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“By Custom and By Law”

“By Custom and By Law”

Folklore and the Birth of Jim Crow

(p.18) 1 “By Custom and By Law”
Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation
Shirley Moody-Turner
University Press of Mississippi

This chapter reconstructs the national debates taking place around representations of black folklore, starting with the parameters advanced by William Wells Newell (founder of the American Folklore Society) for the study of folklore. The chapter then locates the emergence of folklore studies in relation to the larger interests in folklore that converged during the second half of the nineteenth century, considering how constructions of the black folk in ante- and post-bellum popular culture, as specifically located in the ironic figure of Jim Crow and the subsequent minstrel tradition, fed the national interest in black folklore and fueled white fascination with “authentic” black folks and folklore. Reading at the intersections of “scientific” and popular representations of black folklore, and against the backdrop of the mounting debates over racial identity and segregation, chapter one suggests the complex protocols that influenced representations of black folklore in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.

Keywords:   William Wells Newell, Jim Crow, American Folklore Society, Race, folklore studies

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