1. That almost none of my undergraduate students know what Uncle Remus tales are, and
2. That many of my undergraduate students would "rather talk about something happy."
This is not unique to students, however. Several articles have addressed the issue recently, pointing out how the history of slavery is often:
1. Sanitized (e.g. slaves called "workers" in textbooks)
2. Focused on white saviors
3. Presented as something that "wasn't so bad."
The fact that people don't know how talk about slavery is reflected in this hilarious YouTube series by a historical interpreter who portrays a slave character at Mr. Vernon, titled "Ask a Slave." Pay attention to the questions people ask her.
So, what do storytellers have to add to all of this?
Books. The stories are there. The books are there. Here is a list of some of the best ones:
People could fly
An American black folktale, published in a gorgeous book by Virginia Hamilton. The book contains several black folktales of slavery and freedom. The story that is named in the title talks about people finding their innate powers to fly, and flying away from a plantation to freedom.
(Read it the book with the same title. I also included a version in my own book, because it beautifully illustrates why people dream of superpowers in the first place)
Old Master and John
A group of folktales about John, the clever slave, tricking the Old Master. There are several of them, in several sources, portraying the endless struggle of power between oppression and resistance.
(You can read an entire chapter full of these stories in African American Folktales)
Adventures of High John the Conqueror
High John the Conqueror is an African-American folk hero surrounded by legends, folktales, and traditions. He is a trickster figure that looks out for his people, and plays the slaveholders for fools. There are many stories about him.
(Read them in this book of the same title)
Usually known as cute, funny animal tales, these stories were collected from slave communities, who told them as a form of subtle resistance, keeping their traditions, and making fun of the people in power through symbolism and metaphors.
(Read the book here)
You can also find several slavery-era American folktales and anecdotes in:
An Anthology of American folktales and legends
American folktales from the Library of Congress
American Negro Folktales
African American Folktales
A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore
Monsters, Tricksters, and Sacred Cows
In addition to folktales and historical legends from America, there are also some older stories involving slaves that are worth mentioning - because they are good stories. I tell my versions of both of them frequently, and they are always a great experience.
One of the earliest appearances of the Cinderella tale type takes us back to Ancient Greece and Egypt. Rhodopis was a beautiful Thracian slave girl, bought and sold multiple times until she ended up in Egypt, and became a courtesan. It is not clear that the Cinderella story that follows (an eagle stealing her sandal and the pharaoh searching for her) is about her or another Egyptian courtesan named Rhodopis... but it is still a fascinating piece of story. Added bonus that for a while Rhodopis was a slave in the same household as Aesop, one of the most famous storytellers in Antiquity.
(Read about Rhodopis here)
A group of Tyrrhenian pirates decide to kidnap Dionysus, God of Wine and Pleasure (thinking he's just a pretty boy) and sell him into slavery. The deity wreaks havoc on their ship, burying it in vines and summoning wild animals, until finally all the pirates jump into the sea and turn into dolphins.
(Read the story here)
Also, for true stories of slavery, check out the amazing Finding Eliza blog, participating in the A to Z Challenge for the past 4 years!
What other books or stories should I add to the list?