The idea of a infant child being used as bait to capture and kill alligators sounds like something from a horror movie. A horror movie that most likely would be banned from theaters due to the graphic nature of its content. You would never believe that this “horror story” could have actually been a reality many decades ago. Unfortunately, there are many reports of Black babies being used as bait for alligators throughout the southern states of this country and others countries during the 1800s and in to the early 1900s.
One of these reports appeared in an article in the Washington Times posted on Saturday June 3, 1908. The post was titled “Bait Alligators with Pickaninnies” and subtitled “Zoo Specimens Coaxed to Summer Quarters by Plump Little Africans.” The article states that the New York Zoological Gardens’ zookeeper came up with an idea to move the zoo’s alligators out of their winter reptile house into a tank where they could be viewed during the summer. His idea was to use two Black children as bait. He sent them into the alligator enclosure that housed 25 alligators. All but 4 of the 25 alligators chased the children from one part of the enclosure to the other. The zookeeper believed that alligators had a “epicurean fondness for the Black man.” No where in the article does the writer protest or condemn the act. The article doesn’t even evoke a sense of awe or shock. Contrarily, it’s written as if this is nothing out of the ordinary; something that happens regularly.
Another appalling documentation of Black babies being used as bait was reported in a 1923 issue of Time Magazine. The article stated that “colored babies were being used for alligator bait” in Chipley, Florida. “The infants are allowed to play in the shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby. When a saurian approaches this prey, he is shot by the riflemen.”
Yet another, and even more heinous description of this technique was described in the Miami New Times. According to the article, alligator hunters would place crying Black babies who were too young to walk at the edge of the alligator infested waters. With ropes around their necks and waists, the infants would cry and splash the water, enticing the alligators to devour their prey. Once the crocodile had the baby in its jaws, the hunters would kill the alligator. In the hunter’s eyes the baby’s life was worth less than the alligator’s skin. The hunters even made and sold postcards, pictures, and trinkets to commemorate the practice.
This article was printed in The Roanoke Times, a newspaper that was circulated in Virginia. Printed on June 20, 1890 and titled “Babies for Crocodile Bait”, the article speaks of an English crocodile hunter who pays parents to “rent” their babies and use them for crocodile bait. The article mentions that articles like these are common in Ceylon. The article describes the baby as a “dark brown infant.”
It is believed by many that the memorabilia referencing Black babies being used as alligator bait is based on pure fiction. Maybe in their minds an act this horrible could never exist. This is a discussion that is disturbing, to say the least. A discussion we don’t want to bring up. A time we wish we could forget but it must not be forgotten. Just like all history, we should be reminded of it and understand the ways our dark chapters helped shape and form the reality we currently live in. We should feel sadness and hurt for the atrocities our ancestors went through. We should also acknowledge that this happened, while simultaneously understanding how this history still affects us to this day.