These sketches are typical of the negroes of lower Richland County and the great swamps of the Congaree. This section is in the heart of South Carolina and within a few miles of the capital city, Columbia. It is remarkable that so definite a survival of the negro of Africa as modified by white relationships should be maintained in such purity in the very midst of so exclusive a white culture.
These stories show the influence of slavery, the dread of the overseer--escapes and capture--things that have lived and will always live in the memory of the negro. These memories, combined with superstitions brought from Africa and terror created by the canebrakes and jungles of the Congaree, with its lakes, streams, guts, mysterious shadows, and yellow waters, with its old fields and dikes, relics of slave days, all make up what may be called the psychology of the negro of these sketches.
The dialect is of course English shot through and influenced by the traditions and sentiments of the African slaves. Very few genuine words are distinguishable, but there is a marked influence of the African sense of melody and rhythm. This gives to every word, even if otherwise good English, a peculiar dialectal sound and significance.
It needs to be remembered that this particular dialect, while pure nigger, is neither the dialect of the coast nor of the northern part of the Black Border, but is absolutely distinct, and is the product of the soil, race, and environment. In other words, it is English as adapted to the needs and knowledge of these primitive peoples. Sometimes a word that is pronounced correctly has several dialect meanings, and several sounds of the same word may be found in a single sentence. There is no rule.
Some of the poems are fragments of sermons in which the preacher or prayer-leader has worked himself into a chant and in which he swings and sways, and members of the congregation repeat words or lines that impress them.