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Anthologies] Cotton, Sallie Southall.

Negro Folk Lore Stories. What Aunt Dorcas Told Little Elsie, 1923.


[Anthologies]. Cotten, Sallie Southall. Negro Folk Lore Stories. What Aunt Dorcas Told Little Elsie. Charlotte, NC: N.C. Federation of Women's Clubs, 1923.
Thin 8vo.; engraved two-color frontispiece portrait of "Aunt Dorcas" with "Little Elsie"; delicate engravings to top borders of all pages throughout; heavy laid paper lightly yellowed; brown endpapers; brown paper-covered boards; printed paper label.  
First, and presumably only, edition of this racial parable recorded by a member of the North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs. A presentation copy, inscribed on the front pastedown: Sincerely yours Sallie Southall Cotton.
An odd text which purports to capture, in dialect, a quaint bedtime story as told to a young white girl by her black nanny. Although published with humanitarian intentions as an ennobling effort for the negro race, Cotton's Negro Folk Stories unfortunately carries with it the condescending tone characteristic of much writing on race by early 20th-century white feminists. The us-them flavor is set from the opening lines of the book, which read:
Elsie Gilmore was born in New England and knew all about Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrim Fathers. She could tell about the battle of Bunker Hill and describe Paul Revere's Ride, but she knew absolutely nothing about Southern negroes. So when her mother went to visit a school friend in Alabama and took Elsie with her, the little girl was fascinated by the shining black faces and strange dialect of the negro women who were the domestic adjuncts of Mrs. Hardee's home...Her greatest joy was an old negro woman, daily attired in an immaculate white apron and cap, who seemed to have no special duties, but who was ready when called upon for such services as she was still capable of rendering. (3-4)
This elderly woman, of course, turns out to be the Aunt Dorcas of the tale's subtitle, a fact which we learn in a rather disquieting interchange: "Everyone called her Aunt Dorcas and the familiar title puzzled Elsie." When Elsie asks whether she and Aunt Dorcas are indeed related she receives a charming counter-instruction:
"Oh! no," replied her hostess, "that is only an old Southern custom. When Aunt Dorcas was a child, she and all her people were owned by my grandfather. Her mother was my Black Mammy, and for many years Aunt Dorcas was my cook. When her mother became too infirm to work we supported her till she died, and now we are doing the same for Aunt Dorcas. The families have never drifted apart as so many did when the slaves were made free. We cannot turn her adrift because we love her, and she has no children to care for her. But calling her "Aunt" is only an old custom to which some Southerners cling." This explanation satisfied Elsie and being of a social temperament, she and Aunt Dorcas became very friendly. (4-5)
The remainder of the narrative consists of the soothing tale that Aunt Dorcas told Little Elsie to put her to sleep. Although Elsie asks to be told "again about the Tar Baby," Aunt Dorcas instead opts to tell her a parable about bees and honey and frogs and the Lord's work. Dorcas's voice as rendered by Cotton is meant to be wise, but the convoluted "black" dialogue borders on the unintelligible ("But awd doan nebber frgit dem dat disobeys Him an' he sont er strong wind ter blow dem bees inter his Manshun in de sky"). A fascinating example of a naive, well-intentioned, and ultimately problematic early 20th-century feminist tract.

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