Oh, please don’t throw me in the briar patch, but do stop at the town of Eatonton, Georgia to see the Uncle Remus Museum. It consists of a log cabin made from three Putnam County slave cabins and captures “de critters” humanized by native author Joel Chandler Harris. You’ll see lots of Harris memorabilia and woodcarved dioramas of scenes from the folktales. There are first editions of Harris’ books on display, a sampling of the stories in many other languages, and a large portrait of Uncle Remus from Song of the South signed by Walt Disney.
But…if you’re lucky, Ms. Georgia Smith will be there telling tales of Brer Rabbit. She is truly a treasure and I hope someone will record her voice.
Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton in 1845. He dropped out of school at age 17 to work near his hometown on Turnwold Plantation, where he met the slaves. He came to love African-American folklore and the tradition of storytelling. He later used these memories in his work.
He also learned the newspaper business at the plantation, setting type and writing for The Countryman, one of the largest circulation papers in the Confederacy during the war.
Harris was employed by a handful of newspapers across the South after the war and ended up at the Atlanta Constitution, where he was associated editor for nearly 25 years. It was there he first began writing his Uncle Remus stories, which were released in 1880 in a book entitled Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings.
As a child I watched the Disney version of the Uncle Remus stories: The Song of the South. Like most kids, the story of the Tar Baby was my favorite. The film’s catchy tune “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song and became a universally recognized favorite. However, some folks considered the movie and tales racist and controversial. Disney re-released portions of the movie but never made the full version available for home video.
In my opinion, the stories are folktales and like those from different cultures must be understood for the time and place they define. Uncle Remus tales are both adult and children’s literature because they work on multiple levels. Let’s just enjoy them and their “laughing place.” I recommend a visit to the Uncle Remus Museum to learn more about the author and his body of work.
214 Oak St, Eatonton, Georgia 31024
Call for hours. No photography inside the museum
Disclosure: Many thanks to the Georgia Department of Economic Development for my trip to this area.