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Racist Postcards in the United States. 1890 – 1960 Karen F. Dimanche Davis 2007 Revised 2011. These racist postcards were:. Made and used primarily from 1900 through 1965 Imagined, created, and manufactured by real people

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racist postcards in the united states

Racist Postcards in the United States

1890 – 1960

Karen F. Dimanche Davis


Revised 2011

these racist postcards were
These racist postcards were:
  • Made and used primarily from 1900 through 1965
  • Imagined, created, and manufactured by real people
  • Sold in the or millions (From 1905-1915, 10 billion cards were sold in the U.S., with depictions of Blacks among the most popular styles)
  • Sent throughout the US and in foreign countries to millions of people—many who never met a Black man or woman
  • Reinforced the same demeaning, hateful, terrorizing ideas and beliefs over four generations
types of racist cards photographic stereotypes
Types of Racist Cards:* photographic stereotypes *
  • Mammy
  • Uncle
  • Sambo or Coon
  • Pickaninnies
  • Animal-like labor
  • Simple contentment
Some were realistic photographic portraits, but posed by white perceptions to create a “type”– the mammy

Types of Racist Cards:* cartoons and staged photographs *Staged photographs or cartoons are ideal for conveying demeaning, dehumanizing, or terrorizing images. Real human features and events can be exaggerated or even invented. This makes it easier for the artist to depict the intended racist ideals or values.(1) Color jokes(2) Mammy(3) Coon, Sambo, Brute (4) Darkie Preacher(5)Pickaninnies: Sexualized(6) Eugenics & Torture jokes


Older Black men, Uncle Remus or Uncle Tom, are beloved. Note: the contrast between dark skin and white cotton fascinated whites, as did the similarity of kinked white hair to cotton

in a caricature mammy can be coal black and obese with an ugly face bare feet and a red kerchief
In a caricature, Mammy can be coal-black and obese, with an ugly face, bare feet, and a red kerchief

Mammy can be drawn like an animal. Not only is she coal black with a red kerchief, coal black, but her posture and figure are being equated with those of a donkey—an ass. Can there be a clearer image of white views of Blacks as sub-human?


Mammy is an ever-grinning servant who is washing laundry, and helping the white man write a message. Note the strange animal-like pickaninnies with her.


Mammy: “I’s savin’ honey, deed I am—I saves my fat can fo’ th’ groc’ry man” This is a quadruple slur on Black spendthriftiness, ugly women, unusually large buttocks, and sexual permissiveness.


Poor Old Joe: weak, skinny man starves while his ugly Mammy wife grows fat. Whites misunderstand West African preferences for slender, quick-footed men and ample women who could successfully bear and raise children.

An ugly, slovenly wife awaits her ugly, drunken husband, waiting to beat him—implicating Blacks in hating each other

The ugly Black woman is beating up on her own “poor old Joe”, suggesting ugly Black women dominate and beat their weak men as if they were children.

poor ole joe gets his revenge whites projecting hatred of the black woman onto the black man
“Poor Ole Joe” gets his revenge—whites projecting hatred of the Black woman onto the Black man

A Mammy & Pickaninnies puzzle asks us to show her all “eleben” pickaninnies, “no white trash.” With stick in hand, she plans to beat them when we find them. (Note the eugenics message in 11 children)

a play on words coon trees possum naming black men as coons and implying their animal nature
A play on words: “Coon trees possum”—naming Black men as “coons” and implying their animal nature

“You doun want none of my lip hey?” The answer to this ugly Coon who thinks he’s a civilized gentleman is, of course, “No, I would NOT want your ugly face.”


Coon with Razor: His eye is onMammy’s Big Butt. Again, a multiple slur--Black men are irresponsible, dangerous, sexually lascivious, and Black women have ugly faces and large buttocks.

happy irresponsible young coons gamble away their lives on their way to even more criminal behavior
Happy, irresponsible young Coons gamble away their lives—on their way to even more criminal behavior
“Out on bale”—a play on words—implying the young black man’s natural condition is to be in jail or “out on bail”
irresponsible fighting among young men n word compared with gentility of patriotic whites 1901
Irresponsible fighting among young men (N-word)(compared with gentility of patriotic whites, 1901)
coons can if uncontrolled revert to their true state african primitive savagery
Coons can, if uncontrolled, revert to their true state—African primitive savagery
if kept busy at manual labor and fed with watermelon they will be the happiest people on earth
If kept busy at manual labor and fed with watermelon, they will be “the happiest people on earth”
double stereotype a scottish man resents tipping the grinning dehumanized black coons who serve him
Double stereotype: A Scottish man resents tipping the grinning, dehumanized Black Coons who serve him
Whites invented a “Darky Preacher” to warn Blacks against drinking, fighting, gambling, gossip, and trying to pass as white!
Dark-skinned pickaninnies (a sexualized boy and girl) happily engulfed in watermelon and cotton—note they are also be-headed
Pickaninnies with bare butts were a popular theme, suggesting that children were undressed, like animals, and sexually available

Children are sexualized. They are coal-black with huge red balloon lips, uncombed hair and ragged clothing. Like his father, this boy is sex-crazed.


This supposed hyper-sexuality leads Blacks to have many children—thus an implied eugenics message in images of families with many children

A dark outlook

Six little pickaninnies

mother with seven children and a dog eight little pickaninnies kneeling in a row
Mother with seven children and a dog“Eight little pickaninnies kneeling in a row”
The implied eugenic message explains the often subtle “torture” jokes in which Black men, women, and children are tortured or killed
These sexualized children with heart-shaped bare butts are objects of torture by another sex-crazed boy

Mammy—Torture Joke. Here the woman’s breasts are being drawn into a washing-machine wringer. When white men suffer similar industrial accidents they are horrified and expect compensation—here, it’s supposed to be funny.


Pickaninny—Torture JokesA popular theme is Black children and men as alligator bait—animals to be eaten by animalsTrue feelings for Blacks are displayed in these cards

Pickaninnies“Alligator Bait”Torture JokeLike animals, the children are naked and without adult supervision
His Last Prayer—Torture JokeImplying Black men wait for God’s help rather than take reasonable action
After a while, the alligator theme is so well known, it can be simply shown, to imply the alligators will devour the hated mammies
Similar images and ideas are still common today in newspapers, magazines, television, and other media.What examples can you give?


Anderson, L.M. From blackface to “genuine negroes”: nineteenth-century minstrelsy and the icon of the “negro”. Theatre Research International 21(1):17-23, Spring 1996.

Baldwin, B. On the verso: postcard messages as a key to popular prejudices. Journal of Popular Culture 22(3):15-28, Winter 1988.

A brief history of postcards. Shiloh Postcards http://www.shilohpostcards.com/webdoc2.htm , accessed 03/31/2011

“Coon cards”: racist postcards have become collectors’ items. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 25:72-3, Autumn 1999.

Curry, A. Men in blackface. U.S. News & World Report 133(2):24-5, July 8, 2002.

Alan Petrulis. (2010). Post Cards Between the Wars, 1914 – 1945: Racist Humor. Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City, http://www.metropostcard.com/history1914-1945.html accessed April 9, 2011.

Pilgrim, David. Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University, http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/ accessed 03/31/2011