Mudcat Café message #3907444 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #150708   Message #3907444
Posted By: GUEST,Jim Hauser
23-Feb-18 - 02:52 PM
Thread Name: rebellion and protest in John Henry
Subject: RE: rebellion and protest in John Henry
I recently updated my website with a discussion of the phrase "a man ain't nothin' but a man" as an assertion of racial equality. An excerpt is below.

We can see the phrase "a man ain't nothin' but a man" as an assertion of racial equality by looking at the black folk song "De Black Jack and de Tall White Pine." (It was collected by an African American professor and folklorist named Willis Laurence James, and appears in his book Stars in de Elements: A Study of Negro Folk Music.) In this song, a conversation takes place between two trees, a black jack and a white pine. The white pine thinks it is superior to the black jack, but the black jack proclaims its equality by telling the pine, "Trees ain't nothin' but trees." The key verse from the song is below exactly as it appears on page 142 of James's book, including the parenthetical definition of the term "biggity."

De black jack said to de tall white pine,
Just 'cause you high in de breeze,
You need'nt talk so biggity (bigoted),
Trees ain't nothin' but trees.

    Considering that the black tree calls the white tree bigoted, the phrase "trees ain't nothin' but trees" is clearly an assertion of racial equality. It follows that the John Henry ballad's "a man ain't nothin' but a man" phrase--which is simply a variation to "trees ain't nothin' but trees"--is also an assertion of racial equality. Certainly, many African Americans who performed or heard "John Henry" during the days of Jim Crow interpreted the phrase in this way.   


A link to Part 2 of my website which contains the complete "a man ain't nothin' but a man" dscussion is below.
https://sites.google.com/site/johnhenrytherebelversions/a-look-at-resistance-and-rebellion-in-the-legend-of-john-henry-part-2


MAILING LIST INFO:
I am putting together a mailing list for notifying folks who are interested in my work about updates to my website. If you would like to be added to the list. please send an e-mail to me at jphauser2000@yahoo.com with the words "John Henry mailing list" in the subject line. I anticipate sending no more than three or four update messages per year.

Jim Hauser