUKENU was not only one of fiction's first black private eyes, but he was also one of the very first fictional private eyes, period. He was an operative for the International Detective Agency, predating Hammett's Continental Op by at least fifteen years!

In his one recorded case, The Black Sleuth, serialized between 1907 and 1909 in McGirt's Reader, Sadipe is on the trail of a stolen diamond, which takes him from England to America and back home to Africa, and allows him, as Gary Phillips says in his essay "The Cool, the Square and the Tough" to ruminate "on the state of race relations on these various continents."

But the mystery is only one part of the story. This ambitious if somewhat inconsistent novel follows Sadipe, a Yoruba tribesman, as he journeys to New England to continue his formal education and where he is eventually hired as an operative for the International Detective Agency.

Unfortunately, the case of the missing diamond is never solved -- McGirt's suspended publication right in the middle of the serial. But before the plug was pulled, Bruce managed to poke fun at racial stereotypes and ignorance and make the case for black pride.

You think maybe the author had an axe to grind or something?

Bruce was born a slave but eventually became a successful journalist and, thanks to his fiery oratorical skills, a prominent figure in black politics in America.


  • "Though the mystery is unsolved, and no care is given to providing a story that unfolds in an orderly manner, The Black Sleuth, is an intriguing introduction to an African-American political and literary figure whose work deserves greater review and consideration."
    Thumper, The African American Literature Book Club


  • The Black Sleuth (1907-09, serialized in McGirt's Reader) ...Buy this book


Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

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