Last year I saw this photograph in an exhibition at the Schomburg. I wondered why was this photo featuring black babies crying titled, "Alligator Bait?" I was a disturbed and confused. I thought it was a horrible title.
A few months later, I was reading the book Copper Sun by Sharon Draper with my 9th graders. Copper Sun is a wonderful novel for teens telling the story of a young girl from Ghana named Amari who was enslaved in America. Although the book is fictional, it is based on true events. Draper does a great job with her research. There is a very disturbing scene in the book describing an enslaved child being used as alligator bait. The slave master would take the four year old child out to a lake, tie a rope around his legs and put him in the water. The child couldn't swim, so he would kick and scream in hopes of not drowning. This action would attract the alligators. Hopefully, the child would be pulled in before the alligator eats him. The book described this as a normal activity done to enslaved children.
In all of my readings about slavery, I have never come across this type of sickening activity. It just seemed so far out there, that I wondered, how could this be true? I was compelled to research this. During my research I found that there was actually a film called Alligator Bait in 1900. Following is the description:
This is a decidedly unique and interesting picture. A little colored baby is tied to a post on a tropical shore. A huge 'gator comes out of the water, and is about to devour the little kid, when a hunter appears and shoots the reptile.
I tried to get my hands on this film but couldn't find it anywhere.
There was also another film in 1900 titled, "Gator and the Pickaninny."
Both films were produced by American Mutoscope and Biograph. The company is still around today. D.W. Griffith's Birth of A Nation was also produced by this company.
After researching further, I found these pictures online at http://www.authentichistory.com/
Following is an advertisement: 1902 Stainilgo Stain Removal advertisement
Following is a postcard made in 1911
c.1920s Little African Licorice (2 images below)
c.1960s Alligator with Black child Pencil Holder
c.1960s Postcard: "Free Lunch In The Florida Everglades"
"Have you met the Florida gator?
He is the champion negro hater.
Although he finds many things to eat
His favorite morsel is negro meat."
This is just one of sick horrors that are embedded in American History. When will we truly face our history and truly heal?