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Aug 22, 2004 4:09 pm

St. Louis Olympics, 1904 ...

Two Australian bloggers, Barista and Tripe Soup, remind me of this dreadful story about the 1904 Olympics which were held in St. Louis. (Ahem, attention if you please, the Cliopatriarch of St. Louis. I know. I know. It didn't happen on your watch.)

During the Olympics of 1904, something called"Anthropology Days" was held. On Anthropology Days, 12-13 August 1904,"savages" in native costume from Congolese pygmy tribes, the Phillipines, Patagonia, and various native American tribes, who were barred from regular Olympic games, competed against each other in such non-standard events as mud fighting, rock throwing, greased pole climbing, and spear throwing."Olympics founder Baron de Coubertin righteously noted that such a charade ‘will of course lose its appeal when black men, red men, and yellow men learn to run, jump, and throw, and leave the white men behind them.'"

One of the competing pygmy tribesmen was Ota Benga. He was brought to the United States to be exhibited at St. Louis's"Anthropology Days." Later, he was caged with other residents of the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo. (ahem.) When New York's African American preachers protested the indignity, Ota Benga was released into their custody. They sent him to Lynchburg, Virginia, for an education at the black Baptists' Virginia Theological Seminary and College. He might have followed the example of a former student, John Chilembwe, who studied there and returned to Nyasaland, founded a Baptist mission, and died in a rebellion he led against British colonial rule. But Ota Benga was doomed to live between a Congolese tribal world to which he could not return because it had been destroyed and an uncomprehending American world which knew him only as an anthropological oddity. In 1916, Ota Benga finally committed suicide in Lynchburg.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 8/23/2004

The best thing I can say about this is that it's another example for students to help them understand how barbaric civilization can be.