by Barbara Kyles
Somebody told me that whites used to pay to throw balls at blacks at the circus. Is this true?
–Stephanie S. – Columbia, Missouri
At the end, thirty feet or so from the counter that closed the entrance, a grinning Negro face bobbed and grimaced through a hole in the back curtain painted to represent a jungle river. The Negro’s head came right out of the spread terrific jaws of a crocodile. “Hit the nigger in the head, get a good ten cent seegar,” the barker said. “Three balls for a dime, folks. Try your skill and accuracy. Hit the nigger baby on the head get a handsome cane and pennant”
The exhibit goes on to explain:
This was a common chant at numerous carnivals, fairs, and circuses across the United States throughout the late 19th century until the mid 1940s, as Americans took part in one of their favorite pastimes, “African Dodger.”
The African Dodger, also known as “Hit the Nigger Baby” or “Hit the Coon” was as commonplace in local fairs, carnivals, and circuses as Ferris wheels and roller coasters are today.