John Mason Brewer

Photo courtesy of the Texas A&M University-Commerce Archives

African American Folklorist and Poet

John Mason Brewer


J. Mason Brewer was a noted educator, historian, poet, storyteller, and folklorist. Born in Goliad, Texas in 1896—a place that through the voices of his father and grandfathers instilled the love for African American stories—J. Mason Brewer devoted his fifty-year career to documenting and preserving African American narratives across Texas and the South. He earned a BA in English at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1917 and during World War I served as translator of French, Italian, and Spanish for the American Expeditionary Forces. As an educator he taught at several public schools and historically Black colleges across the South throughout his career, including Samuel Huston College in Austin. He earned an MA in folklore from Indiana University under Stith Thompson in 1933. He later returned to chair the English, Language and Literature Department at Huston-Tillotson College (formerly Samuel Huston College) and taught at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) until his death in 1975.

Over his notable career, Brewer broke down numerous barriers such as becoming the first African American to serve on the Executive Board of AFS and serving as vice president, being the first Black who was an active member of the Texas Folklore Society, and being among the first African Americans to obtain a degree from an academic folklore program. Brewer was also awarded prestigious research grants from organizations such as the American Philosophical Society, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Mexico, and the National University of Mexico and was posthumously recognized by AFS with the Compañero/a de las Americas award for his “outstanding contributions to the further understanding of folk traditions in the Americas and the Caribbean.”

J. Mason Brewer began collecting African American folktales through fieldwork long before he came into contact with academic folklore. Viewed as a counterpart to Zora Neale Hurston, Brewer published dozens of books and articles on African American folklore and history in Texas and other Southern states, African influences in Mexican folklore, as well as his own poetry during his prolific fifty-year career. Among his acclaimed works are:

The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Brazos Bottoms of Texas (1953)

American Negro Folklore (1969)

Phyllis May-Machunda

Brewer, John Mason. 1896-1975. Archival Collection at Texas A&M. J. Mason Brewer Collection, Identifier: 2008.111.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1922. Echoes of Thought. Fort Worth, Texas: Progressive Printing.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1923. Glimpses of Life: Poems. Fort Worth, Texas: Progressive Printing.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1932. “Juneteenth”. Tone the Bell Easy, ed. J. Frank Dobie. Vol. X (Austin, Texas: Texas Folklore Society, 1932), 9–54.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1933. “Old-Time Negro Proverbs”. Spur-of-the-Cock, Ed. J. Frank Dobie, ed. Vol. XI (Austin, Texas: Texas Folklore Society, 1933), 101–105..  

Brewer, John Mason. 1933. Negrito: Negro Dialect Poems of the Southwest. San Antonio: Naylor Publishing.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1935. Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants: A History of the Negro in Texas Politics from Reconstruction to Disfranchisement. Dallas: Mathis Publishing.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1936. “The Negro and the Texas Centennial Exposition”. The Houston Informer. August 8, 1936, sec. 2, p. 4.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1936. Heralding Dawn: An Anthology of Verse by Texas Negroes. Dallas: June Thomason Printing.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1936. The Negro in Texas History. Dallas: Mathis Publishing.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1936. Patriotic Moments; A Second Book of Verse. Dallas: privately printed.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1938. A History of the Dallas High School for Negroes. Dallas: Friends of the Dallas Public Library.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1938. John Wesley Anderson: A Life in Verse. Dallas: Clyde C. Cockrell & Sons.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1940. An Historical Outline of the Negro in Travis County. Austin, Texas: Samuel Huston College.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1940. Little Dan from Dixie-Land. Dallas: Bookcraft.  

“Brewer, John Mason. 1945. “American Negro Folklore.” Phylon. Published by Clark Atlanta University. Vol. 6, No. 4 (4th Qtr., 1945), pp. 354-361.

Brewer, John Mason. 1945. “Afro-American Folklore.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 60, No. 238 (Oct. – Dec., 1947), pp. 377-382.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1945. Humorous Folktales of the South Carolina Negro. Orangeburg, South Carolina: Claflin College Press.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1947. More Truth Than Poetry. Austin, Texas: privately published.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1948. Silhouettes of Life: A Group of Short Stories. Austin, Texas: Samuel Huston College.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1951. A Pictorial and Historical Souvenir of Negro Life in Austin, Texas, 1950–51: Who’s Who and What’s What. Austin, Texas: privately published.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1953. The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Brazos Bottoms of Texas. University of Virginia.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1956. Aunt Dicy Tales: Snuff-Dipping Tales of the Texas Negro. Austin, Texas: privately published.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1958. Dog Ghosts and Other Texas Negro Folk Tales. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1959. “Texas Negro Tales.” Interracial Review. (December 1959): 236–237.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1961. “North Carolina Negro Oral Narratives.” North Carolina Folklore. 9 (July 1961): 21–33.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1963. Three Looks and Some Peeps. Salisbury, North Carolina: privately printed.

Brewer, John Mason. 1965. Worser Days and Better Times. Chicago: Quadrangle Books. With pref. & notes by Warren E. Roberts. Drawings by R. L. Toben.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1968. “Animal Tales as Told by African Students of Livingstone College.” North Carolina Folklore. 16 (May 1968).  

Brewer, John Mason. 1969. American Negro Folklore. Chicago, Quadrangle Books.  

Brewer, John Mason, ed. 1969. Adventures of an African Slaver, Being a True Account of the Life of Captain Theodore Canot. Austin, Texas: Pemberton Press..  

Brewer, John Mason, ed. 1969. Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge. Austin, Texas: Pemberton Press..  

Brewer, John Mason, ed. 1969. The Missionary Pioneer: Or a Brief Memoir of the Life, Labors, and Death of John Stewart. Austin, Texas: Pemberton Press.  

Brewer, John Mason, ed. 1970. Memorials Presented to the Congress of the United States for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Austin, Texas: Jenkins Publishing..  

Brewer, John Mason. 1972. “More of the Word on the Brazos.” Observations & Reflections on Texas Folklore. Francis Edward Abernethy, ed. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1972: 91–99. 

Brewer, John Mason. 1974. “Tales from Juneteenth.” The Folklore of Texan Cultures. Francis Edward Abernethy, ed. Austin, Texas: The Encino Press, 1974: 115–118.  

Brewer, John Mason. 1994. “Introduction.” Encyclopedia of Black Folklore and Humor. Henry D. Spalding, ed. New York City: Jonathan David, 1994. Pages ix–x.  

Brewer, John Mason. 2016. J. Mason Brewer, Folklorist and Scholar: His Early Texas Writings. Eds. Bruce A. Glasrud, Milton S. Jordan. Stephen F. Austin State University Press.  

Brewer, John Mason. 2017. “John Tales.” Mexican Ballads and other Lore. Ed. Mody C. Boatright. Texas folklore Society Publications, UNT Press.