09 4 / 2012
In 1906, the Bronx Zoo Put a Black Man on Display in the Monkey House
In his first few weeks at the Bronx Zoo, Ota Benga wandered around the grounds freely. But soon, zookeepers urged Benga to play with the orangutan in its enclosure. Crowds gathered to watch.
Next the zookeepers convinced Benga to use his bow and arrow to shoot targets, along with the occasional squirrel or rat. They also scattered some stray bones around the enclosure to foster the idea of Benga being a savage.
Finally, they cajoled Benga into rushing the bars of the orangutan’s cage, and baring his sharp teeth at the patrons. Kids were terrified. Some adults were too, though more of them were just plain curious about Benga. “Is that a man?” one visitor asked.
A sign outside the cage listed Benga’s height and weight and how he was acquired. “Exhibited each afternoon during September,” it read.
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