One of the most shocking things she learnt was that it was common to make accessories out of the skin of slaves that died. There were wallets and bags, and they were prized possessions. ‘It doesn’t get more horrific than that,’ she says.

Lupita Nyong'o on her research for her role as Patsey in 12 Years A Slave


Stephen Foster’s manuscript of “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night”

This, slightly reworked, eventually became Kentucky’s state song and the theme of the Kentucky Derby: “My Old Kentucky Home.”  Reading the lyrics, though, it becomes apparent that this is not merely a song about the prospects of missing Kentucky for some reason, possibly because one has a deep love of burgoo.

No, this is a song sung by “Uncle Tom”–representing a plantation slave and echoing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s titular character–as he faces the prospect of being sold and shipped south to a plantation where things will not go as well for him and where the onerous work will quickly mean his end. So, the song is a melancholic look around at his old Kentucky home, which he will soon be forced to leave.

In that vein, it assumes a different air, and one has to ask why Kentucky, a slave state from the moment of its creation, would enshrine a tune of abolitionist sentiment as its state song.  It might be because, generally, only the first verse and chorus are sung, and “people” was substituted for “darkeys” some time back. Its meaning was thereby lost, as the song became one of a passel of tunes looking away, looking away to Dixieland. 

Here’s the original, followed by the more-familiar reworked version.  Note that the “weep no more my lady” line was picked up six decades later when “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” was written for the show SinbadHere’s Judy Garland tearing that one up on TV.

Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night

De sun shines bright in de old Kentucky home
‘Tis summer, de darkeys am gay
De corn top’s ripe and de meadows in de bloom
De birds make music all de day
De young folks roll on de little cabin floor
All merry all happy and bright
By’m by Hard Times comes a knockin at de door
Den poor Uncle Tom good night

Oh good night, good night, good night
Poor uncle Tom
Grieve not for your old Kentucky home
You'r bound for a better land
Old Uncle Tom

A few more days for to tote de weary load
No matter it soon will be light
A few more days for to totter on de road
Den poor Uncle Tom Good night

Dey hunt no more for de possum and de coon
On de meadow, de hill and de shore
Dey sing no more by de glimmer ob de moon
On de bench by de old Cabin door
De day goes by like a shadow on de heart
Wid sorrow where all was delight
De time has come when de darkeys hab to part
Den poor uncle Tom good night.

De head must bow and de back will hab to bend
Whereber de darkey may go
A few more days and de troubles all will end
In de field wha de cotton had grow
A few more days for to tote de weary load
No matter it soon will be light
A few more days for to totter on de road
Den poor uncle Tom good night.

My Old Kentucky Home

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the darkies are gay,
The corn top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright:
By'n by Hard Times comes a knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more today!
We will sing one song
For the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home, far away.

They hunt no more for the possum and the coon
On the meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by the old cabin door.
The day goes by like a shadow o'er the heart,
With sorrow where all was delight:
The time has come when the darkies have to part,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the darkey may go:
A few more days, and the trouble all will end
In the field where the sugar canes grow.
A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter 'twill never be light,
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

Many people who embrace the Willie Lynch myth have not studied the period of slavery, and have not read the major works or first-hand documents on this issue of Afrikan Amerikkkan slavery. Further, the Willie Lynch letter is a hoax. While we are being misled by this fantasy, the real historical data is being ignored.

For example, Kenneth Stampp in his important work on slavery in the American South, The Peculiar Institution (1956), uses the historical records to outline the 5 rules for making a slave:

1.Maintain strict discipline.
2.Instill belief of personal inferiority.
3.Develop awe of master’s power ( instill fear).
4.Accept master’s standards of “good conduct.”
5.Develop a habit of perfect dependence which are not even being addressed. this is a question from a black person to America. and a statement to black people: please don’t take everything at face value.

Also, consider these excerpts from Manu Ampin book,
“Death of the Willie Lynch Speech: Exposing the Myth”:

“The ‘Willie Lynch Speech’ is not mentioned by any 18th or 19th century slave masters or anti-slavery activists. There is a large body of written materials from the slavery era; yet there is not one reference to a William Lynch speech given in 1712. This is very curious because both free and enslaved African Americans wrote and spoke the tactics and practices of white slave masters. Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Olaudah Equino, David Walker, Maria Stewart, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Richard Allen, Absolom Jones, Frances Harper, William Wells Brown, and Robert Purvis were African Americans who initiated various efforts to rise up against the slave system; yet none cited the alleged Lynch speech. Also, there is not a single reference to the Lynch speech by any white abolitionists, including John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Similarly, there has been no evidence found of slave masters or pro-slavery advocates referring to (not to mention utilizing) the specific divide and rule information given in the Lynch speech.”

“Likewise, none of the most credible historians on the enslavement of African Americans have ever mentioned the Lynch speech in any of their writings. A reference to the Lynch speech, and its alleged divide and rule tactics, is completely missing in the works of Benjamin Quarles, John Hope Franklin, John Henry Clarke, W.E.B. Du Bois, Herbert Aptheker, Kenneth Stampp, John Blassingame, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Darlene Clark-Hine, and Lerone Bennett. These authors have studied the details and dynamics of Black social life and relations during slavery, as well as the ‘machinery of control’ by the slave masters; yet none made a single reference to a Lynch speech.”

“Since the Willie Lynch speech was not mentioned by any slave masters, pro-slavery advocates, abolitionists, or historians studying the slavery era, the question of course is when did it appear?”

Manu Ampin
“Death of the Willie Lynch Speech: Exposing the Myth”
Page 5

“The first reference to the Willie Lynch speech was in a late 1993 online listing of sources posted by Anne Taylor, who was then the reference librarian at the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL). She posted ten sources to the UMSL library database, and the Lynch speech was the last item in the listing. In her 1995 email exchanges with the late Dr. William Piersen (Professor of History, Fisk University) and others interested in the origin of the Lynch speech, Taylor indicated that she kept the source from where she received the speech anonymous upon request because he was unable to establish the authenticity of the document….”

Manu Ampim
“Death of the Willie Lynch Speech: Exposing the Myth”
Page 6