A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

African-American Series: Use of the N Word in The Matawan Journal (1874 - 1920)

The 30 Dec 1882 edition of The Matawan Journal (p 4 col 1) has a little piece of fiction titled Wanted Spiritual Aid about a white boxer who approached his minister with an odd request. It seems that the boxer kept praying for the strength to beat up a particular black man in his town, but this opponent just kept getting the upper hand in these battles. Turns out, the black guy had been praying, too, and seemed to know all the right things to say to God. "Now sir, I want to know if a N  is to have more influence than I've got," the white boxer asked his pastor indignantly. He demanded that the parson write down a powerful prayer for him to recite that would help him beat that guy and set things right. The boxer said, "Wish you'd represent how important it is for me to whup the fellow. Throw in a few words about my standin' among the neighbors . . ." The pastor found the whole thing reprehensible and asked the man to leave. The boxer was frustrated and angry and wouldn't leave without something, so the preacher ended up having to pull a pistol from the drawer to get the boxer out of his office.

The 15 Aug 1874 edition of The Matawan Journal (p 1 col 2) has a lengthy story called A Lively Negro Wedding. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, the story is of two white men who attend an African American wedding. A lengthy rendering of the preacher's story from the pulpit, written in nearly incomprehensible dialect, takes up much of the space. The preacher makes use of the N word quite a bit.

The 7 Oct 1920 edition of The Matawan Journal (p 6 col 3) has the story Too Sanctified For Her, in which a middle aged white widow marries a black man with money and a fine plantation but isn't happy. Her white friends all thought she'd done well for herself, but one day they learned that she'd left him because he turned out to be too conservative for her. Seems he wouldn't let her drink coffee or go to the picture show, so she got a good lawyer and took half of his property in the settlement.

The 17 Jul 1913 edition of The Matawan Journal (p 2  col 2) has the short story Beats the Lawyer's Logic about an older black man on trial for making whiskey. He'd been in jail six months awaiting trial and was sentenced to six more months rest.

The 4 Nov 1909 edition of The Matawan Journal (p 2 col 2) quotes from an article in The Courier of Dover Township about how important the work of the township's Board of Protectors had been in the local temperance movement. Two of the board's members had resigned, so the paper was bemoaning the situation. The paper noted that the members claimed to have felt unsupported but apparently didn't realize they had "the sympathy and moral backing of the N part of the town."

The 14 Feb 1907 edition of The Matawan Journal (p 2 col 3) includes this short poem called Temptation about a poor black man who stole a chicken to make a meat pie. I've translated the dialect to make it easier to read:

Now why's that N grinnin'?
How come he rolls his eye?
What's that I smell a-cookin'?
Bless God! It's chicken pie!
That N stole that chicken!
He never owned a hen!

Should I pass to the other side?
Or holy counsel lend?
That N is poor and weary
They's weighted down with sin
And who's gonna ask the blessing
In case I don't go to?

The above poem is actually dealing with the Ungentlemanly Question mentioned in a column of the 7 Mar 1907 edition of the Matawan Journal. A northerner and a southerner are riding the rails and enjoying a fine meal when the northerner asks where the southerner got such fine chicken. The story ends with this exchange. (Again I've neatened up the dialect for clarity.)

The old Negro, with a twinkle in his eyes and a wink at the other passengers, replied, "I sure know you're not from the south."
"Why Uncle?" exclaimed the gentleman, "How can you tell I'm not from the south?"
"Because, sir," answered Dick, "no southern gentleman ever compromises a N by asking him where he gets his chickens."


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