The last time my dad visited us he made a reference to Brer Rabbit and my 5-year-old had no idea what he was talking about. It bothered my dad, who is from Savannah, that she didn’t know the character. He kept saying I needed to read “Song of the South” to her. I said “Dad, people don’t read that to their kids anymore.”
I am pretty sure we don’t have a copy of the Disney version of the famous Joel Chandler Harris tales in our house. We did have a copy growing up.
Various articles online seem to indicate that the objections are not to Joel Chandler Harris’ folklore stories about the South but instead the Disney adaption.
Here is a history of how the Uncle Remus tales were created by Georgia author Joel Chandler Harris.
“[Joel Chandler] Harris’s four years at Turnwold (1862-66) shaped his career in profound ways. Like Benjamin Franklin a century earlier, and like contemporaries Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, Harris learned to write by hand-setting newspaper type as a young man. He began composing lines of type at Turner’s elbow. Turner soon obtained a draft exemption for Harris because of his undersized build—and because his work for a paper loyal to the Southern cause aided the war effort. Turner gave Harris fatherly advice and expanded his education in the liberal arts by recommending books from his vast personal library. An avid sectionalist, Turner endorsed Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Timrod but also stressed Dickens and Shakespeare. He encouraged Harris to write creatively and critically. Harris published at least thirty poems and book reviews for The Countryman, along with numerous comic paragraphs over the byline “The Countryman’s Devil.””
“Harris also had full access to Turnwold’s slave quarters and to the kitchen, where he listened to African American animal stories told by Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy. These slaves became models for Uncle Remus, Aunt Tempy, and other figures in the African American animal tales Harris began writing a decade later. Harris’s fictionalized autobiography, On the Plantation (1892), chronicles the influence of the Turnwold years on his development. The people he met and the stories he heard, the literary sensibility he began to cultivate there, and several physical features of the extensive middle Georgia plantation property itself informed Harris’s writing. …”
“His Uncle Remus character now began to tell old plantation folktales, back-home aphorisms, and slave songs, and newspapers around the country eagerly reprinted his rural legends and sayings. Before long, Harris had composed enough material for a book. Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings—The Folklore of the Old Plantation was published by Appleton in November 1880. Within four months it had sold 10,000 copies and was quickly reprinted. Harris eventually wrote 185 of the tales.”
“Along with his first book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, the most ambitious of the Uncle Remus volumes is Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation (1883). This book comprises seventy-one tales that feature stories told by four different black narrators, including Uncle Remus.”
“Harris published five other collections of Uncle Remus tales in his lifetime, the most accomplished of which is Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation (1905). In this volume, a seemingly ageless Uncle Remus tells his complex allegorical tales to the son of the little boy from the first stories. This frail, citified, and “unduly repressed” child is sent by Miss Sally, his grandmother, to Remus’s knee to learn how to be a real boy in a complex, competitive, and even predatory world. Three shorter volumes of previously uncollected Uncle Remus stories appeared after Harris’s death.”
“The Uncle Remus volumes assured Harris’s reputation, which became international almost overnight. Professional folklorists praised his work in popularizing black storytelling traditions. In 1888 Harris was named a charter member, with Mark Twain, of the American Folklore Society. ”
On a similar note, Walsh was looking for something to read the other day and Michael handed him “Tom Sawyer.” But before Walsh could walk off Michael then tried to explain how the book uses the ‘n’ word and how he absolutely shouldn’t use it ever.
Is “Song of the South” like “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn”? Can it be read but with caveats and historical explanations?
Could parents share the original Harris tales with their kids or are those offensive too?
Should there be another adaption made of Harris’ Uncle Remus tales that take the criticisms into account or are tales of the Old South just verboten?