Today I had an e-mail exchange with my sister and she reminded me about the Ota Benga story.
In case you don’t know your history, Ota Benga was a human being who was put on display in the Bronx Zoo in 1906. ( New York. Not Alabama or Mississippi; New York!) It was sick and disgusting, and it defies belief that people could actually act that way towards another human being.
It is an uncomfortable part of our history, but it is one that needs to be told.
Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia.
The field Negro education series continues.
“O”ta Benga (c. 1883 – March 20, 1916) was a Congolese man, a Mbuti pygmy known for being featured in an anthropology exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, and in a human zoo exhibit in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo. Benga had been purchased from African slave traders by the explorer Samuel Phillips Verner, a businessman hunting Africans for the Exposition. He traveled with Verner to the United States. At the Bronx Zoo, Benga had free run of the grounds before and after he was exhibited in the zoo’s Monkey House. Except for a brief visit with Verner to Africa after the close of the St. Louis Fair, Benga lived in the United States, mostly in Virginia, for the rest of his life.
Displays of non-white humans as examples of “earlier stages” of human evolution were common in the early 20th century, when racial theories were frequently intertwined with concepts from evolutionary biology. African-American newspapers around the nation published editorials strongly opposing Benga’s treatment. Dr. R. S. MacArthur, the spokesperson for a delegation of black churches, petitioned the New York City mayor for his release from the Bronx Zoo.
The mayor released Benga to the custody of Reverend James M. Gordon, who supervised the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn and made him a ward. That same year Gordon arranged for Benga to be cared for in Virginia, where he paid for him to acquire American clothes and to have his teeth capped, so the young man could be more readily accepted in local society. Benga was tutored in English and began to work. Several years later, the outbreak of World War I stopped ship passenger travel and prevented his returning to Africa. This, as well as the inhumane treatment he was subjected to for most of his life, caused Benga to fall into a depression. He committed suicide in 1916 at the age of 32.” [Source]
I need you to think about Ota Benga when folks start getting on their moral high horse and declare to all who will listen how we as Americans are superior to others.
*Pic from phillytrib.com