"There was a nigger on a mule"
Three men on mules at a Tennessee livery stable c.1890
Creative Commons AttributionThree men on mules at a Tennessee livery stable c.1890 - Credit: David C. Foster

The contrast between this figure and the well-to-do man on the street-car again attests to the different social positions of African Americans in the North and South. Mules, the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, were essential to the rural southern economy. They were used for transport, ploughing and as beasts of burden, in which capacities they were deemed superior to horses. From 1931, however, they were increasingly replaced by tractors.


Faulkner was huge admirer of these humble animals. In The Reivers (1962), he remarked, "A mule is far too intelligent to break its heart for glory running around the rim of a mile-long saucer. In fact, I rate mules second only to rats in intelligence... [A mule] will work for you patiently for ten years for the chance to kick you once."