READERS of Harris' Uncle Remus folk tales might be tempted to
assume, as we were early in our research for this project, that
the author had some kind of secret racial egalitarian agenda.
Many of the stories he relates through Remus are clearly
subversive of American apartheid's hierarchies. They spring from
a tradition with roots in Africa, and also in Northern and
Eastern Europe - the animal tale, with moral lessons about
escape from submission and the value of cunning. In the hands of
black Southerners in the nineteenth century, such stories
clearly addressed their submissive situation. However, the tales
must have had a second role as pure entertainment: if the
stories were seen as basically subversive by their black
tellers, would they have dared relate them to their white
masters or bosses? One would doubt it, especially in the tense
racial atmosphere of the 1880s and '90s.
Harris's understanding of his task is shaped by the latter
definition; he sees the recording of Southern blacks' "poetic
imagination" and "quaint and homely humor" as entertainment for
whites and as a valuable anthropology of sorts, the preservation
of a fading, picturesque voice. What Harris, a man who despite
his anthropological efforts subscribed to most of his culture's
white-superiority beliefs, failed to see is that the tales he
recorded for posterity undermined the very culture he worked to
The selections below are presented in the order they appeared in
the original volume of Remus tales (1881).
"Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy"
"The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story"
"How Mr. Rabbit was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox"
"How Mr. Rabbit was Too Sharp" analysis/ context
"Miss Cow Falls a Victim to Mr.Rabbit"
Miss Cow analysis/context
"Old Mr. Rabbit, He's a Good Fisherman Was"
"A Story About Little Rabbits"
"Little Rabbits" analysis/context
"Why the Negro is Black"
"Why the Negro" analysis/context
Note: All above selections are taken from "Legends of the Old Plantation", copyright 1881, the first of the Uncle Remus collections by Harris