Untold numbers of African folktales were retold across plantations throughout the American South during the enslavement of Black Americans. Many of these stories were later brought to mainstream recognition by a white Atlanta journalist and author named Joel Chandler Harris. The 19th-century Queen Anne-style home in which he once lived is today not only Atlanta’s oldest house museum, but also a cultural center and event space called the Wren’s Nest.
The museum aims to preserve the tradition of African American folklore and celebrate oral literature in all its contemporary forms. Saturdays are perhaps the best days to stop in. Visitors can take guided tours of the historic home—still furnished with the Harris family’s original belongings—before attending a live, professional storytelling performance. These storytellers perform tales of their choice in a style that emphasizes their little-known historical origins.
With a natural grass amphitheater seating over 800, the Wren’s Nest also hosts events such as a summer concert series called Jazz Matters. In a nod to Harris’ December birthday, the museum holds an annual public holiday celebration involving self-guided tours, refreshments, and a fire pit.
In the late 1800s, Harris made his name by visiting plantations throughout the American South, transcribing the folktales he heard, and re-telling them through the perspective of a fictionalized narrator he named Uncle Remus. Harris released Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings in 1880, and with earnings from the book, purchased the Wren’s Nest (so named for a group of wrens he found in the mailbox one morning). He lived there from 1881 until his death in 1908. Despite their popularity at the time, many of the tales written by Harris fell out of favor during the 21st century due to racial stereotypes often associated with Uncle Remus and other characters, although, many of Harris’s stories and writings as a journalist addressed issues surrounding racial intolerance and inequality.
Thanks to financial support from Andrew Carnegie, President Theodore Roosevelt, and a fundraiser led by students from Atlanta Public Schools, the Wren’s Nest became a museum in 1913. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Through the Wren’s Nest Scribes Program, middle schoolers from KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools write stories for publication in a book, which is released every September for purchase at the Decatur Book Festival.