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Re: The wood-pile

Posted by ESC on August 04, 2005

In Reply to: The wood-pile posted by Sylvia Butler on August 04, 2005

: I just found this website and find it fasinating.

: I was always told the phrase "Nigger in the wood-pile" meant that there was someone of Black ancestry had mixed in a white family but in was unspoken of as not to let anywone know, they wanted to keep it hidden, sometimes the phase is said if someone white has very very curly hair and or very full lips and tanned very dark.

I can see how someone might use it in that manner. In my reading, I came across the "saying" that "a drop of black blood brings out the beauty."

Here's what was posted previously:

NIGGER IN THE WOODPILE (OR FENCE) - "Some fact of considerable importance that is not disclosed; something suspicious or wrong; something rotten in Denmark. The sayings with 'fence' and 'woodpile' developed about the same time and about at the period 1840-50, when the 'Underground Railroad' was flourishing successfully. Evidence is slight, but because early uses of the expressions occurred in Northern states, it is presumable that they derived from actual instances of the surreptitious concealment of fugitive Negroes in their flight north through Ohio or Pennsylvania to Canada under piles of firewood or within hiding places in stone fences." From "Heavens to Betsy" (1955, Harper & Row) by Charles Earle Funk.

A second reference agrees with the time period when this expression "appeared." ".nigger in the woodpile, a catch or hitch in a situation, a flaw, dates from 1852." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

A third source, a novel, indicates that meaning has to do with a black person being killed and buried on a property:
"One time I told Will (that) Fox Run was a beautiful place. He said, 'Don't let it fool you. All these places got a nigger in the woodpile.' I wasn't sure what he meant, though.' He tilted his head inquisitively, waiting for me to speak, as if somehow we were old friends.
'So Vidrine repeated a racist remark that confirms what you already knew,' Helen said in her office an hour later, 'Maybe a convict was killed on the LeJeune plantation fifty years ago. Or maybe not. We didn't find a body, bwana.'..." From "Last Car to Elysian Fields" by James Lee Burke (2003 Simon & Schuster, New York), Page 262.