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Guest Post: The Mormon What????

By: Middle-aged Mormon Man - February 24, 2011

Our guest poster blogs as Middle-Aged Mormon Man – he says we may call him “MMM” for short – with a cheeky blog about his life and interests as a, well, as a middle-aged Mormon man with eclectic interests. I’ve never seen a blog quite like it – it’s sorta like a Mormon mommy blog except, you know, written by a man, one who’s been around the block a few more times than most Mormon mommy bloggers, and so, well, I guess it’s really not like a Mormon mommy blog at all. Check it out – it’s a surprise all around.

MMM doesn’t refer to Sister MMM as his DW, but as his EC (Eternal Companion); his four children are not DD and DS, but FOML (Fruit of My Loins). He enjoys his anonymity – “Have you stopped to think that I could be your Home Teacher, or your kid’s seminary teacher, or the crazy conspiracy theorist that won’t shut up in Elder’s Quorum? I’m not – but I could be.” Not so well hidden in all the impudence are his feelings about sacred things, which you can read on his profile page.

Note: The following post may not be safe for work – you won’t be sorry you read and listened to it, but you may want to be cautious about where you are. — AEP

-oOo-

If you are someone who can’t read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without a black marker in hand, turn back now!

1905 was a bad time to be a Black man in America.

1905 was a bad time to be a Mormon in America.

Why not write a song about it?

Two enterprising songwriters decided to take a stab at simultaneously offending both the Black and Mormon communities with their 1905 minstrel toe-tapper, “The Mormon Coon.” (FYI, the word “coon” is super-racist – thus the risk of offense. Be advised – we are using the word in an historical context.)

The song is a quirky little story of a Black man named Ephraim who relocates to Utah, where he finds happiness in marrying a bevy of wives of all shapes, sizes and colors.

To prove it, here is a picture of the actual record:

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But wait! There’s more!

Here is the sheet music so you can play and sing along!

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And the coup de grâce is that I have posted the actual recording for your listening pleasure …
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[Note: The embedded link keeps erasing itself somehow. If it disappears again, the URL is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oyK1qLIinY ]

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Now for the research-y, serious part:

I discovered this while reading a fascinating article by the Incredibly Smart Martha M. Ertman of the University of Maryland School of Law, entitled “Race Treason: The Untold Story of America’s Ban of Polygamy”. In it, she makes the case that Mormons were cast as minorities in the population, and lumped together with many other ethnic populations which were on the receiving end of tremendous racism. The Mormon persecution was more about racism, and less about religious persecution (waaaay oversimplified – read the whole article to understand better).

Even the author Jack London had a character in the novel The Jacket say, “They ain’t whites, they’re Mormons” – further illustrating this point. Because if they weren’t white (which these Mormons were), then those pesky laws and that freedom of religion didn’t really need to be applied equally.

I read a lot, and as you probably can tell by now, I know most everything. But this whole discussion of racism against the early Mormons was totally new to me. Take the time to read it.

The mere existence of this remarkable song is crazy – but to hear it 106 years later? That is webidiculous. (I just made that word up. I even checked on Google: ZERO hits.)

Hope you enjoyed this obscure snippet of history. Some might think it too nerdy or serious, but I feel the need to help you with yer learnin’. (Because I’m thoughtful like that.)

One last thought: The tune is a little catchy – Please don’t walk around church this Sunday humming it.

Webidiculous. You saw it here first.

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This post originally appeared at Middle-Aged Mormon Man on 19 February 2011.

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For the benefit of search engines:

A coon named Ephraim skipped the town one day.
Nobody knew just why he went away,
Until one night a friend he got a note,
It was from Eph, and this is what he wrote:
“I’m out in Utah, in the Mormon land,
And going to stay, because I’m living grand,
I used to rave about a single life.
Now ev’ry day I get a brand new wife.”

CHORUS:

“I’ve got a big brunette,
And a blonde to pet.
I’ve got ‘em short, fat, thin and tall …
I’ve got a Cuban gal,
And a Zulu pal.
They come in bunches when I call;
And that’s not all –

I’ve got ‘em pretty, too.
Got a homely few,
I’ve got ‘em black to octoroon …
I can spare six or eight.
Shall I ship ‘em by freight?
For I am the Mormon coon.”

There’s one gal I ain’t married yet, but say,
I’m saving her up for a rainy day.
If you ain’t never heard a cyclone roar,
Come up and hear just how my wives can snore.
If you stay out late you can “con” your wife.
If I got gay that mob would have my life,
It keeps me hustling in loving line.
They all yell out, “I saw him first, he’s mine.”

CHORUS.

Next Fall they’ll make me Gov’nor of the State;
The Parsons give me commutation rate;
I wish for ev’ry wife I had a cent,
Why, just for photographs, a house I rent.
I’ve got so many, I forget a lot.
I keep the marriage license door bell hot,
If on the street into a wife I run,
I have to ask her, “What’s your number, Hon?”

CHORUS.



43 Comments »

  1. I would note that when I Googled this morning, there were three hits for “webidiculous” — two for Middle-Aged Mormon Man, and one for Keepapitchinin. As the search engines catch up and this post is picked up by the usual distributors (legal and non), that line in this post will grow ever more obsolete. : )

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2011 @ 7:29 am

  2. Wow.

    Comment by kew — February 24, 2011 @ 8:46 am

  3. I’m reading history and watching history be made, all before 9:00 this morning! This is fun.

    Comment by Carol — February 24, 2011 @ 8:50 am

  4. Thanks MMM! An interesting look at the treatment of “the other.”

    Comment by Chris H. — February 24, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  5. Oh my Lawdy! What interesting bits of history you do find Ardis!

    Comment by Cliff — February 24, 2011 @ 9:35 am

  6. The name of the composer, Henry Clay Smith, gives some indication of which region of the country he picked up such an incredibly prejudiced worldview.

    If Racism against blacks was most pronounced in the Deep South, perhaps that also explains some of the difficulties in the Southern States Mission in the late 1800’s? Hmmm…

    Comment by Clark — February 24, 2011 @ 9:49 am

  7. Oh, and the part about blacks and plural marriage indicates he doesn’t know a thing about Mormonism.

    Comment by Clark — February 24, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  8. Clark: I agree that it smacks of “Deep South” bigotry – oddly enough, this song, and others Dixie style songs by the same duo were published out of New York.

    Comment by Middle-aged Mormon Man — February 24, 2011 @ 10:00 am

  9. I see from Googling that this pair collaborated at other times — “All for You” (1906), “Somebody’s Coming to Town from Dixie” (1912), “You’ll Be Sorry” (1912), “Come Along to Honeymoon Land” (1912), and maybe others.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  10. Antipathy towards Jews, Irish, Germans, all Southern Europeans was based on supposed racial differences between them and Northern European “whites.” Same as Mormons (and Cathlics) weren’t “white.”

    Comment by Senile Old Fart — February 24, 2011 @ 10:11 am

  11. Catholics. Sorry.

    Comment by Senile Old Fart — February 24, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  12. (I was compiling the results of Googling while you wrote your #8, MMM.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  13. Holy. Crap.

    Comment by Christopher — February 24, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  14. And just as a heads up, there’s a growing literature on the relationship between Mormons and “whiteness.” Nate Oman, for example, has tied these issues to emerging American imperialism in the 19th century, and Paul Reeve’s book-in-progress, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, adds to the discussion by also noting that Mormon aspirations to be accepted in America were intimately tied to Mormons’ attempts to assert their racial whiteness.

    Comment by Christopher — February 24, 2011 @ 10:19 am

  15. Paul, finish your book!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  16. I haven’t finished the book yet (okay, so I’ve just started the first chapter!) but The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Patrick Mason, 2011) addresses some of these questions as well.

    Comment by Researcher — February 24, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  17. Oh my.

    Comment by WVS — February 24, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  18. Damn. All those catchy tunes that go with bad songs. I mean, I can’t even hum the Horst Wessel Lied without getting odd looks.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 24, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  19. I spewed diet Pepsi all over my monitor, desk, and phone at this. Astounding. Thanks for the advance warning so I didn’t play the audio here. If I can get up enough courage, I may try and listen at home tonight.

    MMM and Ardis, wow. Thanks for sharing, I think. But on the other hand, I don’t think I’m ever surprised at the incredible hold racism had on this country for a couple of centuries and many generations. Perhaps as we study and publish more about it, we’ll finally get it behind us.

    Comment by kevinf — February 24, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

  20. Clark (#7): For some reason, i don’t think accuracy was entirely what the lyricist was after…

    Comment by David B — February 24, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  21. Diet Pepsi Spewing Kevin: I just don’t understand people with their rampant addictions to DIet Pepsi and Diet Coke. Please be careful – office equipment is expensive.

    Sincerely,
    MMM
    (I much prefer my Mtn. Dew addiction)

    Comment by Middle-aged Mormon Man — February 24, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  22. Maybe the song was somehow prompted by interest in the Smoot hearings? (Hence the J.F. Smith-style beard on the sheet music cover?)

    Today Mormons are considered too white. Except back in the day when they were trying to be ethnic. Somehow I doubt that this song was part of those presentations.

    Comment by Clark — February 24, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  23. I think you’re definitely right about the beard, Clark. Just as anti-Semitic cartoons often depict Jews with long, unkempt beards, I’ve seen cartoons and read descriptions in literature that use the beard as symbolic of dirty old men Mormon polygamists.

    This whole thing strikes me as far more anti-black than anti-Mormon. The Mormon element feels like those generic Mormon jokes posted a week or two ago — those seemed impersonal, relying only on the stereotype of Mormons as having many wives as a punchline, without any sense of hatred or malice. Of course “Eph” is a stereotype here, too, but he has a black face and a name and a black epithet, and there’s an element of the black-man-as-sexual-magnet, too. All in all, it feels to me far more to ridicule blacks than Mormons.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

  24. I also find it interesting that the cover of the sheet music portrays the “wives” as different races as well. Many of the cartoonists of the time portrayed the polygamist household as an “international house of wives” further enhancing the ethnic stereotypes.

    Comment by Middle-aged Mormon Man — February 24, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

  25. MMM, as one who is prone to spewing Diet Pepsi somewhat regularly, I’ll just let you know that since there is no sugar involved, it is way less sticky to clean up than Mountain Dew.

    I would agree that the song seems more directed at blacks than Mormons. The Mormon angle just seems like a convenient new twist on an older prejudice that was seeking to keep itself fresh.

    Comment by kevinf — February 24, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

  26. Kevin: You obviously haven’t tried the new “No-Spew Dew”.

    Comment by Middle-aged Mormon Man — February 24, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

  27. Boy, this was fun. I mean fun in the sense of learning all kinds of new things, not fun in the sense of a great new heelarious song to sing.

    I had run across this song myself, and its “wonderful” sheet music image, about…oh has it been eight years ago? Anyway, around the time I first started my serious research into Mormon history. I didn’t know what to make of it: its just so YIKES on so many levels! I filed the image away in some nook of my hard drive and completely forgot about it. I’m so glad you filled this puzzle in, MMM!

    Like Ardis, the whole thing also strikes me as more anti-black than anti-mormon; mormons are just an eccentric stick to beat a racist stereotype with.

    However, the points made here about mormonism and whiteness are really interesting and not something I’ve given thought to at all, even though I have run across examples of anti-mormon slurs that do bring up race. Case in point is the one MMM cites in Jack London’s novel which I know better under its American title, “The Star Rover” (which I shall always call it to distinguish it from that dreadful film allegedly “based” on it.)

    I’m anxious to read the Martha Ertman article (again, thanks MMM!) and the forthcoming Paul Reeve book will be a must have for me (I’m working on several projects about representations of mormons/mormonism/events in mormon history in literature and popular culture). The issue of race and Mormonism is already a difficult and complicated subject, this gives it several new historical twists. I’m excited and exhausted at the same time.

    Comment by Mina — February 24, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  28. MIna: Thanks for the comments. I really enjoy praise from people who are obviously much smarter than me. And that goes for most all of the non-Pepsi drinkers that read Keepapitchinin.

    Comment by Middle-aged Mormon Man — February 24, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

  29. Hey, kevinf is pretty smart, too! Well, maybe competent would be a better word. Okay, he’s adequate. Maybe.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  30. Just when I thought I had seen everything in the bloggernacle . . . . Whoa.

    Comment by Martin Willey — February 24, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

  31. Ardis, defense of my intelligence is unnecessary, but nonetheless appreciated in my own, mediocre way. However, my humor from time to time does need defense, usually before I even speak (or write) after which it becomes indefensible.

    Comment by kevinf — February 24, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  32. I am trying to finish the book, trust me. Good news is that I have been awarded a sabbatical for next year to finish it. I think the Mormon Coon is a black Joseph F. Smith. Remember that he would have just testified before the Smoot Senate Committee and the political cartoons of the time all exaggerated his beard as the identity marker for Smith. And the Mormon Coon was performed on Broadway in 1905 and was touted by Sol Bloom as one of four hits for his music publishing company that year. I think at its base the song is appealing to American fears of interracial sex/marriage. Mormon polygamy heightens that fear because polygamous families, like that of the Mormon coon, are constructed by outsiders as interracial.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — February 24, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

  33. For the record, I prefer Dr. Pepper.

    This was a new one for me as well. But it’s really indicative of the idea that Mormons were “foreign.” They were part of “the Other.” The practice of plural marriage made them uncivilized. I can see how such a linkage as this might be drawn.

    Paul’s book sounds quite interesting.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 24, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

  34. For a bit of perspective here’s linguist John McWhorter:

    [Edited — The paragraphs quoted are remarkably unpleasant in isolation. I prefer to point readers to that article with your link than have the paragraphs stand alone, out of context, here. — AEP]

    Comment by John Mansfield — February 25, 2011 @ 5:16 am

  35. It looks like Dunbar and Cook had another show in 1899 called “Uncle Eph’s Christmas.” Here is an interesting profile of Cook: link. It makes me wonder what the race of Raymond A. Browne and Henry Clay Smith was.

    Comment by John Mansfield — February 25, 2011 @ 5:49 am

  36. Ardis, I don’t see the difference between the McWhorter paragraphs I quoted and this post on “The Mormon Coon” that you put up, but it’s your website. If you feel like explaining, I would be curious to hear why Dunbar and Russell’s words weren’t fit for this space while MMM’s post is.

    Comment by John Mansfield — February 25, 2011 @ 8:03 am

  37. The materials in the OP are historical artifacts illustrating how racial words and images were applied to Mormons and Mormonism. The quotation had nothing to do with Mormonism, and, out of context, appears to justify, even celebrate, the continued modern use not only of “coon” but of other racial terms spelled out in those paragraphs. The full context of McWhorter’s article is necessary to understand the limited case he was discussing.

    I appreciated your links and was glad you broadened the discussion — thanks for providing the link to McWhorter, as well as the link in your next comment. I hope readers will click through to both. Unless and until readers click through, though, the standalone paragraphs were a little too raw for my taste. That’s all — my editing wasn’t meant to suggest that your material was not relevant or that by posting those paragraphs you had violated any comment policy. I simply prefer readers to see those paragraphs in context, there, and not in isolation, here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2011 @ 8:19 am

  38. McWhorter fails (like so many social scientists) to say anything that all people everywhere haven’t known since they were at their mothers’ knees. Criticism or mockery or slurs about the group you belong to are acceptable when spoken by an insider–but God have mercy on your soul if you, an outsider, say those same things.

    That blacks among themselves used a word to describe themselves–or sub-groups within their race–is completely irrelevant to the question whether the use of the word “coon” in the song in the OP is bigoted and racist. It was in 1906 and it is now, and it’s foolish to suggest that blacks’ use of that term among themselves somehow changes that.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 25, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  39. “like so many social scientists”

    Really? From the mouth of a lawyer>

    Comment by Chris H. — February 25, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  40. Chris, we all acknowledge that political scientists always have something revelatory and profound to say, so what’s the harm in letting a lawyer diss a social scientist? Think of all the lawyer jokes he has to endure.

    Which reminds me. Did you hear the one about the lawyer who …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  41. I am working on a seminar essay about ethnoracial Mormonism and the “Greater Reconstruction” This is a really important piece to include in the historiography, along with Nate Oman, Sarah Barringer Gordon, Todd Kerstetter, Elliott West, Laurence Moore, Denise Buell (1st century Christian ethnoracial topics) and others.

    Comment by Mike Bennion — March 23, 2011 @ 11:33 am

  42. curious as to the use of “gay” in the second verse

    Comment by steve — April 26, 2012 @ 8:11 am

  43. Standard public meaning for 1905, steve: happy, happy-go-lucky, cheerful, with an added tinge of racism (this is minstrelsy, after all, where blacks were routinely parodied as happy-go-lucky fools performing for the amusement of whites). Absolutely no reason whatsoever to think there is any whiff of the modern usage referring to homosexuality attached to the word in this public, early 20th century venue.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 26, 2012 @ 8:23 am

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