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The Coon Caricature: Coons as Alligator Bait
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The Coon Caricature: Coons as Alligator Bait
 
1897 Print: "Alligator Bait"
1897 Print: Alligator Bait (2 views)
Postcard: Alligator Preparing For Lunch
Postcard: Alligator Preparing For Lunch
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. And the imagery appeared on nationally marketed items, like the piece of sheet music shown here.
Sheet Music: Mammy's Little Alligator Bait (1899)
Sheet Music: Mammy's Little Alligator Bait (1899)
1914 Postcard: Alligator Bait
1914 Postcard: Alligator Bait
Florida Self-Marketing
Florida Postcard
Florida Postcard: Alligator Bait
Florida Postcard
Florida Postcard: Alligator Bait
Florida Postcard
Florida Postcard: Alligator Bait

Florida Postcard
Florida Postcard: Free Lunch in the Florida Everglades; The champion negro hater

Florida Postcard
Florida Postcard: Drop In! A Hearty Welcome Awaits You
Florida Postcard: Come on Down, I'se Waiting For You in Florida
Florida Postcard: Come on Down, I'se Waiting For You in Florida
Florida Postcard: Honey Come Down, We'se Waiting For You in Florida
Florida Postcard: Honey Come Down, We'se Waiting For You in Florida
Florida Postcard: You All Come Down, Honey, I'se Here in St. Petersburg Florida
Florida Postcard: You All Come Down, Honey, I'se Here in St. Petersburg Florida
Florida Postcard: A Darkey's Prayer, Florida
Florida Postcard: A Darkey's Prayer, Florida
Saint Petersburg Alligator Farm Fan (2 views)
Saint Petersburg Alligator Farm Fan (2 views)
 
Little African Licorice
Little African Licorice
1902 Stainilgo Stain Removal advertisement
1902 Ad for Stainilgo Stain Removal
The anti-Black alligator theme also was used on several products, including Little African licorice, and a 1902 product called Stainilgo Stain removal. Clearly, one of the products lifted the imagery from the other. There is a slight variation in the metaphor being used, however. In the candy product image, the black child is a metaphor for the consumption of Black licorice drops, and is called "a dainty morsel." In the latter, the Black child is akin to a stain that needs to be removed.

The alligator imagery took on three-dimensional form through figurines and household utility items such as the pencil holder shown here (in which top of the pencil is shaped as the head of a Black child), and bottle openers
Alligator with Black baby in its mouth
Alligator with Black baby in its mouth
Alligator Biting Black Boy Figurine
Alligator Biting Black Boy Figurine
Alligator Pencil Holder, with Black baby in its mouth
Alligator Pencil Holder, with Black baby in its mouth (2 views)
Bottle Opener
Bottle Opener (2 views)
Amos, by Sybil Malmberg (1957)
Amos, by Sybil Malmberg (1957)
In 1957, Sybil Malmberg wrote Amos, a story about two black children who are befriended by a crocodile. The book appears to be an attempt to rectify past injustices done to blacks in children's literature. Nevertheless, it still reflects the stereotypes of the day, including the author's choice of fried chicken in the children's picnic lunch, and a description of the children's mother as "his nice, fat mammy". Amos himself is described as a "lazy, happy, chocolate-brown little sweet boy," and the Black children have "little rosebud mouths." The children still speak in stereotypical dialect, such as, "I'se glad we's in the water." Then, while on a picnic, Amos and his friend Buttercup are approached by a crocodile who wants to be friends. Buttercup is afraid, but Amos is trusting. Given the alligator imagery presented here, this scene becomes very tension-filled. As the children hop on the crocodile's back, Snip-Snip tells them she will take the children to her secret cave. The reader wonders if the creature's overtures are sincere.
The anti-black Alligator imagery has not completely disappeared. In 2000, a company called Fun-Damental Tools produced a series of talking animal cookie jars. When the head is tilted back, each of them says something like, "get your hand out of my cookie jar." One of the animals in the series is an alligator. When his head is tilted back, the voice speaks in the old stereotypical dialect, "Mmm, mmm, those sho' is some tasty cookies!" Although the item does not explicitly show Blacks being eaten by alligators, given the history discussed here, the choice made to have the alligator speak in such a stereotypical way seems too coincidental.

Custo Barcelona is a Spanish company which produces clothing known for its eye-catching graphic designs. They have a significant American audience. Around 2008, they produced a woman's shirt using the old racist imagery discussed here. It was marketed and sold in the United States.
Albert The Alligator (2000)
sound Albert The Alligator Cookie Jar, 2000
Custo Barcelona Shirt, c.2008
Custo Barcelona Shirt, c.2008, manufactured in Spain, sold in the U.S. (3 views)
Additional Imagery
Victorian Trade Card: Merrick Thread
Victorian Trade Card: Merrick Thread
Postcard
Postcard
Postcard: "A Darkey's Prayer"
Postcard: A Darkey's Prayer
Postcard: Expecting a Bite
Postcard: Expecting a Bite
1905 Postcard: "To catch me drop a line"
1905 Postcard: To catch me drop a line
 
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Last modified July 20, 2012