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From Trickster to Badman

The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom

By John W. Roberts

Publication Year: 1990

To protect their identity and values, Africans enslaved in America transformed various familiar character types to create folk heroes who offered models of behavior both recognizable to them as African people and adaptable to their situation in America.

Roberts specifically examines the Afro-American trickster and the trickster tale tradition, the conjurer as folk hero, the biblical heroic tradition, and the badman as outlaw hero.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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p. i-i


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p. ii-ii


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p. iii-iii

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p. vi-vi

Acknowledging all of the individuals who, in some way, contributed to the writing of this book is impossible, but I would like to recogniz ethose who through overt acts of kindness, goodwill, and expressions. First of all, I would like to thank the University of Pennsylvania and the department of Folklore and Folklife for their generous support in...

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One: Introduction

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pp. 1-16

We often use the term "hero" as if it denoted a universally recognized character type, and the concept of "heroism" as if it referred to a generally accepted behavioral category. In reality, figures (both real and mythic) and actions dubbed heroic in one context or by one group of people may be viewed as ordinary or even criminal in another context...

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Two: Br'er Rabbit and John: Trickster Heroes in Slavery

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pp. 17-64

Trickster tale traditions, especially those in which clever animals acted as humans, were ubiquitous in the cultures from which Africans enslaved in the United States had come. Therefore, it is not surprising that tales of trickery built around the exploits of anthropomorphized animals occupied a central position in the oral narrative ...

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Three: The Power Within: The Conjurer as Folk Hero

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pp. 65-108

Throughout the period of black chattel slavery in the United States, slaveholders and observers of slavery noted the existence of individuals whom enslaved Africans regarded with a kind of religious awe. Referred to by enslaved Africans variously as conjurers, hoodooers, rootworkers, and two-heads, these individuals commanded a great deal of respect from fellow Africans who enshrined them as folk heroes and recalled their deeds in oral narratives generally referred to as conjure tales. Unlike...

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Four: Christian Soldiers All: Spirituals as Heroic Expression

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pp. 109-170

As a prelude to his discussion of the spiritual song tradition of enslaved Africans, Harold Courlander in his book, NegroFolk Song U.S.A., observes that "the slaves brought to Christian service religious traditions their own, as well as established methods of treating musical and invocational ideas."1 Of these traditions, he notes that...

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Five: "You Done Me Wrong": The Badman as Outlaw Hero

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pp. 171-219

In 1893, Morris Slater slung his gun across his shoulder at the end of a long week as a turpentine worker in rural Alabama and headed into town to unwind in the local jooks.1. When he arrived in town, he was accosted by a white policeman who demanded that he hand over his gun.

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Six: Conclusion

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pp. 220-222

My aim in the preceding chapters has been to explore black folk heroic creation as a normative cultural activity intimately related to black culture-building in America. From an Afrocentric perspective, I have attempted to demonstrate that an evaluation of the actions of black folk heroes from the point of view of African Americans yields...


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pp. 224-229


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pp. 230-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203110
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812213331

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 1990