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Caricatures of African Americans: The Pickaninny
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Description of the Pickaninny Caricature
Postcard: Whose Baby Is OO? (2 views)
Postcard: Whose Baby Is OO? (2 views)
The picaninny is an anti-Black caricature of children. They are "child coons,"(see coon caricature history) with the same physical characteristics. Pickaninnies have bulging eyes, big red lips, and they speak in a primitive, stereotypical dialect. They are often shown stuffing their wide mouths with watermelon or chicken, which they usually stole. They are unkempt, suggesting that their parents are neglectful. Very often they are shown nude, a level of sexualization that is particularly troubling due to their age. It is not uncommon to see images of Black girls pregnant, including one image from
Postcard: The Three Bares, a "Hearty" Hello
Postcard: The Three Bares, a "Hearty" Hello
Postcard: I'm a Real Brunette
Postcard: I'm a Real Brunette
License plate from the 1964 presidential campaign, "I Went All De Way Wif L.B.J."
License plate from the 1964 presidential campaign, "I Went All De Way Wif L.B.J."
Coal Ad: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Coal Ad: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Figurine: Early Bird Gets the Worm
Figurine: Early Bird Gets the Worm
the 1964 Presidential campaign mocking African American support for the Democratic Party's nominee, Lyndon B. Johnson, and his campaign slogan, "All the Way with L.B.J." Black boys are often shown to be in sexual pursuit of Black girls, and one particulalry disturbing theme involves the Black male's penis being compromised in some uncomfortable way, either by getting it caught in a tree, a fence, or having it bitten by an animal. Perhaps the idea was that immasculated boys won't grow up to become the Brute caricature.
Pickaninnies are often dehumanized to an extreme not seen with any other caricature. They are equated with animals. They are the targets of violence, such as in the 1900s postcard, "I Certainly Do Miss the Children," featuring a white man throwing baseballs at dolls in a carnival game called, "Hit the Nigger Babies." The irony, that a father would buy such a card ostensibly to express love to his own children was apparently lost on the White consumer. Black children are frequently shown on postcards and prints as bait for alligators, a depiction that an significant number of Whites found amusing,
Postcard: I Certainly Do Miss the Children
Postcard: I Certainly Do Miss the Children
Newpaper cartoon, 1924 World Series
Newpaper cartoon, 1924 World Series
Postcard: Just Two Coons
Postcard: Just Two Coons
Postcard: How Ink is Made
Postcard: How Ink is Made
Print: I Don't Want No White Milk, I Want My Bottle of Ink
Print: I Don't Want No White Milk, I Want My Bottle of Ink
Print: Nigger Milk, 1916
Print: Nigger Milk, 1916
given the number of these items in circulation. Other items depict Black children being run over by boulders, or eaten by bears and dogs.

A significant number of items make specific reference to the skin color of black children as being derived from ink, either from drinking ink directly, or from taking the residue from the bathtubs in which black children have bathed. One particulary offensive print, published in 1916, shows a softly caricatured Black child sitting on the floor, drinking from a bottle of ink. This image is contrasted by the simple, stark caption beneath, which reads, "Nigger Milk". The message of
Postcard: I've Scrubbed and Scubbed, But It Don't Seem to Come Off
Postcard: I've Scrubbed and Scubbed, But It Don't Seem to Come Off
Gold Dust Washing Powder
Gold Dust Washing Powder
Lux Soap Ad
Lux Soap Ad
Auntie May's Baby Soap
Auntie May's Baby Soap
these items was clear: Black children are not human. The notion that a child Blackness could be washed off, like an ink stain, is depicted on one 1920s postcard. It is perhaps no coincidence that the few commercial items to employ the pickaninny caricature in their advertising were mostly laundry soaps, including the famous Gold Dust twins, and advertisements for Lux detergent.
 
Topsy Lithograph, 1899
Topsy Lithograph, 1899
The first famous pickaninny was Topsy, a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1850). Like Tom, Topsy was intended to be a sympathetic character, one that would show the reader the evils of slavery. Topsy was a neglected slave girl who, wild, ignorant, and miserable, who had been corrupted by slavery. When asked if she knows who made her, she professes ignorance of both God and a mother, saying "I s'pect I growed. Don't think nobody never made me." Topsy's wildness is only tempered by the steady, Christian love of the angelic White child, Eva. Despite Stowe's noble intentions, Topsy soon became a common character in the minstrel shows of the era, where any sympatheic qualities were replaced by a happy, mirthful, mischevous persona. Topy's unkempt physical appearance and poor language skill became comic props. On stage, Topsy became a pickaninny, a child coon.
Trade card for Topsy Tobacco: "I is so wicked"
Trade card for Topsy Tobacco: "I is so wicked"
Little Black Sambo, 1931 ed.
Little Black Sambo, 1931 ed.
Little Black Sambo, 1931 ed.
Little Black Sambo, 1931 ed.
Little Black Sambo, 1934 ed.
Little Black Sambo, 1934 ed.
Little Black Sambo
One of the most famous, and controversial pickaninnies is Little Black Sambo, created by Helen Bannerman, the wife of a British Army surgeon. The Bannermans spent 30 years in India, and Helen regularly wrote illustrated letters with fantasy storylines to entertain their children. In 1898 she conceived of the story of a little beautifully clothed Black boy who saves his life by outwiting a succession of tigers and, in the end is rewarded wth a stack of tiger-striped pancakes. Little Black Sambo was published in England in 1899, and then in the United States the following year. Both versions were extremely successful, so much so that many imitators and knock-off artists published other versions. These new
versions had much more degrading imagery of black children, and often set the story in the Old South, or in the depths of darkest Africa. Little Black Sambo, with it's distorted imagery, coincided with the crystallization of Jim Crow laws in the United States. As Blacks were segregated, denied basic human rights, discriminated against economically, and lynched in public, Little Black Sambo thrived, just one more insult to Black Americans. An anti-Little Black Sambo movement started in the 1930s. Writer and poet Langston Hughes described the book as the "pickaninny variety...amusing undoubtedly to the white child, but like an unkind word to one who has known too many hurts to enjoy the additional pain of being laughed at." The book was dropped from many lists
Little Black Sambo 1935 ed.
Little Black Sambo 1935 ed.
Little Black Sambo 1935 cartoon poster
Little Black Sambo 1935 cartoon poster
Little Black Sambo 1935 cartoon still image
Little Black Sambo 1935 cartoon still image

movie View the cartoon
Little Black Sambo (1946)
sound Little Black Sambo (1946)
of "Recommended Books" by the 1950s, and after the social changes of the 1960s, was seen as a remnant of a racist past. But a backlash to the ongoing social trend of political correctness re-ignited the controvery in the 1990s. White readers today tend to defend the original intentions of Bannerman's book. Blacks find the book's title and the illustrations offensive. While Bannerman's book may be debatable, there is no debating the explicit racism in the knock-offs and reprints that older White Americans remember with sentimentalism.

Pore Lil Mose
The first comic strip to ever feature a Black character was the strip Pore Lil Mose, created by R.F. Outcault, more famouse for his Yellow Kid and Buster Browne strips. Mose was published in the Sunday color supplement of The New York Herald newspaper from December 1900 until August 1902.
More than 70 strips were published. The strip told the story of Mose and his animal friend--Billy Bear, the monkey, the Mouse Houn' and the cat, as they migrated from their home in Cottonville, GA to New York City at the turn of the 20th century. Mose was a pickaninny who was equated with the animal characters he paled aroud with. He even looked much like the monkey and bear. He spoke in stereotypical dialect, was blatantly ignorant, and was sometimes terrified of ghosts. | Jump to Pore Lil Mose Gallery |
Mose1 Mose2
 
Our Gang character Farina
Our Gang character Farina
Our Gang character Buckwheat
Our Gang character Buckwheat
Pickaninnies were among the very first of the coon types to appear in film, a result of the pioneering experiments of Thomas Edison in the late 19th century. One 1893 experiment was the short film of Black children which he called, "interesting side effects." In 1904, those side effects received top billing in his short film, Ten Pickaninnes, which showed a group of black children running around while title cards referred to them as snowballs, cherubs, coons, bad chillun, inky kids, smoky kids, black lambs, cute ebonies, and chubbie ebonies. This film was a forerunner to the famous Our Gang comedies of Hal Roach (sometimes called The Little Rascals). The Our Gang comedies began in the silent era and continued into the "talkie era, and included an interracial cast of children. Black characters included Sunshine Sammy, Pineapple, Farina. Later, the characters Stymie and Buckwheat were added. Farina
was perhaps the most famous pickaninny of the 1920s. Like the other Black characters, he spoke in a stereotypical dialect--dis am, dat am, I is, youse, and we is--and was sometimes shown savagely eating watermelon or chicken. Farina was also terrified of ghosts, a classic coon characteristic. Farina and Buckwheat were dressed like pickaninnies, in ragged clothes and kinky cornstalked hair. Buckwheat eventually became the most famous of the Our Gang characters, and his very name, perhaps because of Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live rendition of the character, has now replaced the term pickaninny.

Although pickaninny imagery has not completely disappeared, it is now mostly relegated to the
Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat, SNL
Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat, SNL
reproductions, imported items, and the realm of novelty items--a genre of culture with a relatively small consumer base, outside of mainstream popular culture. Nevertheless, some items continue to make it past every level of corporate management and onto the market, as shown by the 2009 release of a "Cuddle With Me" black doll, packaged with a monkey and wearing a hat that reads, "Lil Monkey". These dolls were sold at Costco stores and were pulled from the shelves after the chain received complaints from consumers.
Dixie Boy Firecrackers, 2000s
Dixie Boy Firecrackers with reproduced image, 2000s
Japanese Little Black Sambo Dolls
Japanese Little Black Sambo Dolls
2007 Novelty Item: Hoodie: Arrest Black Babies (2 views)
2007 Novelty Item: Hoodie: Arrest Black Babies (2 views)
Cuddle With Me Black Doll with Monkey & Hat that reads, "Lil' Monkey", 2009
Cuddle With Me Black Doll with Monkey & Hat that reads, "Lil' Monkey", 2009
 
Pore Lil Mose Gallery (1900-1902)
Pore Lil Mose at Central Park
Pore Lil Mose at Central Park
Pore Lil Mose Buys His Mammy a Hat
Pore Lil Mose Buys His Mammy a Hat
Pore Lil Mose Builds an Air Ship
Pore Lil Mose Builds an Air Ship
Pore Lil Mose Gets Mixed Up With a Painter
Pore Lil Mose Gets Mixed Up With a Painter
Pore Lil Mose, He Visits Baxter Street
Pore Lil Mose, He Visits Baxter Street
Pore Lil Mose on 7 Ages
Pore Lil Mose on 7 Ages
Pore Lil Mose Sends His Pa a Valentine
Pore Lil Mose Sends His Pa a Valentine
Pore Lil Mose Talks to Animals
Pore Lil Mose Talks to Animals
Pore Lil Mose: Ghost Story
Pore Lil Mose: Ghost Story
 
 
More Pickaninny Imagery
Black dolls, c.1890s
Black dolls, c.1890s
Victorian Trade Card for Merrick Thread, c.1890s
Victorian Trade Card for Merrick Thread, c.1890s
Victorian Trade Card for Ashepoo Phosphate Company
Victorian Trade Card for Ashepoo Phosphate Company, c.1890s
Victorian Trade Card (1 of 2): Who's Dar?
Victorian Trade Card (1 of 2): Who's Dar? (2 images), c.1890s
Postcard: I Am Sending You a Pair of Black Kids
Postcard: I Am Sending You a Pair of Black Kids
Print: Blackbirds
Print: Blackbirds
Engraving: A Butting Match
Engraving: A Butting Match
Print: Last One In's a Nigger
Print: Last One In's a Nigger
1892 Mother Goose Book, Ten Little Niggers
1892 Mother Goose Book, Ten Little Niggers (5 images)
Ten Little Nigger Boys Magic Lantern Slides (UK)
Ten Little Nigger Boys Magic Lantern Slides (UK), (5 views)
1900s Astrology Postcard
1900s Astrology Postcard
Postcard: Darkies' Serenade, Florida
Postcard: Darkies' Serenade, Florida
Postcard: Who's a Nigger?, 1901
Postcard: Who's a Nigger?, 1901
1903 Postcard: A Southern Pickaninny
Postcard: A Southern Pickaninny, 1903
Postcard: Can I Be Yo' Mascot?, 1905
Postcard: Can I Be Yo' Mascot?, 1905
1907 Postcard
1907 Postcard: "Sugar pie, why do you try to do like white people?"
"If we niggers don't try to do like white folks, who we gwine to do like?"
1909 Postcard: Chocolates
1909 Postcard: Chocolates
Postcard: Eight Little Pickaninnies Kneeling in a Row, c.1910
Postcard: Eight Little Pickaninnies Kneeling in a Row, c.1910
Postcard: Seven Little Pickaninnies, c.1910
Postcard: Seven Little Pickaninnies, c.1910
Postcard: Hunting in Dixieland [for lice]
Postcard: Hunting in Dixieland [for lice], c. 1920s
Hand Fan (reproduction)
Hand Fan (reproduction)
1928 Sheet Music: Ten Little Nigger Tunes (UK)
1928 Sheet Music: Ten Little Nigger Tunes (UK)
Advertisement for walnuts
Advertisement for walnuts, with caption, "our enlarged illustration at the left, containing a nigger baby, will give a very clear idea of the size...", 1929
1929 Book, Little Pickaninnies
1929 Book, Little Pickaninnies (8 views)
Stafford's Blacks, fruit crate label, c.1930s
Stafford's Blacks, fruit crate label, c.1930s
Coal Ad: Hot Dawg, 1930s
Coal Ad: Hot Dawg, 1930s
O'Baby Chocolate Drink Sign [using same imagery as left]
O'Baby Chocolate Drink Sign [using same imagery as left]
Postcard: God Made the Little Niggers (UK)
Postcard: God Made the Little Niggers (UK)
Label for Howdy's Honey, Ithaca, MI, c. 1930s
Label for Howdy's Honey, Ithaca, MI, c. 1930s
The Ten Little Nigger Boys Book (UK), 1930s
The Ten Little Nigger Boys Book (UK), 1930s
Korn Kinks Malted Cereal Souvenir Card: You smash dem kinks, I'll spoil you' face chile"
Korn Kinks Malted Cereal Souvenir Card: You smash dem kinks, I'll spoil you' face chile"
Postcard: A Rose Between Two Thorns
Postcard: A Rose Between Two Thorns
Postcard: Working Hard for the Family Dinner
Postcard: Working Hard for the Family Dinner
Postcard: Dis Mus Be Heaven
Postcard: Dis Mus Be Heaven
Postcard: I'm Letting My Hair Down Here
Postcard: I'm Letting My Hair Down Here
Postcard: My Tale is Told
Postcard: My Tale is Told
Spice Containers, c.1930s
Spice Containers, c.1930s
Comic Strip: The Little Nigs of Tiny Town (UK), 1931
Comic Strip: The Little Nigs of Tiny Town (UK), 1931
1932 Sheet Music: Twelve More Nigger Tunes (UK)
1932 Sheet Music: Twelve More Nigger Tunes (UK)
1940 Book: Ten Little Nigger Boys (UK)
1940 Book: Ten Little Nigger Boys (UK)
1940s Book: Ten Little Nigger Boys (UK)
1940s Book: Ten Little Nigger Boys (UK) (2 views)
1940s Nursery Rhyme Book with Ten Little Nigger Boys (UK)
1940s Nursery Rhyme Book with Ten Little Nigger Boys (UK) (5 views)
Ashtray of Pickaninny rolling dice
Ashtray of Pickaninny rolling dice
Christmas Card, 1940s
Christmas Card, 1940s
Bob's Yr Uncle card game, c. 1930s (3 views)
Bob's Yr Uncle card game, c. 1930s (3 views)
Figurine of Boy with Pot
Figurine of Boy with Pot
WWII rationing Postcard: I Ain't Worried About No Sugar, I'se Got My Sweets!
WWII rationing Postcard: I Ain't Worried About No Sugar, I'se Got My Sweets!
Postcard: Ah takes after mah pappy-an' mah pappy takes after ev'y gal he sees
Postcard: Ah takes after mah pappy-an' mah pappy takes after ev'y gal he sees
Postcard: Ah's 'bout as mad as ah can be
Postcard: Ah's 'bout as mad as ah can be
Postcard: Now don't yo' dawdle roun' here
Postcard: Now don't yo' dawdle roun' here
WWII Home Front Postcard: Air Raid and Blackout
WWII Home Front Postcard: Air Raid and Blackout
Postcard: Boy! How You Can Throw It!
Postcard: Boy! How You Can Throw It!
Postcard: I Can't Hold Back Any Longer
Postcard: I Can't Hold Back Any Longer
Postcard: If You Want a Nice Dark Tan, Come and Join Us For the Bathing!
Postcard: If You Want a Nice Dark Tan, Come and Join Us For the Bathing!
Postcard: I'll Be Barreling It Home Soon
Postcard: I'll Be Barreling It Home Soon
Postcard: Lawsy Me! What a Peculiar Little Boy
Postcard: Lawsy Me! What a Peculiar Little Boy
Postcard: Silly Goose! Don't Poke Your Nose In Other Folks Business
Postcard: Silly Goose! Don't Poke Your Nose In Other Folks Business
Postcard: Water Sports, The Fountain of Youth!
Postcard: Water Sports, The Fountain of Youth!
Postcard: When I aint eatin', or sleepin', or fishin', I luvs to reelax in dis posishun
Postcard: When I aint eatin', or sleepin', or fishin', I luvs to reelax in dis posishun
Get Well Card: Dis am a Black male!
Get Well Card: Dis am a Black male!
Magic Lantern Advertisement slide for the 1942 cartoon, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
Magic Lantern Advertisement slide for the 1942 cartoon, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
Diaper Dan Thermometer, 1949 (2 views)
Diaper Dan Thermometer, 1949 (2 views)
Postcard: You're Invited Here For The...Big Blow Out!
Postcard: You're Invited Here For The...Big Blow Out!, 1950
Topsy-Turvey Doll, New Orleans Souvenir, c. 1950s (3 views)
Topsy-Turvey Doll, New Orleans Souvenir, c. 1950s (3 views)
1954 Postcard: Before Everything Goes to Pot, You'll Be Hearing From Me
1954 Postcard: Before Everything Goes to Pot, You'll Be Hearing From Me
Wooden Figure
Wooden Figure
Black Doll
Black Doll
Coffee Cup
Coffee Cup
Pickaninny Mask Postcard, 1985 (2 views)
Pickaninny Mask Postcard, 1985 (2 views)
 
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Last modified July 20, 2012