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Spectacle : The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga
by Pamela Newkirk


Overview -

2016 NAACP Image Award Winner

Winner of the 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction

An award-winning journalist reveals a little-known and shameful episode in American history, when an African man was used as a human zoo exhibit--a shocking story of racial prejudice, science, and tragedy in the early years of the twentieth century in the tradition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Devil in the White City , and Medical Apartheid.  Read more...


 
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More About Spectacle by Pamela Newkirk
 
 
 
Overview

2016 NAACP Image Award Winner

Winner of the 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction

An award-winning journalist reveals a little-known and shameful episode in American history, when an African man was used as a human zoo exhibit--a shocking story of racial prejudice, science, and tragedy in the early years of the twentieth century in the tradition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Devil in the White City, and Medical Apartheid.

In 1904, Ota Benga, a young Congolese "pygmy"--a person of petite stature--arrived from central Africa and was featured in an anthropology exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair. Two years later, the New York Zoological Gardens displayed him in its Monkey House, caging the slight 103-pound, 4-foot 11-inch tall man with an orangutan. The attraction became an international sensation, drawing thousands of New Yorkers and commanding headlines from across the nation and Europe.

Spectacle explores the circumstances of Ota Benga's captivity, the international controversy it inspired, and his efforts to adjust to American life. It also reveals why, decades later, the man most responsible for his exploitation would be hailed as his friend and savior, while those who truly fought for Ota have been banished to the shadows of history. Using primary historical documents, Pamela Newkirk traces Ota's tragic life, from Africa to St. Louis to New York, and finally to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he lived out the remainder of his short life.

Illuminating this unimaginable event, Spectacle charts the evolution of science and race relations in New York City during the early years of the twentieth century, exploring this racially fraught era for Africa-Americans and the rising tide of political disenfranchisement and social scorn they endured, forty years after the end of the Civil War. Shocking and compelling Spectacle is a masterful work of social history that raises difficult questions about racial prejudice and discrimination that continue to haunt us today.


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780062201003
  • ISBN-10: 006220100X
  • Publisher: Amistad Press
  • Publish Date: June 2015
  • Page Count: 336
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Cultural Heritage
Books > History > African American
Books > History > United States - 20th Century

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-04-06
  • Reviewer: Staff

Newkirk (Within the Veil) centers this meticulously detailed monograph on the life of Ota Benga, a young Congolese man who at the beginning of the 20th century suffered the indignity of being caged with an orangutan at the Bronx Zoo’s Monkey House. Although Benga himself left no written record of his experiences, Newkirk pieces together his story from the texts, photographs, and other records produced by the “lettered elite” whose members were complicit in his capture and display. While other African men and women, including the “Hottentot Venus” Sarah Baartman, had been exhibited to European audiences, Benga’s experience was unusual because it took place not in a “human zoo” but in one devoted to animals, thus depicting this African man not simply as exotic, but as a failure of human evolution. Newkirk places Benga’s story in the context of an ever more segregated and aggressively racist United States, a Europe intent on exploitation of Africa’s human and material resources, and a scientific culture that venerated objective inquiry but refused to question established ideas about race. The book might have benefited from a more effective structure, as it wanders through various times and locations. Nonetheless, readers will be moved, especially when reading about the tragic turns Benga’s life took in the years after he was released. (June)

 
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