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The Negro and His Folklore in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals

The Negro and His Folklore in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals

Series: American Folklore Society Bibliographical and Special Series, Volume 18

January 1967
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398 pages | 6 x 9 | music figures |

In the eyes of many white Americans, North and South, the Negro did not have a culture until the Emancipation Proclamation. With few exceptions, serious collecting of Negro folklore by whites did not begin until the Civil War—and it was to be another four decades before black Americans would begin to appreciate their own cultural heritage. Few of the earlier writers realized that they had observed and recorded not simply a manifestation of a particular way of life but also a product peculiarly American and specifically Negro, a synthesis of African and American styles and traditions.

The folksongs, speech, beliefs, customs, and tales of the American Negro are discussed in this anthology, originally published in 1967, of thirty-five articles, letters, and reviews from nineteenth-century periodicals. Published between 1838 and 1900 and written by authors who range from ardent abolitionist to dedicated slaveholder, these articles reflect the authors’ knowledge of, and attitudes toward, the Negro and his folklore. From the vast body of material that appeared on this subject during the nineteenth century, editor Bruce Jackson has culled fresh articles that are basic folklore and represent a wide range of material and attitudes. In addition to his introduction to the volume, Jackson has prefaced each article with a commentary. He has also supplied a supplemental bibliography on Negro folklore.

If serious collecting of Negro folklore had begun by the middle of the nineteenth century, so had exploitation of its various aspects, particularly Negro songs. By 1850 minstrelsy was a big business. Although Jackson has considered minstrelsy outside the scope of this collection, he has included several discussions of it to suggest some aspects of its peculiar relation to the traditional. The articles in the anthology—some by such well-known figures as Joel Chandler Harris, George Washington Cable, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, John Mason Brown, and Antonin Dvorak—make fascinating reading for an observer of the American scene. This additional insight into the habits of thought and behavior of a culture in transition—folklore recorded in its own context—cannot but afford the thinking reader further understanding of the turbulent race problems of later times and today.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1838. The Persimmon Tree and the Beer Dance, by William B. Smith (Farmers’ Register)
  • 1839. Uncle Sam’s Peculiarities. American Niggers.—Hudson River Steam-Boat Dialogues (Bentley’s Miscellany)
  • 1845. Who Are Our National Poets? by J. K[innard], Jr. (Knickerbocker Magazine)
  • 1855. Negro Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern, by Y. S. Nathanson (Putnam’s Monthly)
  • 1856. Songs of the Blacks (Dwight’s Journal of Music)
  • 1861. Contraband Singing, by C. W. D. (Dwight’s Journal of Music)
  • 1862. Negro Songs, by J[ames Miller] McKim (Dwight’s Journal of Music)
  • 1862. Songs of the Port Royal Contrabands, by Lucy McKim (Dwight’s Journal of Music)
  • 1863. Under the Palmetto (excerpt), by H. G. Spaulding (Continental Monthly)
  • 1865. The Negro Dialect, by Marcel [W. F. Allen] (Nation)
  • 1867. Negro Spirituals, [by Thomas Wentworth Higginson] (Atlantic Monthly)
  • 1868. Literature of the Day: Slave Songs of the United States (review) (Lippincott’s Magazine)
  • 1868. Songs of the Slave, by John Mason Brown (Lippincott’s Magazine)
  • 1870. Sketches in Color: IV, [by Elizabeth Kilham] (Putnam’s Monthly)
  • 1870. Negro Superstitions, by Thaddeus Norris (Lippincott’s Magazine)
  • 1877. Folklore of the Southern Negroes, by William Owens (Lippincott’s Magazine)
  • 1881. Plantation Folk-Lore (review), by T. F. Crane (Popular Science Monthly)
  • 1882. A Georgia Corn-Shucking, by David C. Barrow, Jr. (Century Magazine)
  • 1883. Plantation Music, by Joel Chandler Harris (Critic)
  • 1884. Banjo and Bones (Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art)
  • 1886. The Dance in Place Congo, by George Washington Cable (Century Magazine)
  • 1886. Creole Slave Songs, by George Washington Cable (Century Magazine)
  • 1886. An Accidental Author, by Joel Chandler Harris (Lippincott’s Magazine)
  • 1888. Superstitions of the Negro, by Eli Shepard (Cosmopolitan)
  • 1891. Word Shadows (Atlantic Monthly)
  • 1891. Certain Beliefs and Superstitions of the Negro (Atlantic Monthly)
  • 1895. Music in America, by Antonin Dvorak (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine)
  • 1895. Folk-Lore and Ethnology (Southern Workman)
  • 1895. Folk-Lore and Ethnology: Conjuring and Conjure Doctors, by A. M. Bacon (Southern Workman)
  • 1898. A Weddin’ and a Buryin’ in the Black Belt, by Susan Showers (New England Magazine)
  • 1899. Recent Negro Melodies, by William E. Barton, D.D. (New England Magazine)
  • 1899. The Survival of African Music in America, by Jeanette Robinson Murphy (Popular Science Monthly)
  • Appendix I: A Slaveholder’s Primer (De Bow’s Review, 1851)
  • Appendix II: Further Reading
  • Index of Authors, Titles of Articles, and Periodicals
  • Index of Songs and Verses

Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of English and James Agee Professor of American Culture at the University at Buffalo.


“The thirty-five articles, notes, and reviews reprinted from various journals in this substantial volume provide the materials for an intellectual history of white American attitudes toward Negro folklore.”
Journal of American Folklore