The truth about the negro, as an experimentally exhibited, poked and prodded living object, in history, has been largely forgotten. Before the advent of photography and the industrialisation of book printing, people largely learned by seeing the objects that were being talked about. This was especially true for anything related to medicine, psychiatry and zoology. It was particularly true as the investigation into race, began to gain prominence.
Few realise though that after emancipation, some curiously formed negroes were put on exhibition by their former slave masters, who became so called managers. These negroes had no choice. Without anyway of earning a living, former slaves with deformities or sensational mixed blood outcomes, often turned their bodies into freak show exhibits for money. It goes without saying that the managers made the fortunes. Negroes received very little from these ventures, and were mistreated in the most appalling ways.
Questions of race and levels of intelligence soon became hotly debated topics of science, in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Even as well recognised negroes like Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, and countless others across the globe, were making great advances in all fields of academic and social achievement, they were still seen as the outliers, in a definitively decided, generalised way of thinking, directed towards the African race.
1866 – SLAVEOWNER TURNED MANAGER EXHIBITING HER FORMER SLAVES FOURTEEN YEAR OLD CONJOINED NEGROES
Two negro children are now on exhibition at Raleigh, North Carolina, that excite much curiosity. They are fourteen years of age, and were born of slave parents, in Anson County. The Standard speaks of them as follows: “The connection between these two girls is closer than the Siamese twins, there being more of the physical and mental organs common to each. The connection begins below the neck and terminates at the extremity of the spine. To touch one at any point of her body below the connection sends a sensation to the brain of each; while a touch of either above the connection is felt by that only.
They can talk to different persons at the same time on entirely different subjects; and can engage in a game of whist while the other reads or sings.
The lady who has them in charge was the former owner and mistress; and is now commencing a tour with them under a contract with their parents, who are both living.
(Nashville Union, 24 March 1866)
1855 – FREAKS OF NATURE
Two Negro children are on exhibition in Montréal, who exhibit the extraordinary anomaly of being in inseparably united by the junction of the lower parts of the backbone. They are placed back to back so that in walking one moves forward and the other backward, which is performed with great ease.
(Detroit Free Press, Tuesday, 19 June 1855)
1843 – TWO WHITE NEGRO CHILDREN FOR EXHIBITION
THE GREATEST NOVELTY YET – The manager of Peele’s Museum advertises to white negro children for exhibition. Now we always knew that white niggers were to be found in abundance the world over, but we were rather sceptical as to real Africans being white, but our doubts all vanished on seeing those two, with their flat noses, thick lips, wolly hair, and every other indication of pure African blood.
In conjunction with them, Madam Adolphus, the fortuneteller, and the company of superior performers are engaged.
(New York Daily Herald, 13 December, 1843)
1869 – NEGRO BABIES TO BE EXHIBITED
An exhibition of negro babies will be given sometime in July. There will then be a great kissing time. —– N. Y. Express
Come on, brothers, and enjoy it! – Boston Traveller.
(The Burlington Free Press, 3rd July, 1869)
1860 – 600 Pound Negro Woman on Exhibition Dies
Betsey Fredenberg, a fat negro woman, on exhibition at Rochester, America, died suddenly the other day. She weighed 600 pounds or not less than 42 stone.
(The Cheshire Observer and General Advertiser, England, November 10, 1860)
1858 – TWO HEADED NEGRO
BIG STORY – And exchange states that a living negro child is on exhibition at Mobile, having two heads, four arms and four legs. It adds that the child is six years old, is very intelligent, speaks with both heads, waltzes and keeps time.
Shakespeare anticipated him long ago. “Four legs and two voices a most delicate monster!”
(Wisconsin State Journal, Monday 18 January 1858)
AN EXAMPLE FROM 1791
In the British newspapers of 1791, the notice of two runaway slaves, from Maryland, in the new Americas, were being highlighted. They were considered to be fine examples of ‘human curiosities.’
Human curiosities —
In a late Maryland advertisement, offering a reward of five pounds for the apprehension of two male slaves, they are thus described: “A plate-complexioned mulatto man slave, five feet eight or nine inches high, with grey eyes, bright yellow spots on his skin, and red hair, which curls in his neck; he is about 32 years of age, and a fine figure.
Also, a light yellow Negro man, with the red eyes, and whitish curly hair.
Query — If those two human beings were to escape to this country, would they not make a valuable addition to any of our public exhibitions?
(The Chester Chronicle, England, Friday, 01 July 1791)
1810 – SAARTJIE BAARTMAN – THE HOTTENTOT VENUS
Arguably, the most famous negro to be exhibited, poked and prodded while naked on stage, was the Hottentot Venus.
Saartje Bartman was taken from South Africa and exhibited in September 1810.
“After Baartman’s death, Geoffroy Saint Hilaire applied on behalf of the Muséum d’ Histoire Naturelle to retain her corpse on the grounds that it was of singular specimen of humanity and therefore of special scientific interest. The application was approved and Baartman’s skeleton and body cast were displayed in Muséum d’histoire naturelle d’Angers. Her skull was stolen in 1827 but returned a few months later.
NELSON MANDELA BECOMES SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT IN 1994
After the victory of the African National Congress in the South African general election, 1994, President Nelson Mandela formally requested that France return the remains. After much legal wrangling and debates in the French National Assembly, France acceded to the request on 6 March 2002. Her remains were repatriated to her homeland, the Gamtoos Valley, on 6 May 2002, and they were buried on 9 August 2002 on Vergaderingskop, a hill in the town of Hankey over 200 years after her birth.”
1843 … AND A YELLOW NEGRO FROM THE BAHAMA ISLANDS IN THE COSTUME OF A CHIEF OF HIS COUNTRY, IRELAND
Dr. Evory Kennedy in 1843, was an obstetric physician in Dublin, Ireland. In later life he made a unsuccessful bid for elected office and lost. How Dr. Kennedy came to exhibit a collection of negroes at the Zoological Society of Ireland in 1843 is unknown.
“Dr Kennedy then came forward, and was received with loud applause. He commenced by describing the adaptation of the vital functions, and the peculiarities in the structure and habits of organised bodies to the variation of climate, and the action of the elements, and afterwards proceeded to point the distinctive marks of the five great varieties of the human family – the Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay.
This portion of the lecture was rendered highly interesting by the introduction for the audience of a Hindu, and African negro, two Albino women, and the yellow negro from the Bahama islands, in the costume of a chief of his country.
Dr Kennedy afterwards explained the structure of hair and wool, and the relative qualities of the various substances used for clothing, and produced an ancient Irish cloak, discovered in a bog in the county of Sligo, where it must have lain for centuries without having been materially injured in its texture.
Someone remarks on the effects of electricity on animal life terminated the discourse, which was exemplified throughout by numerous instructive and amusing anecdotes and facts. The learned lecturer spoke for two hours and concluded amidst loud and general applause.”
(The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin Ireland, Saturday 25 February 1843)
DR EVORY KENNEDY