Hear My Sad Story reviewed in the New York Times Book Review

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The Holiday Books issue of the New York Times Book Review features a review of Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired “Stagolee,” “John Henry,” and Other Traditional American Folk Songs by Richard Polenberg. Here’s an excerpt:

“I never knew that ‘Railroad Bill,’ which I used to sing at summer camp, is about an African American outlaw (real name Morris) who terrorized Alabama in the 1890s. People had good reason to fear Bill, but that fear was also used as an excuse for the blatantly racist treatment of people whose only connection to him seems to have been the color of their skin. (‘A number of Negroes have been arrested,’ Polenberg quotes an 1895 news report. ‘None of them will be permitted to go about for fear that they might sneak some information to Railroad.’) Many of Polenberg’s stories shed similar light on the uglier aspects of American history, and he tells them well.”—Peter Keepnews, New York Times Book Review

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