Night Riders in Black Folk History

By Gladys-Marie Fry

Night Riders in Black Folk History

272 pp., 6 x 9, 10 illus., appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4963-7
    Published: March 2001

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During and after the days of slavery in the United States, one way in which slaveowners, overseers, and other whites sought to control the black population was to encourage and exploit a fear of the supernatural. By planting rumors of evil spirits, haunted places, body-snatchers, and "night doctors"--even by masquerading as ghosts themselves--they discouraged the unauthorized movement of blacks, particularly at night, by making them afraid of meeting otherworldly beings. Blacks out after dark also risked encounters with "patterollers" (mounted surveillance patrols) or, following the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan. Whatever their guise, all of these "night riders" had one purpose: to manipulate blacks through terror and intimidation.

First published in 1975, this book explores the gruesome figure of the night rider in black folk history. Gladys-Marie Fry skillfully draws on oral history sources to show that, quite apart from its veracity, such lore became an important facet of the lived experience of blacks in America. This classic work continues to be a rich source for students and teachers of folklore, African American history, and slavery and postemancipation studies.

About the Author

Gladys-Marie Fry is Professor Emerita of Folklore and English at the University of Maryland at College Park. Her other books include Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilting in the Antebellum South.
For more information about Gladys-Marie Fry, visit the Author Page.


"Fry has made a valuable contribution to the story of the black experience in America. Night Riders in Black Folk History should win many general readers as well as be of use to the historian and student of folklore."--History

"An extremely fascinating original study of the uses of oral traditions in black folk history."--Choice

"Night Riders in Black Folk History displays the richness of oral tradition research in the hands of a skilled folklorist."--South Atlantic Quarterly

"A profoundly moving account, told in the words of those who experienced it and those who heard it from the ones who were there, analyzed and interpreted by a Black woman folklorist and scholar."--Black Books Bulletin