[NOTE: This blog has had a boost in readership today... mainly because of people Googling phrases like “black people monkeys” and “comparison to monkeys blacks.”
[The Googlers were inspired, no doubt, by the controversial New York Post cartoon above, which seems to compare President Obama to a crazed chimpanzee.
[So... why would Googling “black people monkeys” lead folks to here? The reason is below: an edited version of a piece I posted in October 2007... about the history of comparing black people to monkeys.]
I recently discovered an old text online – “The Negro: What Is His Ethnological Status?” It was published in 1867 under the pseudonym “Ariel.” In fact, the author was a Southern clergyman, the Rev. Buckner H. Payne of Nashville, Tennessee.
Rev. Payne argued that Negroes weren’t descended from Adam and Eve.
“... Adam and Eve being white, ... they could never be the father or mother of the kinky-headed, low forehead, flat nose, thick lip and black-skinned negro...”
The minister continued: “[I]t follows, beyond all the reasonings of men on earth to controvert, that [the negro] was created before Adam, that, like all beasts and cattle, they have no souls.”
Rev. Payne then broke it down scientifically: “[W]e take up the monkey, and trace him ... through his upward and advancing orders – baboon, ourang-outang and gorilla, up to the negro, another noble animal, the noblest of the beast creation.
“The difference between these higher orders of the monkey and the negro is very slight, and consists mainly in this one thing: the negro can utter sounds that can be imitated; hence he could talk with Adam and Eve, for they could imitate his sounds.”
(You can download the full 48-page text of Buckner Payne’s “The Negro” as a PDF file, courtesy of Google, by following this link.)
To me, it’s no coincidence that this description of blacks as non-human was published in 1867 – after the South lost the Civil War. Southern whites didn’t have to bother defining Negroes as animals while they were enslaved. But once the Negro was free – and politically empowered during Reconstruction – that’s when the defeated white Southerner felt the need (psychologically, not just politically) to put forth this ugly idea.
And guess what? When white Southerners reclaimed their political dominance and disenfranchised black people, the monkey thing stuck.
In 1900, Charles Carroll published a book advancing Buckner Payne’s notion. “The Negro a Beast” cites the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts.”
Carroll wrote: “[I]t becomes plain that the dog, the swine and the negro all belong to one kind of flesh – the flesh of beasts.”
He argued further that the “red, yellow and brown” races resulted from the “amalgamation” of whites and blacks. Therefore, all those non-whites aren’t human either. To argue otherwise, according to Carroll, was a blasphemy equal to Darwin’s theory of evolution:
“This modern church theory that the negro and the mixed-bloods are included in the Plan of Salvation is another result of putting man and the ape in the same family.”
(Charles Carroll wasn’t a clergyman, but there are many references to him as “Professor.” I haven’t been able to find out where he was a professor, or what his field of scholarship was.)
Carroll’s book was sold door-to-door across the South and was “enormously influential,” according to Jane Dailey, a Johns Hopkins University historian. In a 2004 essay, Prof. Dailey quotes an earlier historian:
“During the opening years of the twentieth century [‘The Negro a Beast’] has become the Scripture of tens of thousands of poor whites, and its doctrine is maintained with an appalling stubbornness and persistence.”
To give you a sense of the impact of “The Negro a Beast,” I dug up a reference to it by Bill Arp, a newspaper columnist who was hugely popular in the South. The following appeared in Arp’s column in the Atlanta Constitution on May 18, 1902:
“I have just received a pleasant letter from a North Carolina friend asking me what I think of Carroll’s book, ‘The Negro a Beast,’ and he asks, ‘Do you believe the nigger is a beast?’ I answered at the bottom of his letter, ‘Which nigger?’ ”
UPDATE (02/19/09): It turns out that CNN’s Kyra Phillips quoted from my blog post, even though she didn’t credit me. (Note the phrase “breaks it down scientifically.”)
Open Thread: Where Do We Go From Here?
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