I love playing tourist in my hometown. Living in Atlanta, it is easy to forget how much there is to enjoy here – until someone comes to visit from out of town and you take them to the usual places like the Civil Rights Museum, Martin Luther King Center, the Beltline, the Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, etc. I have vowed to check into a few more of the hidden and less visited treasures that are right under our noses.
I had mixed feelings about one of those – the WREN’S NEST, also known as the Joel Chandler Harris house. It’s right smack dab in the bustling West End of Atlanta, a very vibrant and racially diverse area. But I thought of the home’s past as racist. The famous and now deceased owner, Joel Chandler Harris, was an Atlantan who wrote more than 190 books, the most famous of which were the Uncle Remus books. Harris was a shy person who stuttered, so rather than speak he wrote – prolifically – and put to paper the stories told to him orally on a plantation near Atlanta when he was a young boy working for a plantation owner. I have always thought of the Uncle Remus books as a vestige of the Old South and racist, perpetuating racial stereotypes.
And indeed, there is a lot of controversy over the Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit stories that Harris wrote. Uncle Remus and the stories he tells perpetuate racial stereotypes. While the preservation of house dating from the 1800s is rare treasure in Atlanta, should we even be focusing on who lived there, if racism is what his works reflect? The staff here does a great job of answering those questions and of presenting a whole picture of both the man who lived here and the house he inhabited.
I mean, what if Uncle Remus, long reckoned by many scholars and readers to be a racial stereotype and a sad vestige of Old South nostalgia, was instead a nuanced character who consistently subverted white authority and Old South social codes?
from a pamphlet at the Wren’s Nest by Lain Shakespeare, Former Executive Director at the Wren’s Nest
The house and the stories written here are a fascinating part of Atlanta’s history. I urge you to see for yourself – and would love to hear your thoughts.