On first glance, there are three major characters in the Marvel Universe that should not be black: The Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Nick Fury.
I use the term “black” and not African-American” in science fiction for very simple reasons. The Black Panther is not American; he is African so the term “American” should not be used here. Also, black characters from other planets do NOT have African roots so the term would not be correct here either. In sci fi we often do not know the “origins” of many characters.
Sgt. Fury, was a unique character in a unique series. At a time of the civil rights movement, Lee and Kirby presented ordinary but familiar men, a Jew, Izzy, an Italian, Dino, a Southerner, Reb Ralston, and a black man, Gabe, in extraordinary and horrible conditions. W.W. II was a war about race and Fury showed that a group of men of different backgrounds can truly become a band of brothers, This was 30 years before Stephen Ambrose wrote his book, The Band of Brothers about the 101st Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles.”
Of course, the arm forces during W.W. II were segregated. There could be no black sergeant leading such a group in W.W. II. So Lee and Kirby, and later Lee and Ayers and John Severin, worked to give Fury a background, showing him growing up in the lower east side on New York, just like Kirby did. They developed the conflict between black Gabe Jones and Southerner Reb Ralston and thy showed how they became comrades in arms and good friends. So for Sgt. Fury to make sense, Fury needs to be white, the story doesn’t make sense if he isn’t.
I should also note that comics featuring black characters were not always popular. Dell released Lobo in 1966, the story of a black western hero and stores in the south refused to display them. It was cancelled in two issues. So it took courage to do have a racial mixed Sgt. Fury.
So, how can Nick Fury be black?
Well, first, you have Samuel Jackson playing the role, how lucky can you get? But, honestly, my first thought was, what if it he played Gabe Jones? And make Gabe Jones the head of SHIELD. But then I saw the movie of Captain America and saw him fighting with the Howlers. Well, in 1965 you could have Nick Fury, veteran of W.W. II, now about 40, leading SHIELD. But while Cap was frozen, Fury wasn’t, and he, like me, would be too old today. So in the movie world there was no Sgt. Fury in 1941. It was as if the Living Eraser went back in time and eliminated him! So Fury came to life very recently.
Because Sgt. Fury was such an important part of comic book history and I sorry to see him go. But, I see, with great pride, Samuel Jackson up there, fifty years after the character was introduced. So maybe, in the end, maybe Nick Fury won his war after all. Thank you Stan and Jack!
Don’t yield, back SHIELD!