Scott Nelson. "Who Was John Henry? Railroad Construction, Southern
Folklore, and the Birth of Roch and Roll." _Labor: Studies in
Working-Class History of the Americas_ Vol. 2. No. 2 Summer 2005 page
John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend
by Guy B.
Johnson. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929).
A little hard to find, this book should be
available at most
major libraries. Johnson, a faculty member at the Institute for
Research in Social Science
at UNC, made the first concerted attempt to track down the origins of
the legend, the
tradition and the songs.
John Henry: A Bio-Bibliography by Brett
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983).
Brett explores the question of Henry's
the John Henry tradition in song and story and offers an appraisal of
his heroic appeal
and role in African-American culture. The book contains extensive
printed, visual and recorded John Henry materials.
A Treasury of American Folklore, B. A.
Botkin, ed. (New York:
Crown Publishers, 1944)
Pages 230-240 discuss the role of John Henry
as a folk hero and
his status in the African-American community during the early part of
this century. The
book discusses some of the controversy surrounding his authenticity
and provides lyrics to
28 verses of one song recounting his life beginning at
A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore by
(New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.).
On pages 383-392, Courlander discusses the
origin of the John
Henry epics and how they reflect the historical struggle of man and
discusses the legend of John Henry's birth and provides a sample from
a Jamaican John
Henry work song.
Heroes, Outlaws & Funny Fellows of American
by Olive Beaupre Miller (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1973)
Pages 147-157 - "John Henry's Contest
With the Big Steam
Drill" - recounts the legendary story in a simple,
straightforward narrative and
describes how it came to be a popular work song for steel
Great American Folklore, Kemp P. Battley, ed.
NJ: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1986.
"John Henry, the Steel-Drivin' Man"
offers an alternative narrative of the John Henry versus machine
American Folklore by Richard M. Dorson
of Chicago Press, 1959).
Dorson discusses the John Henry legend in the
African-American songs and epics current in the last decades of the
early part of the 20th centuries. The book also discusses
the contrasts between
the Johnny Appleseed, John Henry and Casey Jones legends.
Folk-Songs of the South, John Harrington Cox,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1925).
Pages 175-188 discuss the historical
background on John Hardy,
identified by some as the source o the John Henry tradition. The book
also provides nine
alternative ballads collected during the early decades of this century
Kentucky-West Virginia area.
Negro Workaday Songs by Howard W. Odum and
Guy B. Johnson
(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1926).
Pages 221-240 discuss variations and
consistencies in the John
Henry story and songs in the Southern U.S. early in the century. The
authors provide 11
variations in lyrics plus four work song variations.
Negro Folk Music, USA by Harold Courlander
Columbia University Press, 1963).
Courlander discusses (pages 110-115) the role
of John Henry songs
in southern railroad and labor camps and provides lyrics from a John
recorded in Alabama. A later section also discusses the impact of the
ballad on the
development of the Blues.
Southern Folk Ballads, W. K. McNeil, ed.
(Little Rock, AR:
August House, 1987).
McNeil provides a 10-verse variation of the
song with a brief
discussion of its origins and performances by Blues
Here's Audacity! American Legendary Heroes by
Frank Shay (New
York: The Macaulay Co., 1930).
A straightforward, narrative retelling of the
John Henry legend
The Hurricane's Children by Carl Carmer (New
& Rinehart, 1937).
A narrative recounting of a Georgia version
of the John Henry
Tall Tale America: A Legendary History of our
by Walter Blair (New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1944)
Pages 203-219 contain a light-hearted
retelling of John Henry's
remarkable youth and life.
Bibliography of American Folklore: Index to
Materials in Books on
Select American Folk Characters by Marjorie Crammer.
This index is arranged alphabetically bythe
character's last name
with call numbers for relevant books. The list was compiled for the
Prince George's County
Memorial Library System in Hyattsville, MD.
Classroom Teaching Guide by The Smithsonian
This manual provides a general introduction
to folklore and
folklife. Certain articles contained in the package may be used in a
activity-oriented approach to the study of folklore beginning at the
fourth grade level.
Classroom Teaching Guide by Fresno City
This instructional materials packet is
designed for use in junior
high school language arts classes and introduces students to North
Selected readings include real folk heroes such as John Henry and Davy
Crockett as well as
Indian tales, imaginary folk heroes, Black folk stories and tales of
Each reading is accompanied by several exercises which integrate
content analysis with
skill development in recognizing and using parts of speech, building
vocabulary and other
John Henry and Mr. Goldberg: The Relationship
between Blacks and
Jews by Jack Nusan Porter. (Journal of Ethnic Studies, v. 7, n.
3, p. 73-86
Porter explores folk tales, jokes, and other
forms of folk
culture to explore relationships between Blacks and Jews and to trace
changes in this
John Henry by Julius Lester (pictures by
Jerry Pinkney) (New
York: Dial Books, 1994).
Retells the life of the legendary
African-American hero who raced
against a steam drill to cut through a mountain in a contemporary
Plays of Black Americans: Episodes From the Black
America, Sylvia E. Kamerman, ed. (Boston:Plays, Inc., 1994)
A collection of plays reflecting the Black
experience in America.
Contains 11 childrens plays by African-American authors including
John Henry by
African-American Folktales for Young Readers,
edited by Richard Alan Young and Judy Dockrey Young.
A collection of folktales from the
tradition, presented as they have been told by professional Black
storytellers from Rhode
Island to Oklahoma.
A Natural Man: The True Story of John Henry,
Sanfield (illustrated by Peter Thornton). (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1986)
Retells the life of the legendary steel
driver of early railroad
days who challenged the steam hammer to a steel-driving contest.
Intended for a juvenile
A Man Ain't Nothin' But a Man: the Adventures of
by John Oliver Killens.1st ed. (Boston : Little, Brown, 1975)
The adventures of John Henry compiled by an
John Henry; A Folk-Lore Study, by Louis W.
Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1968)
This reprint of the 1933 edition contains 45
pages of popular
songs and ballads (without the music).
John Henry, An American Legend, by Ezra Jack
Keats. (New York
: Pantheon Books, 1965).
Describes the life of the legendary
steel-driving man who was
born with and who died with a hammer in his hand.
John Henry and The Double Jointed
Steam-Drill, by Irwin
Shapiro, (drawings by James Daugherty) (New York : J. Messner, 1945)
John Henry, The Rambling Black Ulysses, by
James Cloyd Bowman (illustrated by Roy La Grone) (Chicago, Ill.: A.
Includes songs with music.