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R.E.A.C.H. – Ota Benga: The man displayed in the Bronx zoo 43 years after slavery “ended”

Ota Benga or “Bi”, which means “friend” in his language, was born in 1883 as a member of the Mbuti who are an indigenous people of Congo a West African country. He is often referred to as a boy, but he had been actually married twice—his first wife had been kidnapped by a hostile tribe, and his second had died from a poisonous snake bite.  At age 22 he stood 4 foot 11 inches tall and weighed 103lbs much like other people in his African community. White supremacists referred to Ota and other Africans by a term they created for “ethnic” people with an unusually short stature and the term was pygmy.

He was brought to America 1904 by noted African explorer Samuel Verner along with other Africans that shared his short stature and displayed in an exhibit in the 1904 St. Louis world’s Fair. After the St. Louis exhibit on September 8th Ota Benga, along with eight other Mbuti, were returned to the Congo Free State which was at the time property of King Leopold of Belgium. When he arrived he found out his hunting band had been whipped out by military forces run by Leopold to maximize production of rubber and ivory. Verner then offered Ota Benga a chance to return to the US with him and Ota Benga clearly not having a choice did unknowing of what would come next. In 1906 at the age of 23, 43 years after slavery was abolished he was unveiled in a new exhibit that would attract legions of visitors at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

He was put on display in the monkey house and it’s estimated that 40,000 visitors a day came to see him. Nearly every man, woman and child of this crowd went to the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park – the wild man from Africa. When he was let out of his cage at times people chased him around the grounds all day, howling, jeering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him.” He was made into an exhibit in which many used to try to prove Darwinism (evolution) showing that he was an earlier stage of human not fully evolved and closer to a monkey.

At the same time, a group of African-American ministers mounted a vigorous protest.

From an article in The New York Times on Sept. 10, 1906:

“The person responsible for this exhibition degrades himself as much as he does the African,” said Rev. Dr. R. MacArthur of Calvary Baptist Church. “Instead of making a beast of this little fellow, he should be put in school for the development of such powers as God gave to him. It is too bad that there is not some society like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We send our missionaries to Africa to Christianize the people, and then we bring one here to brutalize him.”

The Bronx Zoo soon after ended the exhibit, and the ministers’ group moved Ota Benga to the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn. He stayed there for a short time before being relocated to Lynchburg, Va., where various families housed him and tried to help him live a “normal life”.

Ota Benga lived in Lynchburg until 1916.  Even as he worked in a factory in Lynchburg, Virginia, Ota Benga grew increasingly depressed, hostile, and irrational (as we know with white supremacy first they put you in your situation and then they sit back and blame you when you’re mad, depressed, or irrational to them about it). He was never able to rid himself of being labeled as a freak and never fully adapted to a life he didn’t want to adapt too. It is also said that the outbreak of World War I stopped passenger travel on the oceans and prevented his returning to Africa causing major depression in his life also. He eventually gave up, borrowed a gun from one of his host families, went to the woods on the edge of the town, and committed suicide on March 20 1916 at the age of 32.

May I repeat this in short: In 1906 43 years after slavery “ended” an African man was brought to the U.S. and put in the zoo with the monkeys on display showing what white supremacists thought was proof of “evolution” because they felt he was closer to a monkey than a human. Then after being labeled as a freak and not being able to adapt to western life he later gave in to depression and killed himself. 

Please learn the history of your brothers and sisters all the way from the past(waaay before slavery) up until now.

Knowledge is your greatest weapon

Race First

R.E.A.C.H. – Ota Benga: The man displayed in the Bronx zoo 43 years after slavery “ended”.

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