Beth Macys bestselling journal tells the story of two African American friends with albinism “whos” seized and forced to perform in a 1920 s circus. What can their floor teach us about racism in the US today?
In October 1927, the circus has now come to Roanoke, Virginia. It was a vast affair. There were four locomotives, 100 railcars, 1,600 parties, five sounds, six theatres, elephants and high-wire routines. Among the attractions arriving in town were two albino African-American soldiers called George and Willie Muse, famous across the United States as Eko and Iko, the sheepheaded cannibals from Ecuador. But the Muse brothers werent from Ecuador: on that day, as their improve pulled up, George and Willie were coming home.
Ringling Brothers circus pitched its tents on Roanoke fairgrounds where, a year before, thousands had attended a Ku Klux Klan rally, its leaders showing then that their organisation was simply to keep the states under control of white-hot native Protestants. The 13 th amendment to the American constitution abolished slavery in 1865, but in the 1920 s the south was at the height of Jim Crow segregation laws. There was seldom a white man in the south who did not frankly regard liberation as international crimes and its practical nullification as a obligation, wrote African American sociologist WEB Du Bois.
That duty was fulfilled thanks to a prejudiced criminal justice system( Roanokes chief prosecutor at the time, for instance, was founder of the citys KKK chapter) and to a sharecropping structure announced Reconstruction that obstructed pitch-black tenant farmers, many former slaves, in debt and beholden to their landlords. As a answer, supposedly liberated African Americans were poor, in fact disenfranchised, often uneducated, and much more likely than white people to be in jail. The answer was slavery by another name.
Eko and Iko were, writes Roanoke-based reporter Beth Macy in her brand-new volume about the brothers remarkable lives, perfect freakshow behaves to charm grey punters jaded by the usual fare of bearded girls, tattooed guys, monsters and midgets. Circusgoers were used to seeing black men constituting as wild people in cages, where they are able to pretend to subsist on raw meat and fleck the heads off chickens and snakes. Eko and Iko offered something else, if nothing less prejudiced. They were unique, writes Macy. They were good musicians. And they garmented in finery with blood-red waistbands and tuxedos the clothe topped off by that explosive, anachronistic fuzz. They were far more interesting than they were grotesque.