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J. Mason Brewer Collection

 Collection
Identifier: 2008.111
The J. Mason Brewer Collection consists of materials related to Dr. Brewer’s career as an academic and teacher, author of African American folklore & history, and personal life. The collection is organized into eight series: Biographical Materials, Correspondence, Activity Files, Newspaper Clippings, Literary Works, Photographs, Three dimensional objects & Scrapbooks, & Books.

Series I, Biographical Materials, 1896-1975, consists of materials that focus on the life of Dr. J. Mason Brewer and his immediate family, including his second wife Ruth, his son J. Mason Jr., and his sister Stella Brewer Brookes. The series includes personal papers, financial, legal, and admissions papers, & awards and tributes. Included in this series are two yearbooks that show Dr. Brewer’s career as an educator in high school and college environments.

Series II, Correspondences, 1945-1975, n.d. are organized by subseries (Family, Professional, and Chronological), with the letters in each folder organized by date. Many of the letters focus on Dr. Brewer’s works, his academic career, or research interests. Two of the letters to Dr. Brewer are in Spanish (Box 2, Folder 3), but the rest are entirely in English. There are also letters from U.S. politicians thanking Dr. Brewer for literature, including President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Representative Ray Roberts.

Series III, Activity Files, 1945-197, consists of various material during Dr. Brewer’s career in academia, as both a student and a professor. The series is divided by topic (Folklore Seminar, Faculty Files, Folklore studies packet, & Pamphlets, Programs & other materials). The Folklore Seminar discussed various forms of folklore study from a number of his colleagues & mentors during his time as a Graduate student. Folklore packets contain stories by folklorists from around the world. Faculty files include syllabi and lecture ideas, as well as the works of some of his students from Livingstone College & East Texas State University.

Series IV, Newspaper Clippings, 1950-1975, n.d. is organized by subject/topic. Majority of the folders contain clippings that focus on Dr. Brewer’s works or research. Series includes papers from Hunt County, including Greenville, Commerce, and ETSU student newspaper, that detail his works on campus and in the community.

Series V, Literary Works, 1930s-1975, consists of subseries major works, unpublished works, early works, poetry & plays, short stories, & speeches. A sizeable part of the series focuses on Dr. Brewer’s unpublished work on African influence in Mexican Folklore and history. Also prominent were speeches Dr. Brewer made at college symposiums and folklore conferences.

Series VI, Photographs, 1900s-1975, consists of primarily personal, family, and photos of colleagues. Included are photos of Dr. Brewer’s time at Livingstone College and East Texas State University, of him on campus and within the community. Noteworthy photos include signed portraits from Harlem Renaissance luminary Alain Locke and actress Isabelle Cooley.

Series VII, Three dimensional objects and scrapbooks includes a hunter’s horn from one of his folklore displays, and ceramic and wooden figurines that depict the image of African Americans during the early 20th Century. Scrapbooks contain clippings and other material on his major works, one chronicling his Graduate school career at Indiana University, and one dedicated to folklore in different parts of the world.

Series VIII, Books brought into the collection can be found in the library catalogue. Most of the books in the collection are from colleagues, fellow folklorists, and admirers of Dr. Brewer’s works. Other works include Ancient, World War I, and African American history.

Dates

  • 1896-1975, inclusive

Creator

Language of Materials

Materials are in English and Spanish

Restrictions on Use

Items in this collection are protected by applicable copyright laws.

Extent

7.5 Linear Feet

Biographical / Historical

John Mason Brewer was known as one of the early authorities on African American Folklore. He was born on March 24, 1896 in Goliad, Texas to J.H. Brewer and Minnie T. Brewer. He was one of five children in the family, including his sisters Jewel, Marguerite, Gladys, and Stella, and brother Claude. His sister Stella Brewer Brookes had a distinguished career as a folklorist and educator in higher education as a member of the English Department at Clark College in Atlanta. His other three sisters would work in public education in Texas. His mother Minnie was an influence to her children’s educational pursuits, having taught in the public schools of Texas for fifty years. J.H. Brewer worked in a variety of jobs throughout his life. The occupations he held and verbalizing his experiences to a young Dr. Brewer’s influenced his interest in folklore.

After attending public schools in Austin, Dr. Brewer attended Wiley College in Marshall, Texas and received a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1917. After a year teaching in Austin, Dr. Brewer joined the U.S. Army during World War I. He was stationed in France as a Corporal and served as an interpreter due to his ability to speak French, Spanish and Italian. After returning from the war, he worked in public education. During a brief time working in an oil company in Denver, Colorado, he began to write stories and verses for his company journal and, later, the monthly periodical The Negro American. Dr. Brewer’s interest in writing stories of folklore and history brought him back to education when he received a professorship at Samuel Huston College in Austin (now Huston-Tillotson University). During his time in Austin, he would meet influential folklorist and member of the Texas Folklore Society J. Frank Dobie. Dobie suggestion that Dr. Brewer collect and publish black folklore influenced Dr. Brewer’s career as a folklorist. Starting in 1933, Dr. Brewer would enroll at Indiana University to continue his studies, earning a Master of Arts in 1950. In 1951, he received an honorary doctorate from Paul Quinn College in Waco.

Dr. Brewer’s influence on African American folklore was displayed by the depth within the stories he collected from interviews in the U.S. South. Prior to Dr. Brewer and other early twentieth century African American folklorists, black folklore had been dominated by the Uncle Remus animal tales of Joel Chandler Harris. Dr. Brewer’s work focused on the collection of stories from former slaves and their descendants, using the storytellers’ regional dialect to show the nuances and richness of African American folklore and history during the post reconstruction era in Texas. Unlike the animal tales told by Joel Chandler Harris, Dr. Brewer folktales focused on the people, with tales of preachers, workers, and families and how they dealt with the hardships of everyday life through strength and humor. During his career, he was compared to Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston and Alain Locke for his work to promote Texas folklore.

During the 1930s and 1940s, he published in journals his work on folklore. His first major book, The Word on the Brazos, was published in 1953, followed by Aunt Dicy Tales (1956), Dog Ghosts and Other Negro Folktales (1958), Worser Days and Better Times (1965), and the anthology American Negro Folktales (1968). American Negro Folktales won the Chicago Book Fair Award in 1968 and the Twenty First Annual Writers Roundup award for outstanding book written by a Texas author in 1969. A number of his early works of poetry and Black history of Texas were republished in the 1970s, including Negrito (1933), Negro Texas Legislators of Texas (1936). As a folklorist, Dr. Brewer became the first black member of the Texas Folklore Society and Texas Institute of Letters (1954). He was the first black man to serve as an officer in the American Folklore Society as vice president. Dr. Brewer was very active as a member of various folklore and poetry societies throughout his life, participating in symposiums and lectures around the United States.

As a professor, he briefly taught in Claflin College in South Carolina before returning to Austin to teach at Huston-Tillotson College from 1943 to 1958. In 1959, he accepted a position in the English Department at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He would finish his career at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas. He was hired as a distinguished visiting professor and was one of the first black professors hired at ETSU in 1969. During his time there, he taught courses in African American folklore and organized symposiums on writing, poetry, and folklore with other faculty on campus.

Dr. Brewer died on January 24, 1975 and was buried in Austin.

Sources:

African American Folklorist J. Mason Brewer. Cultural Crossroads: Regional and Historical Perspectives. www.houstonculture.org/cr/folklore.html. Accessed July 29, 2014.

Byrd, James W. BREWER, JOHN MASON, Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbrbb), accessed May 22, 2014.

Byrd, James W. J. Mason Brewer: Negro Folklorist (Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1967)

Brewer, John Mason (1896-1975). BlackPast.org: An Online Reference Guide to African American History. http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/brewer-john-mason-1896-1975. Accessed May 22, 2014.

J. Mason Brewer. Humanities Texas, http://www.humanitiestexas.org/programs/tx-originals/list/j-mason-brewer. Accessed July 29, 2014.

Creator

Title
J. Mason Brewer Collection
Status
completed
Author
Manuel A. Grajales
Date
8/7/2014
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
English, Spanish

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, Gee Library, Texas A&M University-Commerce Repository

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