Unit 7: Reconstruction & Post Reconstruction (1865 - 1935)

Class 3: Race & Popular Culture: The History of the Coon, Mammy, Pickaninny & Sambo

Video: Ten Little Niggers Nursery Rhyme, Book and Movie (1:23 min)


It is generally thought that this song was adapted, possibly by Frank J. Green in 1869, as "Ten Little Niggers", though it is possible that the influence was the other way round, with "Ten Little Niggers" being a close reflection of the text that became "Ten Little Indians". Either way, "Ten Little Niggers" became a standard of the blackface minstrel shows. It was sung by Christy's Minstrels and became widely known in Europe, where it was used by Agatha Christie in her novel of the same name. The novel was later retitled And Then There Were None (1939), and remains one of her most famous works, about ten killings on a remote island.

Variants of this song have been published widely as children's books; what the variants have in common is 'that they are about dark-skinned boys who are always children, never learning from experience'. For example, it had been published in Holland by 1913; in Denmark by 1922; in Iceland in 1922; and in Finland in the 1940s. The Bengali poem Haradhon er Dosti Chhele is also inspired from Ten Little Indians.
STUDY QUESTIONS (also in Study Guide)
What was your first reaction after hearing/reading the song/book?
Who is singing the nursery rhyme? Why is this important?
What happened to the "Ten Little Niggers"? Why were they subjected to so much violence?
Do you think this is a suitable children's nursery rhyme? Why or why not?​