African Folk Tales

dinkins_african_folk_tales_coverCarl F. Liss, Williams Class of 1953, has kindly given the Chapin Library a scarce children’s book, African Folk Tales written by Pauline E. Dinkins, M.D. (1892–1961) and illustrated by Effie Lee Newsome (born Mary Effie Lee, 1885–1979), published in 1933 by the Sunday School Publishing Board of Nashville, Tennessee. Only eight copies of this well-preserved folio are recorded in libraries.

Dr. Dinkins was an African-American raised in a missionary home in Selma, Alabama, educated at Hartshorn College in Richmond and at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. At the latter school she was sensitive to discriminatory language used by instructors and never felt truly part of her class. With her degree in hand, she engaged in general practice in Selma and then was on the staff of the Tuskegee Institute. In 1922 she became Medical Director of Brewer Hospital and Nurse Training School in Greenwood, South Carolina, which was under the auspices of the American Missionary Association. Toward the end of the 1920s she worked in Monrovia, Liberia, and there she collected African folk stories.

By this time she had come into contact with Effie Lee Newsome. This may have been The Crisis, a magazine founded by W.E.B. Du Bois and published monthly by the NAACP, to which Newsome was a contributor and in which advertising for Brewer Hospital (with Dr. Dinkins’ name) appeared. Newsome had been a writer and illustrator since childhood, and was one of the first African-American authors to concentrate on works for children. Although the pictures in African Folk Tales were made in 1930 – most are dated thus – Newsome and Dinkins were collaborating on the book already in 1929. In a letter that year from Dinkins to W.E.B. Du Bois she writes from Monrovia that she was sending Du Bois some of “our” stories, referring also to Newsome who had told her that Du Bois was interested in publishing them.

It is unclear whether Du Bois in the end had anything to do with the publication of African Folk Tales. It seems reasonable to think that, had he applied his influence, the book may have appeared from a publisher more in the mainstream than the Sunday School Publishing Board of Nashville. In any event, Dinkins continued to write to Du Bois on her return to Selma later in 1929 and as late as 1932, when Du Bois advised that she would have a hard time finding a publisher for a memoir of her experiences in Africa. – WGH

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