Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Attack of the GIANT NEGROES!!

Gather round, dear readers, and you will hear of a time when “giant negroes” roamed the earth. These giants committed shocking crimes. Newspapers from sea to shining sea documented their foul deeds.

Especially the New York Times.

The Times first acknowledged the existence of these fearsome creatures on August 5, 1897. The headline was “Insane Negro Giant in Newark.”

Over the next four decades, the New York Times provided all the news that was fit to print about “giant negroes.” Articles with headlines such as these:

“Giant Negro Attacks Police.” [Sept. 24, 1900]

“Negro Giant Guilty.” [July 28, 1905]

“Armed Negro Giant Goes Mad on Liner.” [May 15, 1916]

“Giant Negro Disables 4 Policemen in Fight.” [June 12, 1927]

“Posse in Gun Battle Ends Giant Negro’s Reign of Terror...” [March 6, 1932]

And it wasn’t just the New York Times. Rampaging black giants were a nationwide phenomenon. Naturally, headline-writers at major newspapers were all over this:

“Officer Is Hurt By Giant Negro.” [Atlanta Constitution, April 2, 1906]

“Giant Negro, a Walking Arsenal, Believed He Was To Be Burned Alive.” [Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1908]

“Giant Negro, Trapped, Seizes and Throws Officer.” [Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1911]

“Wife of Hotel Proprietor and a Giant Negro Sought.” [Chicago Tribune, January 23, 1916]

“Giant Negro Gambler Flees After Shooting Two on Windsor Street.” [Hartford Courant, December 11, 1922]

And who could forget this all-time classic:

“Capture Giant Negro Moron at Gary...” [Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1926]

The Washington Post, for some reason, avoided the term “Giant Negro” in its headlines. But not in its news copy. For decades, the Post, too, alerted its readership to the violent doings of gigantic black men.

On October 10, 1902, the Post reported on a preacher who went berserk after a revival meeting. “For ten hours..., Rev. Lewis Roy, a giant negro, of Little Washington, Rappahannock Country, Va., terrorized the whole southern section of the county, and had a posse of armed men searching for him.”

On September 6, 1909, it was the tale of William Stockett – “the giant negro who attempted suicide Friday night by shooting himself in the head, but subsequently attacked the physicians, attendants, and nurses on two occasions and freed himself from a strait-jacket...”

This report, published on April 10, 1912, was datelined Louisville, Ky.: “Cooped up in a room with a giant negro, two policemen battled for their lives here tonight, and when the negro finally fell dead with five bullets in his body both officers were covered with blood and nearly prostrated.”

On December 31, 1928, the Post ran an Associated Press account of a cop-killer in New Jersey. “David Ware, giant negro, was arrested tonight for the slaying of State Trooper Peter Gladyes, while one of the most extensive man hunts in which aircraft, bloodhounds and troops participated, was in progress.”

As late as December 17, 1944, there was the story of a young “Government girl” who fended off a street robber. “Suffering from a possible skull fracture as the result of the attack, Miss Gladys Lavender, 17, a Navy Yard clerk, told police ‘a giant negro’ attempted to snatch her purse....”

(I apologize if some of you will have trouble sleeping tonight.)

I am fascinated by all these giant Negroes. But I want to focus on the New York Times coverage, for several reasons.

First, based on my electronic searches through six newspaper databases, the New York Times used the phrase “giant negro” more than all the others.

Second, publisher Adolph S. Ochs – the man who transformed the Times into a world-class news organization – disdained the sensationalistic tone of the more successful New York papers (owned by Pulitzer and Hearst) during the heyday of “yellow journalism.” Upon taking over the Times in 1896, Ochs promised “to conduct a high-standard newspaper, clean, dignified and trustworthy.”

Clean. Dignified. Trustworthy. Like this report from New Orleans, published on September 24, 1900:

“A terrific fight occurred this morning between the police and a crazy negro whom they were attempting to arrest. A negro of gigantic build named Edward Gurley, laboring under the hallucination that he had been called to heaven, cut the throat of his nephew, Oscar Montgomery, in order that he might take him along with him.”

(Gurley was killed after he attacked two police officers “with savage ferocity.”)

The third reason I’m concentrating on the New York Times is because of an irony. Adolph Ochs also happened to have a leadership role in the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. According to the ADL’s website:

“Early on, ADL took significant steps to eradicate the negative images of Jews in print.... The League was still in its infancy when Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The New York Times and an ADL executive committee member, wrote a memo to newspaper editors nationwide discouraging the use of ‘objectionable and vulgar’ references to Jews in the media. ... By 1920, the practice had virtually stopped.”

Yet here’s how the Times described armed robber David Mitchell on September 27, 1927 (in “Chain Store Thugs Trapped At Last; ‘Black and White’ Team, Giant Negro and White Youth, Staged 100 to 200 Hold-Ups”):

“Tall, stocky, powerfully built and with a huge chest and arms, he impressed every one who saw him as thoroughly ‘hardboiled’ yet primitive.”

(Not sure what “primitive” means. Perhaps he went around barefoot, wearing animal skins.)

Upon discovering the NYT’s long-lost tales of giant Negroes, the first thing I wondered was... just how gigantic were they actually? Alas, the suspects’ height and weight were not always reported in these stories.

But in “Giant Negro in Prison,” published on June 21, 1903, we get this: “ ‘Big’ Scott, alias Charles Scott... who for years has terrorized negroes, was arrested Friday night by Detective Boyle of the West Thirty-seventh Street Station as a suspicious person. Scott is a negro and stands 6 feet 4 inches.”

Then there was Livingstone Drummond, the focus of a 1922 Times article (“Seize Giant Negro, Hide Him for Safety”). Arrested for “highway robbery, atrocious assault and attempted murder,” Drummond also measured 6-foot-4. He weighed 215 pounds.

Six-foot-4. That’s big. But giant big?

Apparently the definition had grown looser since this 1897 story (“Insane Negro Giant in Newark”): “Lemuel Footz, a giant negro, went insane to-day, and after attempting to kill his wife roamed the streets for half an hour clad only in an undergarment. He was finally captured, and committed for an examination. ... Footz is nearly seven feet tall.”

Now that’s a giant Negro.

In the coming days, I will share more stories of giant Negroes from the pages of the New York Times (and elsewhere). And I’ll tell you right now, not all “giant negroes” were bad.

UPDATE (07/11/07): This post was picked up today by Racialicious, Carmen Van Kerckhove’s cooltastic pop-cult blog.

I want to share part of a comment by Racialicious reader “Stef,” a self-identified “little white girl” (5-foot-4) married to a bona fide giant Negro (6-foot-4):

“I think his size totally plays into people’s perceptions of him. People are always marveling over how calm and laid-back he is. This is true, but would it stand out to people as much if he were a smaller guy? It’s like they expected him to be aggressive or something, and it seems like this expectation is linked to his size. Then, once people get to know him, they often remark that he is a ‘teddy bear’ (read: he’s a big guy, but, hey! he’s actually pretty nice!).”


Anonymous said...

David: why do you think that there is anything ironic about the role of Adolph Ochs in reporting these tales of giant negros?

If we learned anything from the last century it's that suffering doesn't improve individuals or groups in the slightest; it just makes them more determined to avoid it in the future, even at the cost of deflecting any potential hostility and harm from themselves and onto some other group of suitable scapegoats (a role that African-Americans fill deliciously well). That's why, when you recently noted the offensive (and quite needless) black stereotypes in the Betty Boop cartoons I didn't think it worthwhile raising the 'irony' of a man with Max Fleischer's (sp.?) background being responsible for them.

I'm a conservative because I take the view that, left to themselves, and without the discipline of institutions, customs and traditions, human beings really aren't much good at all, and will behave just like Ochs (or Fleischer).

The story about the giant negro and the hotelier's wife looked intriguing.


Undercover Black Man said...

Victor: I appreciate your commentary, as always. I must say, it's not Ochs's Jewishness, in and of itself, that's the irony... but the ADL angle. An anti-bigotry organization.

But I can't find fault with your hostility-deflection hypothesis.

And yeah, the hotelier's way... I'll tell more about that. The two intriguing motifs of the giant Negro stories were: 1) Giant Negroes who would throw cops around like rag dolls; and 2) Giant Negroes who abducted or molested or menaced white women.

Eric said...

I think Giant Negro would have made a fine sidekick for Black Goliath.

Anonymous said...

That is kuhrazeeee and so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

I wish we could see pictures to see how close and/or far off they were with calling people "giants."

Man, how would they have described old boy in The Green Mile movie then!? Super Negro?

Anonymous said...

Yeah: when I left for college from Inglewood, CA to live in Santa Barbara, CA, apparently my size increased at least by 40%.

People used to get out of my way and apologize at the sight of me. "Sorry, dude!" I know many of you think I am kidding or there is some fundamental flaw with regard to my perception. But the Undercover Black Man knows the truth!

Undercover Black Man said...

"... apparently my size increased at least by 40%."

Hilarious, Bryan! (Unless you lived it.)

Anonymous said...

I like how the denizens of the "Dexter Lake Club" in Animal house were named:

Mean Dude
Meaner Dude
Meanest Dude
Gigantic Dude

Anonymous said...

[Clean. Dignified. Trustworthy. Like this report from New Orleans, published on September 24, 1900:

“A terrific fight occurred this morning between the police and a crazy negro whom they were attempting to arrest. A negro of gigantic build named Edward Gurley, laboring under the hallucination that he had been called to heaven, cut the throat of his nephew, Oscar Montgomery, in order that he might take him along with him.”]

To be fair, that's pretty nutty behavior (if true).

Also, are we sure that there were any Giant Negroes at all? What if it were a renegade faction of Bigfeet out to besmirch the reputation of the African race?

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely mind-boggling. In your research, UBM, have you found a source or beginning of this madness? And have you determined when and why this sensationalism stopped? Perhaps, when the giant Negroes became extinct?

It's interesting, though, because we're told that most humankind has increased in size, but apparently not the American Black male species.

But talk about creating fear!


field negro said...

Great post! As a giant Negro myself who happens to toil in the fields, I think I play out that role everyday.

Now if I can just stay on the right side of the law ;)

Adam said...

Wow. This is just remarkable reporting. Were these Negroes like Apache Chief of the Super Friends, or were they always large?

Anonymous said...

I once perused some 100-year old NY Times articles. It's fun.
Somewhere down the line, Giant Negroes became a highly valued commodity and were often traded at high prices in the NBA and NFL.

Hahaha. That's how people of the future will see things when they quickly flip through our newspapers.

Edshugeo The GodMoor said...

If not for video, the Rodney King arrest might've been sold as a Giant Negro encounter ("requiring the efforts of 23 officers of the law").

Undercover Black Man said...

Now you're hitting on a nerve, Edshugeo. Some of those old "giant negroes" sure enough ended up with multiple gunshot wounds.

Rodney King definitely crossed my mind as well. Some of the old motifs apply... superhuman strength...

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Black Goliath. That's a blast from the past.

Hilarious post.

Anonymous said...

Hello UBM:

I’m not sure I buy the “hostility deflection” argument. Rarely are human motives so logical and premeditated. Didn’t Hobbes say one of the defining characteristics of man’s nature is diffidence? Most people fear and distrust those who are not like them; people feel more at ease and safer in homogenous environments. It’s one of those devilish little facts that undermine the cause of multiculturalism. Isn’t it more likely that Ochs (or Jews in the aggregate) simply hold the same prejudices against blacks that gentile whites do? The same way blacks level the same libels against Jews that gentiles have for two millennia? Did you find it ironic when Jesse Jackson referred to Jews as “hymies” and New York as “Hymietown,” or when he made a dozen other remarks that can be characterized as anti-Semitic? (See “Don’t ask, don’t tell” by Jake Tapper on Salon.com, Aug. 17, 2000 for a few highlights.) Was there anything ironic about Al Sharpton’s role in fomenting a riot in Crown Heights and referring to its Jewish residents as “diamond merchants”? What about his rabble rousing at Freddy’s Fashion Mart and his campaign against its Jewish owner. And, do we even need to touch upon Louis Farrakhan?

I doubt that Ochs saw any inconsistency between his efforts with the ADL and his paper’s promotion of black males as savages. Like most whites of the era, he probably believed blacks were primitive, violent, and hypersexual, and feared them for this reason. To me, it makes perfect (albeit maddening) sense that a victim of prejudice could engage in stereotyping, as well as virulent racism and misogyny, without even a twinge of guilty conscience. (“The stereotypes about us aren’t true—that’s the difference!”) Such is the nature of man. (Please, UBM, if you have not done so, take a gander at tiredblackman.com. All I can say is, God help us.)

Curious Bystander

Undercover Black Man said...

Adam wrote: "Were these Negroes like Apache Chief of the Super Friends, or were they always large?"

Well, my next post includes reference to an arrested "giant negro" whose height was first given as 6-foot-4, then, days later, listed as 6-foot-2.

Obviously, you're right, they did have the power expand in size.

Muze said...

man this is crazy. i can just imagine all the scared white families locking their doors and windows tight in fear of the giant negro. now they pay 100 dollars for a ticket to see them play ball. ha. i love my giant negro.

Anonymous said...

It always amazes me that I can still be shocked by some things from our past. Giant Negroes? It's almost too funny to be offended by...yeah, this was pretty funny!

Anonymous said...

It's really really ironic that Curious Bystander is chiding you for your inability to define Jewish people from back then as part of one homogenous group of caucasians who all felt the same way about Negroes, giant or otherwise and excuse them by so doing. Citing that being a victim of discrimination yourself you'd understand -- The same goes for Jewish people, having been ostracised in the manner that they were, Ochs should have led a movement to eradicate negative images of ALL PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT RACES & CREEDS in the very same way that UBM is being rebuked for not doing;
"To me, it makes perfect (albeit maddening) sense that a victim of prejudice could engage in stereotyping, as well as virulent racism and misogyny, without even a twinge of guilty conscience."
Did Ochs feel any giult?

I'm writing from SA, yes the tip of the continent. The Amazing Race is on right now, don't know which season, the one with the black couple RAY & YOLANDA (very disappointing pair, oblivious to the fact that they automatically become mascots for all black people around the world.)
Yolanda keeps scolding Ray for being a big black man.
First scenario; seated in the back of a taxi, Ray urges the driver to drive faster, they are in a race The Amazing Race, Yolanda sweetly tells him to hold back a little "how would you feel if a big black man was shouting at you from the back seat!"
She must've been read the Giant Negro Myths (top on NYT bestseller list) while growing up.

Second scenario: They are rushing through a small city in Sicily somewhere, Ray keeps asking passersby for assistance, they are in a race, The Amazing Race, he notes that it isn't that they locals don't want to help him, they fear him. Yolanda retorts; do you blame them, you are a big black man...
You talk of assimilation - freedom doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight for you guys up there, we talked of oppression, something that could be overcome.
The thought of someone being asked to be less of themselves, their big BLACK selves, saddens me, I never want to know what it feels like, I'm afraid though that Ray and Yolanda's kids might not even have an idea what that feels like (being your full whole self), what with the ASSIMILATION COMPLETE, the idea of just being your big black beautiful self could be so dormant, no one alive would know what it feels like. (shaking head)


Undercover Black Man said...

Lolita, welcome... sawubona!

I look on the bright side. These old newspaper "giant Negro" scare stories are hilarious to white people today, because they see how silly it all was. In other words, racial attitudes have changed.

America has gone through a profound evolution in racial sensibilities over the last 100 years. And part of the reason why is that millions of black people have assimilated fully into American culture... and quite proudly so.

Anonymous said...

Lolita, Ray & Yolanda were on TAR 9. If you want more a positive portrayal of a black couple, check out TAR 5's Chip & Kim or TAR 7's Uchenna & Joyce, although Ray & Yolanda didn't bother me much (I liked him more than her). Also, C&K and U&J are super-nice people in person :-)

Anonymous said...

These giant negro stories have dissapeared in Harlem because they would scare away the whites buying up all the sheetrock condos, but might usher in more white girls to the area.

Anonymous said...

Must defend the honor of Demoiselle Boop. Instead of taking the easy road of depicting only caucasians, Max Fleischer depicts multiple races interacting, sitting side by side in theaters, acting on the same stage in the same show. At the height of Jim Crow, mind you.

Racism is strongly linked to ignorance, and Betty Boop is one of the few artifacts of pre-WWII popular art confronting racial ignorance, that I've seen. Contrast with a recent, long running TV comedy series (Seinfeld), famous for depicting New York as a lilly white paradise. Just because we are now seeing the depictions in the BB cartoons as racist, does not mean that they played a part in getting us to our lofty attitudes.

Matt Norwood said...


The Giant Negro is still with us, and still up to his criminal violence. He is most commonly known today as BNBG.

Shark-Fu said...

Excellent post!

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear David,

I think you need to open your eyes to the truth: Giant Negroes are extinct, like leprechauns and eskimos.

Some mediaeval sources indicate that Giant Negroes stood from ten to fifteen feet high, and were known to consume an entire horse in a single sitting (q.v., The Canterbury Tales, Lost Fables, "Ye Grate Negro & His Woefulle Talle").

If anything, descriptions in the New York Times minimized the size of these colossal men in order to avoid accusations of sensationalism. Suspects described by police as 11'4" would be rendered in print as 6'4, for instance, to maintain a certain level of credibility in the eyes of a sceptical public.

Some wingnuts even believe that Giant Negroes still exist in remote, desolate locations like Canada's hinterland and Norway.

It is not clear whether such colonies of lost giants would or would not support Voldemort.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

While admitting the "wrongness" of stereotypes I am saddened how the "bleeding hearts" apparently ignore the anti-social and, in some cases, brutal actions, of some of the "giant" negroes.

Me thinks that some savages, no matter what color, are deserving of whatever labels are placed upon them.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ You funny, Cheeseburger Brown! Welcome here, and thanks for commenting.

In fact, a very warm welcome to all of MeFi Nation. (Thanks, serazin!)

scandata said...

Maybe white people were just smaller back then.

Anonymous said...

The Giant Negro was also to be found in the literature of the times, such as the harpooner Dagoo in Moby Dick.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Ah! Well done, Chris. I hadn't thought about it, but sure... it was all the same zeitgeist.

The Daily Growler said...

Po little white males average about 5' 9"--and to a po little white man, even a 5' 9" black man looks like a giant--the world's tallest man currently, ironically, is a white man.


Anonymous said...


Undercover Black Man said...

^ Now you're getting into the game, Anon.

I also suggest, just for grins, searching the phrase "Jew peddler" in the NYT online archive.

Anonymous said...

I really, really hope it was just one huge black guy that was responsible for all these headlines. If so, Giant Negro is my new hero.

Unknown said...

Man.. That was the height of hilarity and a damned good dose of reality of stupidity in the world.

On the topic of the Anti-Defamation Legue:
It's not ironic at all when you consider that the ADL is a tool of the elite - they complain about the suffering of a minority when that complaint needed to be made.
Black people HAD to be the enemy of America. Especially before you had the USSR to say you were better than, and the days of kicking the King's ass were well gone.

Just think of why the ADL don't speak up about the foul treatement of Muslims.

You mention anything remotely about Jews in public, if you are a public figure (like say, Michael Tsarion or David Icke), that sounds like anything remotely negative... even if it's about Zionism - which has nothing to do with Judaism anyway. You're marked as a Anti-Semite by these people and all of the sudden you have 1,000s of (albeit, well-meaning) dumbass "leftists" crawling up your ass about it - and your name is dirty. The Jews are the weapon of the elite... not the elite itself.

And as a famous author... I'd like to say now, for pure enjoyment.
Eat that, Anti-Defamation League!

Dorian Mode said...

OJ. entered the hotel room with two Italian Guys, and 4 big burly black men with bald heads.

Geroldo (sp) 09/16/07

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Who you gonna call? Giant Negroes.

GaryB said...

Thank god the species didn't go extinct and enough remained to breed for sports: football and basketball.