Roark Bradford – Author on Black Lauderdale County Experiences?

22 May

Roark Bradford was a White fiction writer. He was born in Lauderdale County, TN in 1896 and lived on his family’s cotton plantation in the Nankipoo-Knob Creek area. He went on to write several fictional stories of African-Americans. He was greatly influenced by the African-Americans who worked on his family’s plantation and the African-Americans he attended church with. Their stories became his stories and he used these stories to create his writings. It is thought that some of his writings were just re-tellings of Bible stories using the dialect of African-Americans at the time. He is said to have had a great interest in African-American dialect and culture.

So why is Bradford being mentioned on my blog? I stumbled across his name in some notes I had taken awhile back. I had written in my notes 

“Roark Bradford, Lauderdale County Author on Black Experiences”.

When I googled him this morning I have to admit I was less than thrilled. I have not yet done a thorough analysis of his writings, so I won’t go there now, but I can see how his writings would have been popular during the era in which they were written. I discovered a newspaper article that was written about Bradford with his participation. The article titled “Writer of Negro Stories Threw His Calendar Away. Roark Bradford, Author of The Green Pastures, Won’t Be Slave to Time” was published in the Milwaukee Journal November 4, 1941. What I found most interesting about the article were the portions of the article were African-Americans were mentioned.

I wonder if his “Negro playmates” Algy, Ed, and Sweet and Old Uncle Wes, who worked on his father’s plantation, know that they might have inspired some of his stories. I would be interested in learning more about his father’s plantation and the African-Americans who worked there. Who were these individuals that inspired Bradford’s stories? What were their lives like? What became of his playmates Algy, Ed, and Sweet? What church did he attend as a child that was integrated?

I look forward to discovering the answers to my questions on the life of Roark Bradford.

Source: The Milwaukee Journal. Tuesday, November 4, 1941. Article written by Austin Doyle (AP)

– Tiffany


5 Responses to “Roark Bradford – Author on Black Lauderdale County Experiences?”

  1. Damon Fordham August 6, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    As a black folklorist, I’m currently reading some of Bradford’s works. “Uncle Wes” was Pastor John Wesley Henning, who Bradford credited with telling humorous and imaginative Bible stories that inspired much of his work. His collections of this genre, “Ol Man Adam” and “Ol King David & The Philistine Boys” are amusing and occasionally profound if you are not too sensitive to such things. However, recordings of actual Southern black preachers of this era show that he wasn’t really far off the mark with these stories. Critics argree that the best (if lesser known) of his works was “The Green Roller” (published postumously in 1949) where he caputes the black sermons more reverently and with less dialect. Oh, and catch “The Green Pastures” (based on “Old Man Adam”) on DVD.

    • Tiffany August 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Thanks for commenting and providing me with the identity of Uncle Wes. I’ll be sure to check out some of Bradford’s writings so I can better form an opinion of him. Since you are a black folklorist have you come across any other authors who got inspiration for their stories from Blacks in TN?

      • Damon L. Fordham March 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

        You may want to check out the WPA Slave Narratives (interviews with ex-slaves in the 1930s) from Tennessee, which are available online. I would also suggest the recordings of black preachers of the 1920s and 30s such as Rev. J.M. Gates (from Georgia), and others on Document records on Incidentally, the legendary comedian Mantan Moreland recorded an album in 1963 of Bradford’s stories in “Ol Man Adam and his Chillun.” I’ve recently ordered it from ebay.

  2. Robert Yarbrough November 12, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    I wrote a master’s thesis on Roark Bradford (1981). I have, as the old saying goes, forgotten more about Roark Bradford than most people alive even know. I have many materials that were undoubtedly lost in Hurricane Katrina. Write me. Maybe I can remember some of all of this. Robert Yarbrough

  3. Deb Kidwell July 16, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

    Hi Tiffany, I live in Martin, TN and am a mule and American Mammoth Jackstock breeder. I also write a monthly article about mules and donkeys in world and American history for Western Mule Magazine. I have been fascinated with Roark Bradford’s short stories involving mules and African-Americans, and have been sharing them slowly with the readers of the magazine. With the research I have done into mule culture in America from the 18th century onward, I find that Roark has been spot-on with the relationship between the mules and their handlers/caretakers. They are amazing stories and I would be happy to share some with you, if you like. All the best, Deb Collins Kidwell

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