To impose supremacy over other beings is a human trait, we wish human beings could get rid of. Alligator hunting was one such event, which very profitable during 1800-1900s. But it was equally dangerous too. As a result, hunters often lost their arms and sometimes their lives while hunting, so they decided to use slave babies as bait. These black babies were stolen, caged and fed to alligators whole!
The Black Lives Matter movement is genuinely historic for all the right reasons- unless giving voice to people who were slaughtered, maimed and traded as objects for centuries seems like “asking for too many rights” to anyone. We all know the stories of racial discrimination faced by people of colour, even if in bits and pieces. In the US, it primarily started way back in 1619, when colonisers brought 20 African people to Fort Hampton, Virginia – to be slaves.
As part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, ships upon ships were packed with black people from Africa and brought to America, European countries and their colonies to be sold to the white people. The enslaved black folks who got sick on the way to be sold were thrown out of the ship and became shark food. The ones that survived were castrated, raped, dismembered, branded and separated from their families.
How Pickaninnies became a common practice
Words can’t even convey the terror Black people have faced throughout history. The cruelty faced by black people wasn’t just limited to adults. In that respect, the white colonisers ensured that every black person received equal and equitable inhuman treatment. They didn’t even spare the children.
Quite fittingly to European history, alligator skin was (and still is) used for making shoes, belts, bags etc., and was a very profitable business enterprise. But hunting alligators was a risky business. People would often lose their lives while trying to capture one.
So, white colonialists came up with a solution to hunting the alligators without risking their own lives- using black kids as the bait.
Between the 16th early 20th century, hunters used babies of African slaves to bait alligators to come out of the swamps. These ‘black bait babies’ were kidnapped from their homes and left at a swaps’ edge to attract the bloodthirsty alligators.
A Washington Times paper dated June 3, 1908, had a headline, “Baits Alligators with Pickaninnies”. “Pickaninnies” was a derogatory trope associated with black children. The article’s continuation was “Zoo Specimens Coaxed to Summer Quarters by Plump Little Africans.”
Given the damp weather and plush money banks, Florida had the highest number of alligators reportedly. And following suit, Florida also had the highest number of black babies used as bait for hunting the animal (you tell us which one is which!).
White people strongly believed (and some continue to do so apparently) that black people were savages, and their lives didn’t matter much. But really, who was the savage – the killer or the killed?
Evidence Predating the Jim Crow Era
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Michigan has evidence of alligator hunters kidnapping black infants, skinning them, and tying their neck to a string to be dropped into the swamp of hungry alligators.
To make matters worse, the hunters would pay the mothers $2 a hunt for their babies’ service. It was essentially saying that ‘We took your baby and used him as bait. He may be dead, but here’s $2 for his service.’
What we think is cruel or demonic now was not so cold back then amongst the white people. For them, it was a daily affair, and if a black child lost life, at least it was their “own property” that got damaged. So they considered it their “own loss”.
A Much Common practice Than One Would Think
Here’s an example of just how lightly and every day of a task was using black babies as bait. Motion Pictures made a song about black children being used as bait, effectively celebrating the horrendous act of murder. Henry Wise and Sidney Perrin composed a whole lullaby based on black bait babies. This lullaby was named “Mammy’s Little Alligator Bai“.
To boost its tourism industry, Florida used black bait babies’ images and even sold souvenirs, posters, and postcards. The level of inhumanity and lack of any moral fibre clearly lacked in that era.
Commercialising the Killing of Black Babies
It didn’t just end there. ‘Black Liquorice‘ drops were widely sold as candies back in the day. And their box used a picture of a black bait baby being chased by an alligator. It even had the words “dainty morse” written on it.
While this murderous spree fanned by white superiority eventually ended, it took way longer for white folks to realise the inhumanity behind the act. We, as a society, do not share the ideologies of our ancestors. Or at least the majority of us don’t. There are still many racist people out there.
Change Has Been So Slow
But to amend such horrible history of Florida, Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida, banned its famous “Gator Bai” cheer. Although many people deny black babies ever being used as baits, there is hard evidence to prove that such things happened, and it is not just a story or a hoax.
And with the incidences we witnessed in 2020, we know that racial relations in the US and worldwide have not improved enough for society to become truly equal for all.