Henry, John

Cultural Dictionary

Henry, John definition


A hero of American folktales and folk songs. The stories portray him as a black man, enormously strong, who worked on railroads or on steamboats and died from exhaustion after he outperformed a steam drill in a contest.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Encyclopedia Britannica
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henry, john

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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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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