Brewer, John Mason (1896–1975). Encyclopedia of American Folklore

Texas’ most prominent Black writer and one of the nation’s leading black folklorists. Brewer (who published as J.Mason Brewer) was the first Black member of theTexas Folklore Society and the first Black to serve as vice president of the American Folklore Society. In 1954, he also became the first African American member of the Texas Institute of Letters after Theta Sigma Phi recognized him as one of twenty-five best Texas authors following one of his most notable publications, The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Brazos Bottoms of Texas (1954). Born in Goliad, Texas, Brewer received his early education in the Black public schools in Austin and then earned a B.A. degree in 1917 from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He served as a French interpreter for the American Expediting Forces (AEF) in 1918 before turning to teaching and later becoming a principal in Fort Worth, Texas. Brewer later wrote stories and poems that he published in both a Colorado oil company’s trade journal and a national journal, American Negro. Before returning to Texas, Brewer briefly held a professorship at Clafflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and then was a professor in 1926 at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, where he met University of Texas Professor J.Frank Dobie, who encouraged him to collect and publish African American folklore. In 1950 Brewer earned an M.A. from Indiana University; he then earned an honorary doctorate a year later from Paul Quinn College, a Methodist College in Waco, Texas. Like Zora Neale Hurston, Brewer employed Black dialects when documenting stories he collected firom his informants. A regular contributor to the annual publications of the Texas Folklore Society, Brewer’s earliest collection of African American slave tales appeared as the lead chapter in Tone the Bell Easy (1932), under the tide “Juneteenth.” His most notable works include 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 received 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. Besides the recognition he received from folklorists as the best storyteller of Black folklore anywhere in America, Brewer also lectured at Yale University, the University of Texas, Duke University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Arizona. After several years of teaching at Livingston College in Salisbury, North Carolina, Brewer returned to Texas and was a distinguished visiting professor at East Texas State University in Commerce from 1969 until his death on January 24, 1975. The following year, Brewer appeared in Who’s Who in America. Richard Allen Burns


Abernethy, Francis Edward. 1992. The Texas Folklore Society: 1909–1943. Vol. 1. Publications of theTexas Folklore Society No. 51. Denton, University of North Texas Press. Byrd, James W. 1967. J.Mason Brewer, Folklorist. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn.