E. K. Means by E. K. Means
The stories in this volume were written simply because of my interest in the stories themselves and because of a whimsical fondness for the people of that Race to whom God has given two supreme gifts,—Music and Laughter.
For the benefit of the curious, I may say that many of the incidents in these tales are true and many of the characters and places mentioned actually exist.
The Hen-Scratch saloon derived its name from the fact that many of its colored habitués played “craps” on the ground under the chinaberry trees until the soil was marked by their scratching finger-nails like a chicken-yard. The name Tickfall is fictitious, but the locality will be easily recognized by the true names of the negro settlements, Dirty-Six, Hell’s-Half-Acre, Shiny, Tinrow,—lying in the sand around that rich and aristocratic little town like pigs around their dam and drawing their sustenance therefrom.
Skeeter Butts’s real name is Perique. Perique is also the name of Louisiana’s famous homegrown tobacco, and as Skeeter is too diminutive to be named after a whole cigar, his white friends have always called him Butts. Vinegar Atts is a well-known colored preacher of north Louisiana, whose “swing-tail prancin’-albert coat” has been seen in many pulpits, and whose “stove-pipe, preachin’ hat” has been the target of many a stone thrown from a mischievous white boy’s hand. Hitch Diamond is known at every landing place on the Mississippi River as “Big Sandy.”
When these tales were first published in the All Story Weekly, many readers declared that they were humorous. Nevertheless, I hold that a story containing dialect must necessarily have many depressing and melancholy features. But dialect does not consist of perverted pronunciations and phonetic orthography. True dialect is a picture in cold type of the manifold peculiarities of the mind and temperament. In its form, I have attempted to give merely a flavor of the negro dialect; but I have made a sincere attempt to preserve the essence of dialect by making these stories contain a true idea of the negro’s shrewd observations, curious retorts, quaint comments, humorous philosophy, and his unique point of view on everything that comes to his attention.
The Folk Tales of Joel Chandler Harris are imperishable pictures of plantation life in the South before the Civil War and of the negro slave who echoed all his master’s prejudice of caste and pride of family in the old times that are no more.
The negroes of this volume are the sons of the old slaves. Millions of them live to-day in the small Southern villages, and as these stories indicate, many changes of character, mind, and temperament have taken place in the last half-century through the modifications of freedom and education.
This type also is passing. In a brief time, the negro who lives in these pages will be a memory, like Uncle Remus. “Ethiopia is stretching out her hands” after art, science, literature, and wealth, and when the sable sons of laughter and song grasp these treasures, all that remains of the Southern village negro of to-day will be a few faint sketches in Fiction’s beautiful temple of dreams.
E. K. Means.