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John Mason Brewer
*John Mason Brewer was born on this date in 1896. He was a Black author, scholar, teacher, historian, folklorist, and storyteller.
Brewer was born in Goliad, Texas, the son of a cowboy J. H. and Minnie T. Brewer. His sister, Stella Brewer Brooks, an authority on Joel Chandler Harris and the Uncle Remus tales, shared his interest in folklore. Educated in Austin, he advanced through Wiley College to a master's degree from Indiana University and Ph.D. from Paul Quinn College.
Combining academic qualifications and a very active personal life, Brewer was skilled to observe and speak as few before or after on a broad range of experience. Brewer was perhaps the first Texan to tell the full range of African American experiences from formal historical accounts to the excitement and accuracy of folktales. He spoke of the entire range of the Black Texas experience. For more than a quarter century, he worked and taught at East Texas State University. He was a longtime member of the Texas Folklore Society and served as council member and vice president for the American Folklore Society.
Brewer was also the first author and speaker to use black American dialect extensively in front of and to all audiences, particularly when dealing with folklore. Occasionally, he drew mixed reactions, from Blacks and whites alike, because of the prejudicial feeling against the dialects commonly spoken by Texas blacks.
Brewer's major books are The Word on the Brazos, Aunt Dicy Tales (1956), Dog Ghosts and Other Negro Folk Tales (1958), Worser Days and Better Times (1965), and an anthology, American Negro Folklore (1968), for which he won the Chicago Book Fair Award in 1968 and the Twenty-first Annual Writers Roundup award for one of the outstanding books written by a Texas author in 1969.
Notable among several early volumes of poetry and history are Negrito (1933) and Negro Legislators of Texas (1936); both were reprinted in the 1970s. Brewer succeeded in defending black American vernacular as a literary dialect, but, above all, he presented the lives of African American Texans truthfully with neither heroic overstatement nor apology. And he did this with much beauty.
After ten years of teaching at Livingston College in North Carolina, Brewer returned to Texas and finished his career at East Texas State University in Commerce, where he was distinguished visiting professor from 1969 until his death. He died on January 24, 1975, and was buried in Austin, leaving his second wife, Ruth Helen, of Hitchcock, Texas, and a son by his first wife. The Texas Folklore Society and the Texas Commission on the Arts and Humanities made a short film on Brewer’s life in 1980.