Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 3. Negro Writers; Douglass; Washington; DuBois; Dunbar

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

V. Dialect Writers

§ 3. Negro Writers; Douglass; Washington; DuBois; Dunbar

A year before his death Harris founded Uncle Remus’s Magazine, which survived him only a few years. Immediately after his death in 1908 the Uncle Remus Memorial Association was formed, the purpose of which was to purchase the home of the writer of the Uncle Remus stories, near Atlanta, and to convert it into a suitable memorial. This has now been done.

The significance of Uncle Remus as a study in negro character can best be understood by a comparison of Harris’s work with that of others, especially his predecessors, in the same field. The negroes themselves, by the way, can show an orator, two prose-writers, and one poet of merited eminence. These are Frederick Douglass (1817–95); Booker T. Washington (c. 1859–1915); W. E. Burghardt DuBois, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872–1906). Up from Slavery (1901) by Washington and The Souls of Black Folk (1903) by DuBois are works of almost diametrically opposite styles. The former makes its appeal by its simplicity and restraint; the latter by its emotionalism, its note of lyric intensity. Neither author, however, is of unmixed negro blood, and neither has come as close to the heart of his race as did Dunbar, a pure negro, in his Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). He was the first American negro of pure African descent “to feel the negro life æsthetically and to express it lyrically.” His dialect poems, it may be added, are better than the poems that he wrote in standard English. Indeed, Dunbar’s command of correct English was always somewhat meagre and uncertain.

Negro writers, however, were not the first to put their own race into literature or to realize the value of their own folk-lore.

  • “The possibilities of negro folk-lore,” says a recent negro writer, “have carried it across the line, so that it has had strong influence on the work of such Southern writers as Thomas Nelson Page and Frank L. Stanton, and on that of George W. Cable. Its chief monument so far has been in the Uncle Remus tales of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox told by Joel Chandler Harris.”