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Engages in Research and Creative Writing

fauset folklore published american

Fauset’s initial research and publications were in folklore, a focus which grew out of his anthropological studies. In the summer of 1923, he collected folklore in Nova Scotia. The project was developed through his work with Dr. Frank G. Speck, his advisor and chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Elsie Clews Parsons, an intrepid pioneer in the folklore studies, sponsored the project and served as a mentor both on and off site.

The research provided the basis for Fauset’s M.A. thesis in anthropology. It also resulted in his article, “Folklore from the Half-Breeds in Nova Scotia,” published in Journal of American Folklore in 1925, as well as the basis for his Folklore of Nova Scotia , published in 1931. Fauset focused on collecting stories told by Negroes or descendants of Negroes who had settled in Nova Scotia in previous generations. He reported finding few carryovers with the folklore of blacks in the United States, a major reason being that wide and thin distribution of blacks in Nova Scotia. Fauset learned personally that prejudice based on color was present in Nova Scotia when he had difficulty securing lodging and other services.

Also in the 1920s, Fauset gathered folklore in Philadelphia and in the deep South (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana), and he visited the British Islands of the Lesser Antilles. In 1922, he published “A Tale of the North Carolina Woods” in Crisis . In 1925, his “The Negro’s Cycle of Song—A Review” was published in Opportunity . His article “Tales and Riddles Collected in Philadelphia” was published in 1928 in Journal of American Folklore . His other articles dealing with folk tradition include “Jumby,” which drew on his travel to the West Indies, published in Ebony and Topaz (1927), and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” published in Opportunity (1929).

The folklore research is relevant to Fauset’s links to the Harlem Renaissance. Alain Locke, a key spokesperson for the Renaissance, was also a native of Philadelphia and a friend of the Fauset family. Locke had encouraged Fauset to obtain a college degree even though Fauset had already started his full-time career in the public schools. Aware of Fauset’s folklore research, Locke solicited two selections for inclusion in The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), edited by Locke. Fauset’s contributions are “American Negro Folk Literature” and “Negro Folk Lore: A Bibliography.”

In 1926, Fauset won first prize in two of the competitions sponsored by the journal Opportunity: the short story division prize for “Symphonesque” and the essay division prize for “Segregation.” Opportunity , published under the leadership of Dr. Charles S. Johnson, the Urban League’s director, was a major supporter of the work of young black artists developing in the Harlem Renaissance. “Symphonesque” was republished in Edward J. O’Brien’s The Best Short Stories of 1926 as well as in the O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Short Stories series for that year.

In about 1924, the Ethiopian Publishing Company of Philadelphia issued Booker T. Washington , a brief work by Fauset. Of his books dealing with African American history, Fauset is better known, however, as the author of For Freedom: A Biographical Story of the American Negro (1927; rpt 1934) and Sojourner Truth: God’s Faithful Pilgrim (1938). Although they are not limited to young readers, the books are intended for such an audience. In his introduction to For Freedom , Fauset notes, “It is told in the spirit of young folk because they, more than any of us, are able to re-live the lives and struggles of heroic characters with that innocence and fidelity of interpretation which are so essential to a true understanding of the elements which underlie human aspirations.”

In introducing his volume on Sojourner Truth, Fauset emphasizes her revolutionary stance and notes that she was a rebel “despite her firm allegiance to Jehovah—or shall we say because of it.” The book was favorably reviewed for its engaging narrative.

Fauset’s major scholarly work is Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North , his Ph.D. dissertation. The work was published by the University of Pennsylvania in 1944 and reissued by the press in 1971. The book considers five groups: the Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America; the United House of Prayer for All People; the Church of God, which identified itself as a group of Black Jews; the Moorish Science Temple of America; and the Father Divine Peace Mission Movement. All of the organizations were based in Philadelphia, except the Father Divine Movement, which was based then in New York.

Fauset conducted interviews and observed services and other activities by each group. At times, his status as a non-member of the sect was viewed with suspicion and he was not given full access to information. Fauset nonetheless obtained much detail to help describe each sect as objectively as possible. In summarizing his findings, Fauset states that there is no evidence to claim a “religious ’bent”" among Negroes. He cites the effects of segregation and discrimination as key in understanding emphasis on religion: “It is a fair inference that the apparent over-emphasis by the American Negro in the religious sphere is related to the comparative meager participation of Negroes in other institutional forms of American culture, such as business, politics, and industry, a condition which is bound up intimately with the prevailing custom of racial dichotomy which restricts the normal participation of Negroes in many avenues of American life.” Fauset also asserts that social needs would probably receive more attention by the church in the future: “[A]s the evidence of some of the cults indicates,… he American Negro church is likely to witness a transformation from its purely religious function to functions which will accommodate the urgent social needs of the Negro masses under modern stresses of politics and economics.” When the book was republished in 1971, Fauset quoted this assertion in his “Author’s Note to the Paperback Edition,” with the inference that he had indeed been correct.

The book was generally favorably reviewed. Reviewers praised Fauset’s careful research and scholarship. A common criticism, however, was that the work could profit from being placed in a wider context, perhaps through comparative discussion and by giving more attention to analysis. Fauset recognized that he was dealing with a relatively small segment of non-traditional religious bodies even within the Negro church experience, and his purpose was descriptive more than analytical. In introducing the 1971 edition of Black Gods , the anthropologist John Szwed points out that the descriptive focus on an African American religious context is part of the book’s singular importance.

In 1969, Fauset co-authored America: Red, White, Black, Yellow with Nellie Rathbone Bright, also a former Philadelphia school principal. Like For Freedom and Sojourner Truth , the work was especially meant for young readers and had been developed at the request of the Philadelphia school system’s leaders. Fauset never lost interest in writing and the arts. While still based in Philadelphia before his retirement, he was co-founder of a cultural arts group called the Black Opals and was co-editor of its review of the same name.

Arthur Huff Fauset succeeded as scholar, educator, activist, and—throughout these endeavors—as author. His publications in folklore and anthropology document with clarity and without polemics the beliefs and practices of a variety of cultural groups outside the mainstream of their societies. As an activist, he wrote newspaper columns and essays attacking discriminatory practices, and while in various positions of leadership, he fought to change those practices. Despite difficulties resulting from his activism, he remained committed to the cause of social justice, the unifying principle of his life and work. In an interview with Carole H. Carpenter in 1970, Fauset fittingly characterized himself as having been “a fighting leader.”

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