A Horrific Carnival Game

“All Lives Matter”? You Didn’t Have to Deal with This Crap

Note: Top illustration contains a racially profane term, for providing historical context only

Years ago I asked my elderly mother about her childhood memories. She told me of being five years old,when her uncle took her to a carnival. She had never been to one and it was the most exciting place in the world.

“There was one carnival game I wouldn’t play,” she admitted. “I felt sorry for the boy. It was ‘Hit the N******baby.”

“WHAT?!” I squawked.

She explained the game to me but I had a hard time believing her mind was still all there. I looked it up. To my horror, it was a real thing.

We Whites Didn’t Have this Life

When I hear people “rebel” by saying “All lives matter,” I grit my teeth. Yes, we ALL know that ALL lives matter — that’s not the point. A lot of people still need to hear that #BlackLivesMatter. Because they haven’t been paying attention.

Called “African Dodger” in historical context, this carnival game started around the 1880s and continued to the 1930s, though it appeared in a few locations as late as the 1950s. Basically, a hole was cut in a canvas, with a place for a head to stick through. Sometimes the canvas was painted as a cartoon face, clown, or animal, to “enhance” the “excitement.”

In at least one instance, wooden heads were used. Mostly, the head sticking through the hole was provided by people — almost always black: men, teenagers or even younger children.

Thrown at the face was a ball of some type, softish, but sometimes softballs and even the type of hardball used in baseball. The typical price for three balls to throw for a nickel.

Let this sink it. It cost one nickel to throw three balls at a black kid’s face — for “amusement.”

Legal Assault

Of course, injuries abounded. The Philadelphia Record reported on Aug. 6, 1908 that the dodger was hit “with such force that several of the dodger’s teeth were knocked out, and the ball was locked so securely within the negro’s mouth that it had to be cut to pieces before it could be removed.”

A month later, Sept. 22,the same paper reported a different carnival in Hanover, PA, where a dodger “was assaulted by local baseball players who brought their own heavy balls and ‘hit the coon’ nearly every time.” The paper touted the bravery of the dodger but added the grim news that the injuries sustained by the dodger “may prove fatal.”

In 1904, a dodger “exposed his head a face a little farther than usual” and was hit by a curve ball that knocked him out, reported the Meriden (CT) Daily Journal on Aug. 17. The article added that it “will probably be necessary to amputate the nose” to save the dodger’s life.

Is that enough? Because there are endless stories like this.

If you’re white, and always looking for “why” a police officer shot a “thug,” or feeling sad about certain statues being removed, think about that.

Because the sad history of the ugly side of American prejudice is real. And it’s time to make amends.

The Providence (RI) News, Sept. 11, 1924

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Chuck Mall

Chuck Mall

Asheville NC. Former writer for men's fitness mags. Author, The Owl Motel. Writer of middle-grade fiction. Chuckmall.com and @chuckmall on SM.