A Letter to Mr. John Strausbaugh, author of BLACK LIKE YOU.

Mr. Strausbaugh,

I have read your new book, Black Like You , and I am stunned.

As a scholar of Ohio history, I protest your cavalier libel of Dan Emmett, and Ben and Lew Snowden. You have NO PROOF of your contentions. Where is the evidence that Dan Emmett was taught to play the fiddle by an African-American? (102) You don't even attempt to footnote that. Where is your proof that Ben and Lew Snowden "claimed to have taught [Dan Emmett] the song [Dixie]?" (104)

It is incredible to me that you cite, as your source for this, a REVIEW of Howard and Judith Sacks' book, Way Up North in Dixie.... Not only do you not go to the Sacks' book, but you misrepresent the review!

As to your second source, cited in your very unorthodox endnotes, you cite John Leland in Hip: the History , who wrote that, in answer to Emmett's claim of authorship, the Snowdens "disputed this credit." (Leland, 29) THEY DID NOT.

It is telling that Leland--who also writes for the New York Times , also cites a review of the Sacks' book. (359, n29)

What is it with you writers for the Times ? Do you no longer go to sources, or are you so arrogant that you never bother to check facts--or think that someone might actually read endnotes?

Yours is the most egregious error, Mr. Strausbaugh. How in the world could you deduce from Norm Cohen's review that "Ben and Lew Snowden, who'd been Emmett's neighbors back in Ohio and who claimed to have taught him the song." (104)

If Howard Sacks had had that information, he would have shouted it to the heavens. This material ABOUT the Snowdens did not surface until both were conveniently dead. IT IS HEARSAY, told by others ABOUT the Snowdens, never by the brothers. I shudder to think what other errors are incorporated into your book.

You need to correct this if your book ever goes into a reprint. I also expect a statement about this error in the New York Times and in American Music . It wouldn't hurt to apologize to Norm Cohen, either.

Yours,
Lorle Porter, Ph.D., Professor Emerita

October, 2006

Politics & Peril  |  To the Editor, New York Times