Ota Benga was a pygmy man dehumanized by evolutionary racists and placed on display alongside an orangutan at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. This incident reveals the potential for racism under the theory of evolution propagated by Charles Darwin.
Ota Benga lived in the Kasai region of the Congo, but lost his family in a mishap. Samuel Phillips Verner, a businessman influenced by the theories of Charles Darwin, went to Africa in order to find pygmies for exhibition. In 1904, Ota and several other pygmies were shipped across the Atlantic and displayed by evolutionist scientists at a World's Fair in Saint Louis, Missouri. Evolutionist scientists described him as "the closest transitional link to man". The fair was successful and the pygmies were shipped back to Africa, where Verner and Ota collected many artifacts. Both men returned to the United States in the summer of 1906, where Ota was handed over to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and later transported to the Bronx Zoo. The evolutionist director of the zoo Dr William Temple Hornaday displayed Ota in a cage at the Monkey House with an orangutan named Dohung under the denomination of "ancient ancestors of man". A sign was placed in the front of the cage which stated Ota's name, height, weight etc. as in the case of animals in a zoo.
Black clergies protested against this display and ultimately the exhibition was closed. On September 27, 1906, Ota was transferred to the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum, a church-sponsored orphanage. Clergyman James H. Gordon condemned this exhibition, which was aimed for promoting Darwinism, and called the dehumanization of Ota Benga hostile to Christianity. On March 20, 1916, Ota committed suicide by shooting himself with a stolen revolver.
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