The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


The topics below offer collections of materials such as books, magazines, and ephemera that depict racial difference and were published for or about children between 1880 and 1939. We also offer editorial guidance (scholarly articles, notes, and eventually lesson plans) to help readers understand these materials.

Uncle Remus and the Tar Baby

Here we offer a large collection of materials related to Joel Chandler Harris, the now obscure but once enormously popular author of stories featuring Uncle Remus, Brer Rabbit, and Brer Fox. Harris’s storyteller, a happy and loyal former slave who narrates African American folk stories to a white child, asserted an idealized view of race relations in the postbellum South for generations of readers. This collection features interpretive essays by D. B. Dowd and Amanda Gailey, as well as correspondence, ephemera, and books, some of which include regularized spellings for ease of reading and teaching.

Jim Crow Children’s Literature

Countless books and other materials for children were produced in the final decades of the nineteenth century and the first few of the twentieth. Often, these materials subtly or overtly suggested the inferiority of black people. Here we have collected a few representative texts and will add more as we edit them.

The Harlem Renaissance and “Children of the Sun”

The 1920s saw the first organized attempts to create a children’s literature with positive depictions of characters of color. In this collection, with an interpretive essay by Katharine Capshaw Smith and editorial guidance by archive staff, we offer a collection of children’s books and the watershed children’s magazine The Brownies’ Book.

How to Play Indian

Coming soon: a collection of children’s literature depicting Native Americans, with expert analysis.