Yes, this comment has little to do with ethics, but it’s so interesting as a supplement to the main post that it deserves greater circulation.
Here is Pennagain’s fascinating Comment of the Day on the weekend’s post, Racist Political Correctness, Casting Ethics, Double Standards, And The Rock:
I knew there were at least two versions of the song, “The Ballad of John Henry,” but I’ve so far found dozens more online, most of them having umpteen verses, and a work-song rhythm – the most basic of which my 7-year-old self stomped in that driving stop-rhythm around the classroom (chanting?), with that hammer-driving oomph! at the end of each line, to lyrics like “gonna die with the hammer in mah han’, Lord, Lord”.
For what it’s worth, a “real” John Henry is pretty well authenticated in at least one version of the story, ending fatally at the C&O’s Big Bend Tunnel in Talcott, West Virginia.
From KPBS’ “The African-American Railroad Experience”, built on Theodore Kornweibel’s photographic history: The entire southern railroad network built during the slavery era was built almost exclusively by slaves. Some of the railroads owned slaves, other hired or rented from slave owners [later from contracted freedmen or convict work-gangs]. And. . . women as well as men were actually involved in the hard, dangerous, brutal work. … several of the song versions finish with John Henry telling his wife to pick up the hammer and continue the job.
Negative evidence of Henry’s race would be that none of the many, many verses of the songs (recorded by 38 singers besides Ives) nor folk references – negro dialect aside (arguably stretched to “Suthun,”) – refer to that figure as being other than black. And as a black man, and a real, live “Everyman” working-man’s hero, he is proudly and fiercely claimed by South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky . . . and Jamaica.
Of particular interest are “the rebel verses,” 12 challenging the “Cap’n of the Sexion Line” to quit beating him, and 11 more on “complaints” detailing the poor working conditions of the steeldrivers.
and my favorite: Johnny Cash’s patter-song-bio of John Henry, all 8 1/2 minutes of it: