Alligator bait, also known as gator bait, is the practice of using little black children as bait to catch alligators. Some say it was done by white men during slave times in Florida and Louisiana and other parts of the American South.
Here is the most complete account of how it was done, coming from the grandson of someone who says he used to do it:
… the slaves who had babies they would steal the babies during the course of the day, some times when their mothers weren’t watching . … some would be infants, some would be a year old, he said some would be toddlers, he said they would grab these children and take them down to the swamp, and leave them in pens like little chicken coops.
They would go down there at night, take these babies and …. tie them up, put a rope around their neck and around their torso, around here, and tie it tight.
… they’d be screaming. … what they were doing would help them to chum the water. He said when they would throw the babies in tied to this rope, he said in a matter of minutes, he said, the alligator were on them. He said the alligator would clamp his jaws on that child, as a matter of fact once he clamped on them he was really swallowed, he said you couldn’t see anything but the rope!
Possibly a tall tale, but there is more:
There is also an account of this practice in Sharon Draper’s “Copper Sun” (2006). It is a work of fiction about a slave girl written for schoolchildren, but the book is meant to be as true to life as possible based on what we know commonly went on back in those days.
In 1923 Time magazine carried this story:
From Chipley, Fla., it was reported that colored babies were being used for alligator bait. The infants are allowed to play in shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby. When a saurian approaches his prey, he is shot by the riflemen.
The Chipley Chamber of Commerce said the story was “a silly lie, false and absurd.” Maybe so, but it was widely reported in the American press, so it was at least believable among White Americans of the time.
Film: The practice has appeared in at least two films: “Alligator Bait” (1900) and “The ‘Gator and the Pickaninny” (1900). Two tales of boys used as alligator bait were told in “Untamed Fury” (1947).
Language: Probably from at least the 1860s up until the 1960s “alligator bait” was a racial slur among whites for little black children. In Harlem in the 1940s it was applied to blacks of any age from Florida.
Imagery: From at least the 1890s to the 1960s black children were often pictured as alligator bait, particularly on postcards. One man in Florida had a picture framed and put on his wall showing nine naked little black boys with the words “Alligator Bait” written below: