Cultural Crossroads
Travel Ideas

African-American Folklorist J. Mason Brewer

From a handout distributed at "The Language of Tradition: A Tribute to J. Mason Brewer", June 20, 1998. George Washington Carver Library. Austin, TX. Presented by Texas Folklife Resources:

About J. Mason Brewer...
John Mason Brewer (1896-1975) was perhaps the premier African-American folklorist of the twentieth century and one of Texas' most respected black writers. Dominated by the Uncle Remus animal tales for over half-a-century, African-American folklore evolved to new levels of maturity and complexity due to Brewer's extensive fieldwork and collecting. His now seminal texts (composed of the largest body of African-American folk tales ever documented) underscore the diverse traditions of communities throughout the South. Like his noted Texas colleagues--Americo Parades and John Lomax--Brewer's work brought a largely unrecognized segment of American traditional life to academic relevance and popular attention.

A native Texan, Brewer was born the grandson of slaves in Goliad and moved to Austin at age 7. He earned a BA from Wiley College in Marshall and served as a French interpreter for the American Expedition Forces in 1918. Upon returning to Austin, he taught creative writing at Tillotson College, Romance languages at Samuael Huston College and wrote poems and short stories that were published in area journals. He carried a shoe-box full of slaves' tales he had collected to J. Frank Dobie at the University of Texas. Dobie published the tales as the lead chapter of the 1932 volume of that Texas Folkfore Society writings and called it "the best collection of Negro folklore since Uncles Remus." The young folkorist never looked back.

Brewer's fieldwork would take him throughout the South, collecting folk tales, sayings, proverbs and songs that would become indispensible to the scholarship of African-American folklore. Like Zora Neale Hurston, Brewer documentation used dialects unique to each region of study. Hence, his most notable works, The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Bottoms of Texas (1953), Aunt Dicey's Tales: Snuff-Dipping Tales fo the Texas Negro(1956), Dog Ghosts and Other Negro Folk Tales(1958) and Worser Days and Better Times: The Folkore of the North Carolina Negro (1965) argued the rich and varied African-American experience.

For more information, contact Texas Folklife Resources.