African-American folk tales originated with peoples who were brought from Africa against their will as slaves. They were torn from their individual cultures, families, languages and customs. The African in them was forcibly suppressed by the white slave owners.
They were not to speak their own languages. The slave owners made them speak English but forbade them to learn to read or write it. They were compelled to do hard labor and were punished for resisting, slacking off, and running away. They had no citizenship, no rights, and were treated as property.
But no amount of hard labor and suffering could suppress their powers of imagination. Out of their contacts with other slaves, combined with memories and habits from Africa, came a body of folk tales about the slaves and their experiences.
The slaves created tales in which various animals—such as the rabbit, fox, bear, wolf, terrapin (turtle), snake, and possum—took on the characteristics of the people found in the environment of the plantation. The rabbit, called Brer or “Brother” Rabbit, became a particular favorite of the slave tellers.
Brer Rabbit was small and apparently helpless compared to the powerful bear, the wily fox, and the ferocious wolf. But the slave teller made the rabbit smart, tricky, and clever, the winner over larger and stronger animals.
Still, Brer Rabbit sometimes got into trouble, just as the slaves did, which made him seem all the more human. To the slaves, the rabbit came to be identified with themselves.
Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby The Tar Baby Brer Rabbit Brer Fox Brer Bear