African American folk and fairy tales are unique to the African experience, considering the diaspora traveled from the continent all over the Americas. Most went to Brazil, but some came to America by way of Barbados or straight to Charleston. The storytelling tradition began in the country continent of Africa with the Griots and Griottes who were associated with royal families and kept history alive through storytelling. Considering the Africans came to a racist, conservative, traditional American culture during the times of slavery and afterward (unfortunately), they had no option but to resort to their traditions to keep themselves sane and preserve the values of their own culture. For example, the basket-weaving tradition carried over from Sierra Leone, and traditional African stories were brought into American literature with Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby and Anansi the Spider.
But beyond the sense of cultural preservation, what makes African American folk and fairytales so unique is that they go beyond repeating African traditions: they narrate the clash of African and American cultures. W.E.B. DuBois tells us about the grit of the double identity in his work The Souls of Black Folk. In his tale, he digresses about how the African American is responsible for representing and maintaining his community, but he is also responsible for living in the American culture with an American lifestyle. It is a delicate balance between conceding to live like the ‘white folks’ and being too stubborn to be able to be successful in what some African Americans could perceive as a foreign culture. He also stresses that there is a mixture; no African American is pure Africa, he is a mix of white, black, and anything in between. One must embrace this mixture, inspiring the African American folk and fairytales spawned in post-slavery America.
The Brownies’ Book is the best example of African American folktales because it collects all of the magazines designed by the NAACP for African Americans and presents one sum picture of the 1920s culture. It is indicative of cultural identity surfacing in the Harlem Renaissance, and even simple fairytales in it like “How Mr. Crocodile Got His Rough Back” exemplify the unique African American culture. It combines the traditional African theme of explaining natural phenomena through personification with the African American identity of describing the torn family lifestyle. The father works in Florida, away from his family, just to win the daily bread; meanwhile, it is unsafe for a colored child to play outside, so he is forced to distract himself with his Granny’s tales. These African American folk and fairy tales are a ‘tool for edification,’ allowing the unfortunately-confined African American culture to blossom into a population of global citizens.