John Henry said to his captain,
“A man ain't nothin' but a man,
And before I'd let your steam drill beat me down,
I'd die with the hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord!
I'd die with the hammer in my hand.”
hero of a widely sung U.S. black folk ballad. It describes his contest with a steam drill, in which John Henry crushed more rock than did the machine but died "with his hammer in his hand." Writers and artists see in John Henry a symbol of man's foredoomed struggle against the machine and of the black man's tragic battle with the white man.
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