Throughout Iola Leroy, Dr. Latimer remains passionately committed to the social cause of empowering blacks, and unlike Dr. Gresham, he lives his beliefs. Though he is a mulatto who appears white, he decides to pass as black and to relinquish his white grandmother’s inheritance. He sacrifices his lucrative medical practice in the North to serve the needy in the South. Passing as white would have given Dr. Latimer a comfortable upper-class existence, but he freely chooses a life fraught with toil. The fact that Dr. Latimer is a learned scholar and a doctor who presents his research at conferences demonstrates blacks’ intelligence, and his nobility and purity overturn the nineteenth-century misconception that blacks were inferior to whites. Through Dr. Latimer, Harper attempts to reverse ingrained cultural and social assumptions about blacks’ status as unequal.
Dr. Latimer also helps emphasize and promote black authorship and scholarly contributions. He urges Iola to write a book for a black audience and encourages her to be a voice for her race and a model for what it can attain. Dr. Latimer attests to the idea that blacks must create their own literature and scholarship to shape a legacy of intellectual achievement. In addition, according to Dr. Latimer, white authors cannot satisfactorily write about blacks’ history and life experience. He attempts to inspire Iola to accomplish what Harper herself realized through her career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and orator. Indeed, Dr. Latimer’s deep respect for Iola, her pursuit of knowledge, and her socially conscious contributions to society eventually becomes love. Theirs is an intellectualized romance, and Harper deliberately fashions the relationship as such to reinforce to her audience blacks’ intelligence and purity.