Race and the Romances of Reunion: African American Animal Advocates in the New South

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 2:10 PM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Paula Tarankow, Indiana University
This paper recovers the remarkable stories of two prominent African American humane educators in the early twentieth century, William Key of Tennessee and the Baptist preacher Richard Carroll of South Carolina who were both born into slavery, enjoyed a personal friendship with Booker T. Washington, and served as Southern agents of the Massachusetts-based American Humane Education Society. Together, the story of the Keys and Carroll uncovers how the early language of animal protection in the New South was a product of the discourse surrounding the failures of Reconstruction, black racial uplift, and sectional reunion. William Key was a self-trained veterinarian, “horse whisperer,” and humane-education entrepreneur who performed with his highly trained horse, Beautiful Jim Key, to promote kindness to animals. He attempted to persuade audiences of the blurriness of the human-animal boundary through his horse’s feats of spelling, reading, writing, doing simple arithmetic, making change from a National Cash Register, and holding his breath underwater. Their wildly popular act was prominently featured at world’s fairs and state fairs for nine years under the promotion of a white businessman, A. A. Rogers. Rogers carefully controlled the Key’s image, transforming the Arabian horse into a charming “Southern” horse and penning William’s biography to conform to the image of a loyal, “Uncle Tom” figure of the Lost Cause variety. The Reverend Richard Carroll preached a gospel of Christian ethics, which braided together the message of humane treatment to animals and African Americans. He harkened back to the antebellum “harmony” between slaves and masters as a basis for white’s kindness to African Americans. Carroll enjoyed the patronage and support of South Carolina’s white politicians and community by using animals as a proxy to discuss race relations.
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