Who Is Joel Chandler Harris?

A biographical sketch of Joel Chandler Harris author of the infamous Uncle Remus and other African American folklore.

"Didn't the fox never catch the rabbit, Uncle Remus?" asked the little

boy the next evening.

"He come mighty nigh it, honey, sho's you born -- Brer Fox did.

"One day after Brer Rabbit fool 'im wid dat calamus root, Brer Fox went ter wuk en got 'im some tar, en mix it wid some turkentime, en fix up a contrapshun wat he call a Tar Baby, en he tuck dish yer Tar-Baby en he sat `er in de big road, en den he lay off in de bushes fer to see wat de news wuz gwinter be. . . ." (Harris, Uncle Remus 7-11)

Was he a realist, humorist, folklorist, or a man for our time? Whatever Joel Chandler Harris was, he left the world wonderful bedtime stories -- stories honoring African Americans, the greatest tale spinners of all. Harris took the love and devotion he found in the Negro slaves of his childhood and recorded their stories. In so doing, he created one of the most timeless characters of all -- Uncle Remus.

Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1848. His father, a day laborer, deserted his mother just before the boy was born. Until young Joel was fourteen, mother and son made do by laboring in the fields and living off the charity of neighbors. Somehow Joel got an education and learned to write humorous stories. These he sold to several Georgia newspapers. Then, at age 14, he joined the Atlanta Constitution, where he stayed for the rest of his working life.

His first collection of folk tales, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings (1881) became an immediate hit. Other best selling books followed; Nights With Uncle Remus (1883), Uncle Remus and his Friends (1892), and Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1905).

Harris took the vivid tales told by Negroes and used them to portray the suffering felt by both himself as a youth laboring in the fields, and black slaves. Throughout Harris's tales the reader can detect the echoes of a deserted young woman, a desperate young man, and distant mournful cries for the life they abruptly lost. Other images show the black's struggle to overcome his master, the pain of families torn asunder by white slavers, and Negroes being wrenched from their home countries and sold to plantation owners and wealthy white business men.

Even today, Uncle Remus reaches out to touch the inner self simply because Harris was a literary genius. His Uncle Remus, sits on the back porch and speaks the words Harris puts in his mouth. The words are heard by the young red-haired white boy, seated before him.

Through the stories told by Uncle Remus, the boy learns of the shame of slavery. He learns about the bondage of one group of people, imposed by another -- supposedly more superior -- group. But he also learns that the righteous will rise up against their masters and, eventually, become their equals but never their masters.

A good example of this precept is found in the ending of the famous "Tar Baby Story".

"...bimeby here come Brer Rabbit pacin' down de road--lippity-clippity . . . dez ez sassy ez a jay-bird. Brer Fox, he lay low. . . . `Maurnin,'sezee. Tar-Baby ain't sayin' nothin', en Brer Fox, he lay low. . . . `Ef you don't take off dat hat en tell me howdy, I'm gwineter bus' you wide open' sezee. . . .twel present'y Brer Rabbit draw back wid his fis', he did, en blip he tuck `er side er de head. . . . His fis' stuck, en he can't pull loose. De tar hilt `im. . . . en Brer Fox he lay low. . . . I speck you'll take dinner wid me dis time, Brer Rabbit. . . . sez Brer Fox, sezee. . . . `Did the fox eat the rabbit?' asked the little boy to whom the story had been told. Dat's all de fur de tale goes, replied the old man. He mout, en den agin he mountent." (Harris, Uncle Remus 165-73)

Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus deserves to be rediscovered. Few cultures have endured the injustice that blacks have endured. God

created man -- and in His image created He man. . . and He was happy with what He had done. We should be happy with what He did. In many

ways, Uncle Remus speaks for God.

Dreams -- I have! Dreams you have! Mountains, I'll scale -- Words I'll shun and so will you -- until one day Freedom -- mine, yours at last

will be again. Look up now and just a little to the left -- ah yes -- right there -- the gateway to Heaven.... But watch out 'cause even now,

"Brer Fox he lay low."

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