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Uncle Remus

Posted by Bob on September 29th, 2004 under History, Race Matters


Most of us older Southerners are familiar with the Uncle Remus stories about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Brer Bear, but a lot of younger people have never even heard of them.

A lot of older people will say their parents read the Uncle Remus stories to them. Well, that is not exactly true. Their parents might have TOLD them the Uncle Remus tales from the now-banned Disney movie, “Song of the South.” But their parents didn’t read the original tales to them and they didn’t read those tales themselves.

The actual stories were written in a forgotten language.

Henry Chandler was from Atlanta, where he was a boy during the Civil War. The tales he wrote were supposedly those told by Uncle Remus, an old slave.

But the important point is that Chandler wrote those tales to be read by literate Southerners in his own day. Literate Southerners back then had all been raised around blacks and largely raised BY black folks. They understood the old Plantation black English perfectly.

Today, trying to read Uncle Remus stories is exactly like trying to read fourteenth century English. Like fourteenth century English, the language of Uncle Remus ranges from very hard to incomprehensible.

Today I cannot be sure people know what I am talking about when I talk about the Tar Baby Story or the briar patch. When I was young, that was part of our everyday parlance. It never occurred to me that I could mention the moral of one of those stories and people wouldn’t understand what I was talking about.

In exactly the same way, it never occurred to Henry Chandler that Southerners in the future would not understand the Plantation English they were all raised around. Neither do today’s blacks.

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  1. #1 by Anonymous on 10/17/2004 - 8:13 pm

    Bob:

    The ‘Uncle Remus’ stories were written by Joel Chandler Harris, not Henry Chandler. I hope that tarbaby doesn’t stick to you.

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