Last Updated on October 4, 2007 by Paulette Brown-Hinds
A prominent slavery approach involved in the control and domination of African American slave was the use of highly trained so-called “negro dogs”-bloodhounds, foxhounds, bulldogs, Scotch staghounds, or curs (a mongrel)-to track runaway slaves. The professional slave catchers provided their own “Negro dogs” and often allowed the dogs to give a fugitive a severe mauling. This was a common practice in all slave states-defended and justified in the courts. White Patterollers and their dogs–in the spirit of “killing an animal” for sport (like fox hunting)–rode through swamps in search of fugitives. When the slave was caught, he was whipped on the spot; and taken back to the plantation where the slave owner punished him again. In one story, Uncle Isom, a very strong runaway, caught the leading hound and then beat the rest of the dogs. However, upon being overpowered by the White men, the dogs were allowed to bite off the victim’s body parts. When returned to the plantation, Uncle Isom was given 300 lashes (Botkin, Lay My Burden Down p180, 159).
The generic training of “Negro attack dogs” went like this. The dogs were locked up and “never allowed to see a negro except while training to catch him.” Dogs were given the scent of a Black person’s shoe or article of clothing and taught to follow the scent. Slaves were sent out as trainees. When the dogs treed the slave, the dogs were given meat as a reward. “Afterwards they learn to follow any particular negro by scent.” Besides the Patterollers’ readiness “with the zest of sport,” their canine “Negro hunters” were fierce, vicious, and fearsome beasts. If the dogs were not constrained at the end of the chase, they would tear a man to pieces (Franklin, Runaway Slaves, p160). Once discovered, the slave was bound, beaten, and bloodied (Brady, The Black Badge p17). Although the “night watchers” were replaced following slavery, their essence and practices were continued by the Ku Klux Klan (who existed in slavery but under different names). As evil and sadistic as Europeans were to the slaves and their descendants, the question arises as to what reverberations did the police “Negro attack dogs” have, not only on the slaves but also on their descendants, up to this day? Black Americans know that the big picture was larger than just fearful slaves.
Following slavery, attack dogs contributed to maintaining apathy, frustration, and chronic anger generated in Black people by ongoing racism. Since hostile emotions were escalating in Negroes after World War II, only Rev. M.L. King Jr. could have led the Montgomery Bus Boycott for an entire year without violent retaliation against the attack dogs, fire hoses, and other barbarism instigated by extremely sadistic White people. No doubt, attack dogs produced psychic trauma in many minds of the slaves and subsequent Blacks, either from direct experience or from vicarious empathy. Chances are that this trauma designed, in a few Black people, mental transformations from peaceful people into a hateful mindset-a mindset that was culturally transmitted. Could that transmission display today as hateful re-enactments (e.g. on dogs used as symbols)? Otherwise, an entire scenario regarding attack dogs on Blacks has set up a special “dog” atmosphere. From my boyhood days onward, I have seen many Black people terribly afraid of the most gentle of dogs. But with irritable dogs, that fear often causes those dogs to go on the attack. I have treated some of those Black people for vicious dog bites and seen how they are adversely affected!
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.