THE ONLY FETISH ART GALLERY IN AMERICA
"ALLIGATOR BAIT" THE WICKED SIDE OF AMERICAN HISTORY
A little known, but common variation on how the "coon" caricature
was depicted in popular culture was as bait and food for alligators.
Adults are sometimes the victims, but more often than not, it is the child-"coon",
the pickaninny that is the bait. These incredibly violent images were hung on walls,
plastered on postcards, and molded into household items. It's unclear where the stereotype originated.
Some of the primary sources about slavery do talk about the Southern swamps as a kind of
natural barrier to slaves running away. In Solomon Northup's autobiography, he tells the story of how,
after having physically assaulted a White man who was coming after him with an ax,
he had no choice but to flee into the swamp. He describes the hazards of navigating such terrain at night,
and his efforts at avoiding contact with snakes and alligators. Perhaps the image of the Black
being eaten by alligators originated from a Southern sense of justice about slaves running away.
This does not, however, explain the casual viciousness with which the image of Black children
as bait for alligators is bandied about. The state of Florida, for example, used the image for at least
a half century on various items designed, marketed, and sold as souvenirs, especially on postcards.
That a state would intentionally market itself to tourists with such a racist, violent theme is remarkable,
and is perhaps indicative of the level of racism prevalent in the deep South well into the 20th century.
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