American Negro Folklore (review)
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352CIVIL WAR HISTORY ography and an excellent index. It is a reputable first book which deserves a wide readership. Frank L. Klement Marquette University American Negro Folklore. By J. Mason Brewer. (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968. Pp. xviii, 386. $12.50.) This is a fine book and an eminently readable one. Such omnibus anthologies of folklore, in the manner of Botkin's various "Treasuries," are not much in fashion in the academic world now. Professor Brewer's book, however, is clearly intended for the general reader and lives up to its büling as "the most complete and entertaining collection ever published ." As is noted on the book's jacket, he has avoided the fakelore and "folk manner" which become so embarassing towards the end of Langston Hughes' The Book of Negro Folklore, for example. The organization of Brewer's collection is for the most part standard. The emphasis is on narrative folklore, with a long section (over 140 pages) on tales, both secular and religious; and another section of some sixty pages on "Personal Experiences." The section on tales proper is perhaps the best thing in the anthology. Brewer begins with a dozen animal tales and several "How Come" and "Why" tales and then offers over fifty of what he calls "Reality-Thinking Tales." These items vary from Aunt Dicey stories to the absolutely Lily White item, "BrandName Stories" and are especially interesting. Here the reader might well wish Professor Brewer had been more expansive in his rather superficial introduction. He quite rightly points out that "The Negro is still busy coining tales of everyday life, folklore in the making—narratives woven into the texture of his times and his environment (48). But he does not remark on what a wide range of comment this very eclectic collection displays—everything from laconic understatement about the rewards of sit-ins to the curious memories of life in the big plantation house which seem to be behind most stories of buried treasure. Brewer's own "Tales of Ranch Life," for instance, remind us that the previous generations of black Americans had far more complex responses to the dominant culture of the whites than the hidden anguish of die spiritual or the hidden glee of the animal tales. However, in spite of the real paucity of informative comment, these sections on tales probably can serve the general reader as the best introduction to the very rich human spirit which informs so much of the communal life of Black America in the latter nineteenth century. The section on songs is quite disappointing. The most famous spirituals are there, of course; a few blues and work songs, too; and "John Henry." But it is hard to be pleased at finding Bland's "Carry Me Backto Old Virginny" when "Stagolee" and "Frankie and Albert" have been left out. A more serious omission is any notice of the great movement BOOK REVIEWS353 away from the spiritual to the gospel song associated with Thomas Dorsey. Surely in the generation since Dorsey the gospel song, particularly in quartet styles, has become part of "American Negro Folklore." But the inexcusable omission from the section on music is that of any useful discussion or even transcription of the music. Since Brewer uses several items from Jerry Silverman's book on the blues, this weakness is all the more irritating. The remaining sections of Professor Brewer's anthology present other standard items of verbal folklore: superstitions (or beliefs), proverbs, rhymes, riddles, a little bit of name-lore, and some chüdren's rhymes. The entire book struck this reviewer as rather primly laundered, but we do get at least a few mild "dozens." But aU the items in these sections seem rather standard, and again are inadequately commented upon. The book lacks any presentation of customs, folk medicine, particularly plant lore, and cooking practices. A recipe for "pigs' ears" is at least as interesting as those WASP-ish autograph album rhymes. Then too, the whole vital subject of the black underworld, particularly its style-setting language, is left out. Indeed, Professor Brewer's book perhaps sums up an era—not so much of black lore as of white study of black lore...


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