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« After Pat's Birthday by Pat Tilman | Main | gettting my conjure on: social justice and effective radicalism in the 21st century »


John Garst

I am a John Henry researcher. My paper on the subject, "Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi," appears in Tributaries: Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association, Issue No. 5, 2002. A synopsis can be found at

I think that the evidence that John Henry was John Henry Dabney, a Mississippian who died after racing a steam drill in Dunnavant, Alabama, in 1887, is much stronger than that marshalled by Nelson in his book, "Steel Drivin' Man." Testimonial and documentary evidence dovetail nicely to build a strong, albeit circumstantial, case.

Nelson found no evidence that his candidate, John William Henry, was a steel driver and no evidence of a contest between a man and a machine. I think it highly unlikely that the lines of the ballad saying they "took John Henry to the white house" were present in the original version. Thus, I consider Nelson's finding a white workhouse at the Virginia Penitentiary to be irrelevant. I also think it unlikely that the bodies of convicts who died at Lewis Tunnel were sent back to the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond for burial, as Nelson's case requires. They were probably buried in the graveyard at Lewis Tunnel. Further, "John Henry" was such a common name that finding a convict with that name at Lewis Tunnel carries no logical force.

Much discussion can be found at

rickydoc flowers

hey,im with you
the more speculation the merrier

like i say i havent read nelsons work
so i cant testify to the quality of his speculations

im looking forward now to reading both works
the more perspective i get the more informed
my own speculations

im just tickled there is so much out here
on him

was thinking the other day i got to get my
hands on patty schroeders robert johnson work

more afro am mythwork id like to trace

thanks for the heads up
i hate to make uninformed commentary

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